Lessons learned from an International Autism Conference

If you care for someone with autism in Ireland and have not signed up with Middletown Centre for Autism, then please don't wait any longer.  I'd been to one of their excellent courses before, and today I attended their first International Autism Conference, and it was well worth all the arrangements and bribery of the children.  Not only were the speakers absolutely first class - of which more in a minute - but all the basics are FREE, including the conference, coffee, lunch and parking.  When you're used to everything connected with special needs being UBER expensive, there's something very special about a free event.  It feels like somebody cares.

It was a day of listening, chatting, putting faces to names and even relaxing just a little bit.  And I learned some important lessons too:

1. I need to get out more.

2. While much of the material was not new to me, I realised that I need regular reminders so that I can stop slipping back into unhelpful parenting habits.  Hearing it in a different way in a new setting and from a different perspective does make a difference.

3. It's good to step away from your child sometimes and see the bigger picture: where and how they fit in to the world of autism.  And perhaps how they don't, as well.

4.  You always get great insights into autism when you listen to an adult on the spectrum.  Today it was Damian Milton from the University of Birmingham, who was diagnosed with Asperger's soon after his son received a diagnosis of autism.  Damian's life story was inspiring and he talked about how autistics often believe that they are not listened to or understood in conversations with those who are not on the spectrum.  And vice versa.  He called this the double empathy problem, but as a minority group it seems to be a bigger problem for those with autism.  There was too little time to look in detail at solutions, but helping your child to find his tribe, a group of other people like him, seems to be very important.

5.  There are some really great-sounding schools out there, and there were moments that I wanted to stand up and cheer their representatives.  Between them, they mentioned many of the things that I'd dreamed off, but have not been able to find or get implemented.

... Whole school training for autism. "Because every teacher will be teaching these kids".
... A lunchtime club with an opportunity for sensory processing activities that improve regulation and thus reduce stress levels in pupils.
... Male classroom assistants.
... Effective home/school communication - parents are given mobile and e-mail details for key contacts.
... Lots of resource and sensory break rooms with a wide variety of equipment including bean bags, IT, allocated desks and even a kitchen.

6.  People with autism find it difficult to understand context, and this is the reason for rigid thinking and lack of flexibility, according to a very entertaining presentation by Dutch Educationalist Dr Peter Vermeulen.  He called it context blindness, and encouraged parents and educators to help children to find a way around it.

7.  Autism is a spectrum or continuum, so there are people - including many parents - who are on the cusp of a diagnosis.  Yet the discussions used two distinct groups for comparison: those with autism and those without.  There is little recognition of the group in the middle with a foot in both camps, and this was my only problem with the talks at this conference.

I had to leave before the end of the day, and I will miss tomorrow's presentations, but a complete blog from the conference will be posted on the AsIAm website.



And a huge thank you to a couple of friends for making it possible for me to take up a last minute ticket to this event.


18 comments:

  1. Sounds fab - so pleased you found it interesting.
    Lucas

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  2. How wonderful to attend a sponsored/free event. It is not often those come around. It was interesting to read your notes on the conference, and compare with the one I went to yesterday! :) xx

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  3. Delighted it went well. I couldn't attend this one but have to agree they are great on so many levels not least the personal networking with other parents. Fully agree with your point 2. You can be reminded of an approach that worked for you before but had forgotten about or else something you'd learned but now has become relevant!

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    1. Thanks so much for your comment Ruth, and I will definitely be trying to attend more conferences like this in future!

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  4. Sounds like a very informative day. I've been to one of the Middletown courses a few years ago and, like you say, even though most of it was not new to me it did make a difference to be reminded of some things that changed how I dealt with some issues.
    That school sounds like the ideal, it would be nice if Ireland took these policies on board for at least some of their second level schools.

    I have given the 'find their own tribe' issue some thought recently. It was said to me that it will be in college that my guy will find his like-minded small group of friends. Which makes sense as our children will most likely lean towards the tech/computer type courses? Now, all we have to do is to get them through secondary school........ xx

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    1. Yes, at times, secondary school seems like the biggest challenge of all, doesn't it? xx

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  5. I like what you said about knowing but needed the reminders. I am so glad you had a wonderful experience

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    1. I find I forget things too easily these days :)

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  6. It seemed really interesting and informative and I'm definitely going to have a look at the website ! I feel very lucky because my son's school is great, we have a home/school diary between us and the teacher, they have a sensory room where Ciaran can go when he feels overwhelmed, it also serves as a reward when he has done his work, he has an SNA ( shared with other kids)and so on... I couldn't praise the school enough. It's such a shame not all schools have the same resources unfortunately...

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    1. It is a shame, but very glad that your son is at a school that has everything in place that he needs x

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  7. Wow. A conference for free! How good! I am fortunate to work in a school with excellent provisions and I am enjoying working there. Although I have had some training, I would love to go on another course- it's always helpful to learn more and speak with and learn from others.

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    1. There were teachers at this conference as well as parents and that was great to see

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  8. Sounds great. Interesting idea about the tribe; I definitely think going to a school that specialised in educating ASD kids helped my son to find like minded friends. So far this is not happening to him in a mainstream college; not enough contact with other ASD students perhaps?? As for being on the cusp; I so agree with this idea. As an adult woman who definitely has ASD traits (and who may have aspergers but who hasn't got a diagnosis) I feel invisible. I feel I can't comment on aspergers because I don't have the authority that comes with a diagnosis. I wonder how common a problem this is with females particularly mothers of children with ASDs.

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    1. I completely agree with you about commenting on aspergers with authority - the thing is, even if I did get a diagnosis, my views would probably not change x

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  9. I definitely agree that helping your child find his/her tribe is an important step in their social development. Willy has always been the head of the pack, as far as my three children go, but he has recently made some pretty major leaps now that he has another person with autism as his best friend. They are both better off for having found each other!

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    1. Thank you so much for reading and commenting Stephanie, and glad to hear that your son now has a best friend, that awesome x

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