Thinking about the list of honour The Boy, a child who John Williams spoke of with a lot of love and affection as he transferred his My Son’s Not Rainman blog into a session at The National Autistic Society’s Professional Conference 2014, drew up by getting banned from holiday camps, summer clubs and schools made me laugh!
Ros Blackburn showing captivated listeners a quote from her mum at her talk on how autistic people should never use can’t in life, but instead use cannot as a way of showing something can’t be done yet but it can be done in the future, made me cry.
Being around an incredible group of autistic advocates who have fought unique battles in their unique lives made me feel humbled. By spending an amazing three days in Harrogate, Great Britain with autistic heroes, professionals who work with autistic heroes and employees from The National Autistic Society itself, I experienced experiences and felt feelings that were much stronger than I’d planned for.
“Never make Autism the excuse, but help the person overcome the problems caused by it.” (Ros’ Mum).
This quote summed up the whole feeling of the conference for me. It sums up how every speaker and delegate I spoke to seemed to feel about autism as a disability, and it is my mantra.
It didn’t feel like my mantra before I saw the quote on the big screen in the main auditorium at the Harrogate International Centre, the conference’s venue, but it makes everything I’ve strived towards in life make sense.
It makes my work make sense. It makes my desire to speak to employers and show them how autistic people can become great autistic employees make sense.
Blackburn’s mum made me realise the sacrifices my own mum has made for me. She has turned me from a shy child into an adult who isn’t afraid to take on the world. She created an autism support group in Lichfield, Staffordshire for other parents of autistic children who needed help in understanding what was going on in their lives.
My mum is one of my best friends. Seeing that quote made me well up a little bit in my seat but as I don’t think anybody was looking, I quickly got rid of the tears in my eyes and carried on listening to Blackburn speak herself. Danger overted!
This was a moment of personal reflection for me that made me realise where I was and who I was with. Through crying at a poignant moment and laughing as Williams spoke so lovingly about his son, while admitting the young lad has little s**t autism instead of the kind that can make you play the piano or memorise the Yellow Pages, I was with kindred spirits.
Some of us had sunglasses on because visual stress caused a lot of sensory issues and some of us laughed when we really shouldn’t have, and forgot to laugh when we should have done, but we were all autistic people who understood each other. Nobody was treated differently, and nobody judged anybody.
Even though you’ll never meet two people with autism who are the same, we all had a common bond. I’ve never felt that before as I’ve always felt like the odd one out in a very mixed-up world, but literal conversations and procedures with loads of conference delegates who clearly believe in common sense was a delight!
The NAS Professional Conference 2014 showed me how any situation that affects an autistic person in daily life can be dealt with. From understanding that being diagnosed with a disability like autism is just a difference, rather than a horrible episode of Mr Benn where you can be dressed in loose clothing before having a ball and chain put around your neck when you supposedly have a label put on you to finding out how compassionate and kind support providers have developed an understanding of palliative care by assisting an autistic person in their care during his final few years of happiness, I realised there is a solution to a lot of problems.
I’ve found it isn’t always easy to find guidance as somebody who has felt isolated and lonely for a large part of life, all because of living with something I didn’t choose to live with at birth. This ideology is changing though.
Shoulders to cry on are out there. Supporters want to support you. In my case, autistic people want to become friends.
This is something I found out during a very special experience and as I now become part of the NAS in a loose way as a freelance editor of Autism in Practice, an e-newsletter that is put together for professionals who work with autistic people, I can’t wait to show my employers just how thankful I am.
To those of you I’ve met over the last week or so, it’s a pleasure to shake your hand 🙂