On Friday September 30 I spent the day at the Chicago Autism and Asperbergers Syndrome Conference where the featured speakers were Dr. Temple Grandin and Dr. Jim Ball. Temple's mother Eustacia Cutler was to speak as well but could not due to bad weather on the east coast. So instead of speaking for 1.5 hours Temple spoke for 3 hours and answered questions from the crowd. You may not know who Temple Grandin is but she is the subject of the wonderful HBO film named after her. I watched the film earlier this year and it truly is a window into the workings of a child with Autism. She is probably the most positive, influential, successful person with high functioning Autism that is out there.
Before the conference started she was signing her book and I got to talk to her for a brief moment.
For some reason I felt like BAWLING when I started to talk to her. I could feel myself getting choked up. I told myself "keep it together" for just a minute. I thought to myself crud I should have bought a whole bunch of tissue with me today as well. She is an absolute firm believer that children as young as Avery need the most intervention and the most therapy and one:one attention. Whether or not the parent can do it she advises to implore members of your community to help out and spend time with your child. That the minimum of 20 hours a week needs to happen besides what she is getting at school.
Those were her words to me that Avery is not getting enough and if we don't get her more help we might end up loosing that window of opportunity. That probably deflated my balloon of joy that morning. That feeling that once again I feel like I am not doing enough for her crept back up on me. I don't know how other parents feel after they leave these type of conferences but after the Autism One conference in May and this conference I felt like I wasn't doing enough but that feeling this time was also joined by the feeling of hope as I left that day.
It wasn't just listening to Temple speak of her experiences and how she processes information. She is very persistent until she get's the answer she is looking for. If you have seen the HBO film then you know the way she talks and her demeanor is very straight forward. Claire Danes portrayal is spot on. She did a tremendous job of getting into the role. It was just amazing. Part of being there yesterday was another professional in the Autism community who was speaking about early intervention. His name was Dr. Jim Ball.
Dr. Jim Ball wrote the book titled, Early Intervention and Autism: Real-Life Questions, Real-Life Answers. I actually was not gung ho about this part of the conference. I had never heard of him and wasn't familiar with his book. I thought I would listen to the first part and if it wasn't something I thought was geared towards our situation that I would call my husband to come get me since he was only at work a few miles away. I absolutely and utterly glad that I stayed for his talk.
Dr. Ball is not only an engaging story teller but he tells his stories of the children he has helped with great pride, joy and admiration for the strides these children have made. He talked about all degrees of severity of the spectrum and how they can be helped. If you feel like there is no hope for your child or that you aren't doing enough for them like I was feeling then to me this was a ray of hope. I wish I had a copy of the talk to show my husband and to others or even myself to be able to replay on those days that we are just battling Autism with all we have.
I know Avery has it in her to talk and be able to control herself. I've watched her have the meltdowns and I've watched her calm herself down when my niece sat to close to her at lunch back in the spring. I've watched her completely fight me on something one minute and then a little light bulb goes off in her head and she turns her attitude around and does exactly what I asked her. Sometimes I think we baby her to much and it shows when her big sister says, "Mommy Avery can't do that she's just a baby." Well the baby is over 3 and we need to stop making excuses for her.
I think that's probably the best message I got out of the conference and that is not to treat them like an Autistic kid but a kid who happens to have Autism. Does that make sense? Put the child first and the Autism will become second. Don't say they can't do something because they have Autism. Teach them to do things like being potty trained and having social skills and they will go far in life. I think this sounds easier to me because I don't believe that Avery is that far down on the spectrum as the Doctors had us feeling when she was first diagnosed.
I'm glad I see Avery as Avery and not just my Autistic daughter Avery.