I recently attended yet another autism conference.
Now, for me, attending a conference is about education. I want to learn what’s new in the autism world. I already have a working knowledge of autism but I like to keep up with the latest.
A problem for me is I am not that outgoing.
What do I do at a conference?
I can be quiet and just sit in my seat and listen to the speakers. I have done that in the past.
However, I have learned over the years that there is another reason why I attend conferences.
To socialize with like-minded people.
I feel that attendees are there to learn from the speakers, however attendees would also benefit greatly from interacting with other parents and professionals.
Good conferences encourage this. The head of this last conference opened with something like this: “Please approach another person today and another person tomorrow. Talk to someone you didn’t know before you got here. Leave this conference having at least one conversation with someone you didn’t know each day. You are here to listen to our presenters but you are also here to talk to each other. That is how we serve our community best.”
He was right.
The autism community thrives on the knowledge that it shares with others. Word HAS to spread to continue momentum of education and awareness.
Without word of mouth and talking to each other, awareness of people and kids within our society – a group that is expanding every day – might grind to a halt. Since there are new diagnosis’ every day, we want to keep that information flowing.
How does a shy person talk to a stranger?
First, I totally get that almost every person at a conference has some connection to autism. That knowledge itself relaxes me. I can open a conversation with a stranger by saying, “My son used to spin wheels for hours.”
And, the woman sitting next to me will know exactly what I mean.
It’s reassuring and an instant connection.
Second, the conference organizers really do want you to network. They get the need to keep the information flowing, too. They don’t want the conversations to stop. Often, they have autistic kids of their own and talking to other people helped them along the way.
Third, some presenters purposely put group activities into their programs. I have been in many such group activities. In a group activity, you end up having to talk to others because you have been asked by the presenter to work together with a partner or a group.
And, really, how can we teach our own children about how to socialize with a partner or within a group if we don’t have similar experiences? Ours are with strangers, but almost all of the attendees I have seen (myself included) jump right into such a format. Often, it ends up interesting and sometimes even fun.
What happens when you socialize?
You learn from another person and you pass on useful information to someone who may not have your experience. You talk with a speech therapist or an OT and get a helpful hint that you could possibly use with your own child. Sometimes, you even end up making a friend.
It is hard for shy people to socialize. I am not the worst shy person out there, but I am far from the most outgoing person.
At an autism conference, however, I know I have responsibilities and I take them seriously. One responsibility I take on is to talk to other attendees. And, I do.
How else do I socialize?
Besides attending conferences as a participant, I often show up as a volunteer for Autism Speaks. I run a table for them by myself or (more often) with one of the representatives.
I do this to help out but almost because it forces me to talk to other people because I am there as a volunteer for Autism Speaks. That puts me at a conference with the sole purpose of socializing with people who come up to our table and inquire about Autism Speaks.
I believe in this organization and I have a child with autism, so I figure it’s another great way to talk about autism and keep my natural shyness in check.
Autism has certainly become a huge factor in keeping my shyness in check. I have found an “autism voice.” If the topic is autism, I feel comfortable discussing it.
And there’s no better place than at an autism conference.
To Find Kimberly Kaplan:
www.smashwords.com or Amazon Kindle ebook “A Parents’ Guide to Early Autism Intervention”