Baltimore played host to the Washington, D.C./Baltimore area Autism Conference late last month. The conference was sponsored by Future Horizons, Inc., an organization whose mission is to provide resources, both human and literary, to help educate and support those within the autism world. Books, research, conferences and speakers who work within the field can be found on their web site, fhautism.com, in addition to a plethora of knowledge about sensory issues, which often accompany those on the autism spectrum.
The conference was headlined by Dr. Temple Grandin, plausibly the most recognized adult with autism. Her accomplishments within the animal science domain, in addition to her ability to document and articulate her experiences as she grew up in a world that wasn’t well-informed about, or supportive of those with autism, have impacted thousands of people for the better.
Dr. Grandin’s first book, “Emergence: Labeled Autistic” was a groundbreaking book, not only because it was authored by someone on the spectrum, but because it allowed the reader to be a fly on the wall, witnessing the confusion, isolation and fear often felt by children with autism. Her first-hand accounts of her own experiences, achievements and her application of applying logic to help her maneuver the larger world, have helped to inform and shape a deeper understanding and care for those on the autism spectrum.
Her discussion at the conference was humorous and intelligent, peppered with personal anecdotes and filled with real-life examples and suggestions for parents, caregivers, therapists and educators, as well as those on the spectrum.
Dr. Anita Lesko followed Dr. Grandin, and shared her mesmerizing story of hard work, resilience and triumph. A successful neuro-anesthesiologist, Dr. Lesko accidentally discovered she had Asperger’s syndrome at the age of 50 after completing a diagnostic questionnaire initially intended for a colleague’s son. The questionnaire led her to an official diagnosis, and her role as an Asperger’s syndrome ambassador was born.
Lesko is a force of nature, who shared how goal setting, trial and error, resourcefulness, a curious mind and a strong work ethic allowed her to slowly but steadily accomplish her personal and professional goals. She suggested that parents encourage their children to get out of the house, volunteer and get involved in subjects that interest them, and that through these experiences, many children can learn the intricacies of social rules and norms, and how to positively interact with others.
Dr. Jim Ball, a behavioral analyst and autism consultant, rounded out the last two sessions of the day. He discussed the importance of early intervention, and shared his strategies for encouraging growth and behavioral changes for young children on the spectrum through repetition, shaping, chaining, reinforcement, play, rapport building and social skills — current educational techniques used by educators, therapists and parents alike. For children on the autism spectrum, and neuro-typical children as well, Dr. Ball emphasized the importance of social skills: using manners, adopting social norms, and being able to function in the real world. He closed by sharing the importance of teaching all children social skills, reminding us that even if someone helped you or your child get a job, understanding and demonstrating social skills competently can help you keep your job.
Interested in learning more? Another resource is New Horizons. Check them out at nhautism.com.