Tuesday, July 10, 2007

More Good at USD

In my last post, I talked about how great my opinion is of the goings-on the the Autism Institute at the University of San Diego Leadership in Education School. Today I attended day 2 of their Summer Conference. Here is a link to the program, for those who are interested. I left Day 2 feeling even better about this group of educators and presenters than I did on Day 1.

Here's the thing that pervades this conference - the presenters (notably; Anne Donnellan, Martha Leary, Nan Negri, Kate McGinnity, and Jody Robledo) are a close-knit group of professional associates who made left-turns somewhere in their career backgrounds that led them down what must be considered atypical paths of understanding and accepting autism. Their combined weight of experience provides them absolutely no illusions as to how much or little they know about the disorder, and they will consistently, through words and deeds, step aside and let the opinions of autistic individuals overshadow their own preconceptions and dictate their efforts. How refreshing! This is not the Autism One crowd, that's for sure!

Okay, two highlights from today. First, one of the presenters chose to show Amanda's "In My Language" video as the centerpiece of her presentation. The presenter was Martha Leary, MA, CCC-SLP. Martha showed the video (actually, the whole Anderson-Cooper CNN piece), then just opened up the microphone to questions from the crowd. I think the richter scale of learning hit about an 8.5 when the crowd really got down to discussing what they had watched. Keep in mind that many of the attendees are in professsions such as state service providers and preschool special day class instructors - they held very textbook-like preconceptions of autism prior to attending this conference.
One person commented on Amanda's use of the term Neurotypical - which elicited much chuckling. Another wondered how much effort it must have taken for Amanda to have completed the filming process. Many just expressed admiration and respect for Amanda's videography skills and ability to accurately get her message across. All in all, it was a very positive reaction and I think many people gained some valuable perspective.
I, of course, did take the opportunity to speak as well. I am not much of a "group" guy and tend to stay quiet and alone at these types of events. But this was too good of an opportunity to pass up, in terms of inviting people to view the Hub and learn from its various contributors the way I did. So, first I mentioned that Amanda is actually quite accessible on a regular basis, in that she writes profusely - mainly on topics relating to autism advocacy and understanding, and that people are generally welcome to respectfully comment on her blogposts. I talked about her use of the term Neurotypical and its counterpoint - Neurodiverse (lots of "Aaaaahhh, now I get it" from the crowd). I mentioned the positive impact her writing and videos had had on my understanding of autism, and that there are numerous other autistic bloggers who also deserve a look. I went on to mention the Hub, they wrote the address on the whiteboard, and I think overall the opportunity to plug the Hub did not pass without proper attention. Mission accomplished. Thanks, Amanda!

Then came the best part of the day. Lunch came around, and I was walking out of the building toward the main cafeteria and found myself walking with Stephen Hinkle. Stephen is the guy I mentioned in yesterday's post that had been such a great contributor throughout the day. So we spent the next 90 minutes or so together, including a nice lunch in a cafeteria I had not eaten in in over 16 years (weird feeling).
Stephen granted me permission to blog parts of our discussion. He is not familiar with the Hub, but might check it out. He is an outspoken advocate for disability rights, expecially in the school setting. He is passionate about this topic, and is doing a presentation tomorrow on the subject. I mentioned to him that he and Joel and Amanda have a similar focus on the issues, and I encouraged him to read their blogs. Other than that, we discussed things including the war in Iraq, highschool dances, gas prices, food preferences, his career (computer science), peak oil conditions, liberalism, Michael Moore and Sicko (which he challenged me to watch, but I refused because I abhor what Michael Moore stands for in terms of bias and propaganda), afterschool activities, play time vs. computer time, etc. We talked about the Omnibus proceedings and vaccine causation in general. I told him about chelation, which is not something he had heard of before. Bottom line is we seem to disagree on almost everything, and had a really nice time discussing all of it. He is quite a bit younger than me, so I expect he will begin to gain a more conservative slant as he grows older :)
It is not every day that I get to spend any time with an autistic adult, and I enjoyed the experience. It is very difficult for me to relinquish even one opportunity to spend a moment alone reading a book or people-watching during a break, and I'm glad I resisted the urge in this case. I also got to experience some of the jeers and uncomfortable expressions and reactions that follow around a guy like Stephen first-hand, as there were many youngsters (high school and college age) who were on campus for various summer functions. It is a pity that someone rocking and speaking a bit louder than what is considered normal is enough to bias them towards Stephen's jovial and agreeable personality. If you read this Stephen, thanks for taking the time to dine with me.
That's it for today - hopefully I'll have more to report tomorrow!


mcewen said...

What a hoot! I love it when you speak to someone younger [or not come to think of it] and you 'disagree' about virtually everything. Good for you both.
Best wishes

Niksmom said...

Wow, Steve, I just finished readig about Days 1 & 2. This conference sounds so incredible. I'd love to know more about it so I might plan to attend one in the future.

Thanks, too, for letting me live vicariously through your experience with Stephen Hinkle; I am definitely one for hanging in the shadows when it comes to in-person interactions.

Looking forward to reading about Day 3!

Club 166 said...

Great stuff, Steve!

Thanks for taking the time to post about this. It's refreshing to hear about a group of people that are really striving to get it right.


ballastexistenz said...

I think my friend goes to grad school somewhere near there. But doubt she was at the conference.