This was the largest Conference I have attended yet, with about 1300 attendees. It was held in the Adelaide Convention Centre, which is approximately 3 times as large as the Christchurch Town Hall! It was very well run, with an excellent exhibition section and a very large schedule of plenary and workshop sessions- almost too many , as it was impossible to see/hear more than a fraction of what was offered.
A great promotion was made of "future leaders", i.e. young people under 30 years of age. Those of us who were older were included as "mentors", but in practice, we were pretty much overlooked in terms of what we could offer, and we were not promoted to the attendees as "present mentors", which was rather surprising. It rather gave the impression that there were no leaders on the Spectrum at all, which is far from the truth. A great effort had been made to prepare a lovely quiet room for us to retire to when everything got a bit much, and we had our own catered area next to it. Stephen Shore, Ari Ne'eman and other stars made a point of coming and hanging out with the young ones, which was terrific for them.
A small contingent from Pakistan, India and Malaysia made up the "Asian" part of APAC and it was most interesting to hear how they are working for children on the Spectrum in their countries. An estimate of the total number of people on the Spectrum attending was around 100- maybe a dozen from NZ. We met some people who have, hitherto been names only on our Facebook pages, and strengthened our friendships with them.
I was interested to find that many of the presentations seemed to be repetitions of stories of the speakers' lives that I had read before. The Australians all talked about themselves too, whereas I gave a presentation about the difficulties Aspies typically find in the workplace. It seemed to me that in NZ we talk more about the issues that come up for us and how we tackle them, rather than about ourselves.
An interesting dramatic presentation called "The History of Autism" was given by an all-autistic cast, very well done and worth promoting to a wider audience. One of the things I learned in attending this conference is that some of the younger aspies are not noise-averse, and I found myself frequently wincing and covering my ears! (this happened several times when we were gathered together).
One of the presenters was a researcher into "autism risk" and presented all kinds of tables and figures for "estimating autism risk" in children. I challenged him afterwards and said "what risk? We are born with it, there is no such thing as risk after birth- we either have it or we don't. (The point about such research is that it tends to attract huge amounts of money and therefore such "researchers" are on a nice gravy train). I added, "and please drop the word 'disorder'- I am not disordered and I don't need to be 'fixed' ". He ran away....
I had the opportunity of a long couple of conversations with Dane Dougan of AutismNZ about the future of Aspie and Autie organisations in NZ. It was interesting being able to communicate our issues and worries to the CEO of AutismNZ as it was certainly not possible with his predecessor. This discussion is a "work in progress" and will involve Aspies from the North Island in the near future.
The conference was going to wrap up with an extravagant dinner- very expensive- and I chose not to go. Just as well. I heard the rehearsal, or part of it, and the sound levels were excruciating. Lots of of money was raised but the Aspies were completely not catered for and found their own fun in our own groups.
An interesting experience. At least those aspies who took part have raised our profile a bit more
Apologies to my keen readers, who keep me motivated! I attended two conferences in August and September, one run by Altogether Autism in Hamilton, New Zealand , and the Asia-Pacific Autism Conference in Adelaide, South Australia.
In Hamilton I gave a joint presentation with one of our Board members, Sue Robb, on the establishment of Aspiehelp- Sue gave feedback as to how she had experienced our work and how she has now "found her place" in the world. We also took part in a radio interview for "One in Five" which was broadcast on National Radio and very well received.
There were some excellent speakers and it was great to network with so many Aspies and professionals who have a strong interest in Asperger Syndrome and helping those who have it. We also made first contact with the new CEO of Autism NZ, Dane Dougan, of which more later.
Unfortunately, the venue let the organisers down. The meeting rooms were divided off from a very large room and the partitions were not soundproof. This led to a lot of stress for those on the spectrum. Thank goodness we had some quiet rooms to retreat to! Still, it was another "learning experience" and well worth attending. All in all, there were 11 presenters on the Spectrum, a world first!
Musings by our various Aspie peer supporters