On Thursday and Friday of last week, we took part in the Victorian Autism Conference 2016. It was a conference of so many high points and that highlighted the movement forward in terms of how we work with and support autistic people.
The conference began with the introduction of a series of fabulous ‘Autistic Etiquette’ lessons where 2 adult autistics shared with the delegates the types of things that might be appropriate to say to an autistic person and what might not. The use of functioning labels was ‘red carded’ and it was also explained to the delegates why the autism community uses the term autistic person as opposed to ‘person WITH autism’. These lessons were a definite signal that this conference was going to be different to many others of the past – that the reigns would be passed to the autistic community where ever possible.
The first keynote speaker of the day was Steve Silberman, author of Neurotribes – an amazing book that delves into the history of autism. (If you haven’t read it, and autism is on your radar, then it’s a definite ‘must read’.) Steve’s messages to the audience were very much focussed on seeing the autistic person as the expert. His statement “the tribal elders have something to teach the children of the tribe” was very significant.
Whilst we missed the session on Education & Collaboration, we were very glad that we were a part of the session on Sensory Processing, where Penny Robinson certainly held the attention of the audience as she talked of sensory issues and her personal strategies. Her insights were very well received!
It was not long after, that Elissa spoke alongside 3 others in the session ‘Lessons from the Female Spectrum’. The interest of the community in learning more about how to support autistic girls and women was quite overwhelming. There really is some great stuff happening in our community for girls and it was especially interesting to hear the work that the Yellow Ladybugs group has been doing.
The afternoon continued with NDIS discussion and then the highlighting of work being done by organisations in our wider community who are working towards creating more autism inclusive environments. We were immensely proud that one of these organisations is our very own community library service who we have worked closely with over the past year or so.
Jeanette Purkis opened Day 2 of the conference with a colourful ‘bang’, speaking on resilience, and she was followed by a panel discussion on choosing therapies. The focus was very much turned away from the idea of treatment or cure and instead turned towards the idea that therapies need to focus on reducing the impact of impairments (such as seizures) and on improving the quality of life of autistics (such as through communication tools etc).
From here we then heard Dr Mark Barber speak, sharing the work of Intensive Interaction – a person-led style of learning. We were overwhelmed with good feelings throughout this session. There was nothing about forcing learning or socialisation and it was all about taking the lead from the autistic person.
A quick switch to another session then brought us to the panel discussion of ‘To Disclose or Not Disclose’ where we sat and listened to the beautiful community of autistic adults share their experiences and words of wisdom.
The ‘Up Close and Personal’ session that followed was practical and useful, and we especially enjoyed hearing from Melanie Martinelli (from The Little Black Duck).
We wish we had been able to stay for the I CAN Network session that wrapped up the conference but alas our time was up and the long trip home was calling. But from what we have read from social media updates, it was a fabulous session and one that signalled hope for the future.
Overall, it was an amazingly positive 2 days of conferencing, where the ultimate message was one of embracing neurodiversity. We were very glad that we had the opportunity to be a part of it!