On November 30th, 2018, I had the privilege to attend the Future Horizon’s Autism Conference in Nashville, TN. Since there was a one hour time change, my body automatically woke me up at 5:00 AM central standard time. This was perfect because it meant that I would have more time to get myself ready for the day’s events. After a shower, half a cup and coffee and breakfast, I packed up bags and caught the airport shuttle to the Marriott Nashville Airport where they were having the conference. Once inside, I dropped off my bags and headed over to the registration where I checked in. Meanwhile, scanned the lobby where there were three tables with books that contained lots of autism resources Future Horizons sold that. Behind the tables were Aimee Baller, her daughter and Teresa Corey who were selling the books. On the far right was a line and in front sat Dr. Temple Grandin who signed books and posed for pictures. In the meantime, I found myself a spot on the far left end of the large ballroom (which I later regretted being I could not get any photos of the speakers). Afterward, I grabbed a cup of tea and a pastry while going back over to the resource table. Once there, I was hesitant to pick up “Animals Make Us Human” and have Temple sign it along with my copy of “The Stories I Tell My Friends,” When I attempted to do, Aimee was already escorting Temple away who appeared to recommend a book to another that she thought might be helpful.
In the meantime, I sat down and studied the room for the perfect spot in case I could get photos of all the speakers. Being that room was large and since I didn’t have a superb quality camera, I did the best I could. Aimee introduced Temple who made began by making a joke related to technology glitches. Like all of her talks, Grandin touched on everything from growing up with autism to being used while sharing lots of splashes of humor here and there. A few examples that caught my attention was her concern that the autism label became way too focused on rather than the careers. She also shared that too many professionals were too busy making these assumptions in the hotel like the one that Temple presented at. Another thing that stood was her acknowledgment of the late Stephen Hawking. “Do you know what Stephen Hawking said before he died? It’s better to focus on the things you can do and not on what your disability will prevent you from doing.” Finally, she touched on the need of employees and how they cannot replace them. She also emphasized that because autistics pay close attention to details, jobs in skilled trade fields would be good jobs for them. Yet, because it focuses too many people on autism as a disability, too many parents are not allowing their children to go out into the world and get a job. Finally, I got up and ask Temple a question regarding learning how to drive is that she has recently been placing emphases in this area. She suggested that I need to find a friend early on a Sunday morning and drive around a big parking lot of a stadium instead of going directly to driver’s ed. Rather practice driving every Sunday at the same place at the same time.
Post Temple’s talk, I had the chance to line up and get her to sign the copy of my book while even getting photos with her. Along the way, I chatted with other attendees. Some were teachers while others were parents. Still, others were adults on the spectrum who were fans like myself. One particular fellow who stood out was a man who lived in the great Tennessee area and worked as a counselor. While waiting, he jokingly encouraged both of us to moo which I playfully declined. “You go right ahead.” Other people were not in line approached me I had networked with at breakfast. Some showed me their pictures with Temple while others came up and said hello. Still, others asked me if I really would learn how to drive. Last, one parent who was interested in me came up to get pictures with me while I could give her my business card. All the same, it was my turn for Temple to sign my book and have our photo taken together. “Who is this to?” Temple inquired while I told her the book was too me. All the while that parent insisted on giving her my spelling but I kindly corrected her by giving Temple my real spelling. Finally, I had my photo snapped with Temple and I before I briefly thanked Grandin and looked at the photo.
Following this, I ran into Anita Lesko who was standing between Temple and the doorway into the ballroom. Before introducing myself, I shared my photo with Temple and me to Anita. I finally had the chance to meet her in person post watching her talk on YouTube and tweet to each other via social media. Upon meeting her, Lesko was getting ready for her talk. Before I returned to my seat, I studied Anita who had a basket in her hand and LED battery operated Christmas lights thrown over her shoulders. Likewise, Anita’s introduction was much more laid back than Temple’s where she used powerpoint slides were recorded narratives on her biography. In the process of her biography, Lesko explained that she came from a very poor background where her mother had to sew all of their clothes. She also talked Rocky being her favorite movie and had made “You Fly Now” her theme song which played as Lesko marched down the aisles and handed out pieces of paper with her autograph and a quote by Bon Jovi. To add to it, Lesko had the Christmas lights turned as she marched. Afterward, Lesko began her talk about growing up before being diagnosed at age 50 with Asperger’s Syndrome. Before that, she described herself as quirky and awkward. She talked about her childhood in which she did interesting things like driving her tricycle in their family swimming pool. She also talked about how if she wanted to do something related to her interests such as horse jumping, she had to learn to work in the stalls where she got free lessons. She also talked about learning she could make a lot of money just by braiding manes and tails. Further, Lesko talked about working at an ice rink where she did lots of variables such as working the concessions and driving the truck. Post Lesko’s talk, like Temple, she stepped out into the lobby where she too signed books and took and photos while answering lots of questions. I got photos of Anita while meeting two other women on the spectrum who were blown away at what Anita had to say. During that time, I got pictures of these young fans. Meanwhile, Anita signed my book which she spelled out my name and wrote “Have a great day” with a little smiley face.
Meanwhile, I posed with one more photo with Dr. Grandin who was headed out to catch a flight. Temple was on her way to another autism-related event in Las Vegas. “I have been there three times,” I returned before people snapped photos of the two of us. Afterward, the same parent who got pictures of Temple and me approached me and began asking me questions on how she could help her son who was feeling stuck. In his particular case, he had the dream to be a marine biologist and was shut down by a professor was also on the spectrum who discouraged him from choosing a career in this area. He believed he could not be a marine biologist. So she was asking me how she could get him out of his shell but could come up with a solution all by herself by taking him to a marine center and get him excited again.
Following my brief conversation, I waved goodbye to Temple and told her I would see her next time. It was after she left I went to grab lunch where I sat with four women who were vendors that represented the greater Tennessee area. There, we all networked and talked about what we did for a living. Post lunch, I headed over to the vendor hall where they had everything from attorney resources to fidgets for individuals in the spectrum. One such vendor was run by a 10-year-old boy on the spectrum and his mother which I was impressed by. However, since I had recently purchased a few fidgets at the Future Horizon‘ resource table, I picked up a business card for other future opportunities.
Finally, I went to Dr. Jim Ball’s speech who not only talked about Temple’s models but also carried a great sense of humor while talking everything from reinforcers to autism and employment. One such area that really stood out is why in the world there is such a high level of adults are under-or unemployed. One of the main reasons is because so many adults can‘t handle criticism or being corrected. He also stated that a lot of it is that autistics are often too honest for their own good. In the examples he used, Ball talked about Sheldon Cooper and how he called his new boss stupid because he wasn’t a real scientist while becoming temporary fired. He also mentioned a young adult who had been learning to drive besides learning all the rules of driving and would call other people out to his parents. “That person is speeding” Ball stated in a humorous tone as the crowd laughed. Next, he walked about the difference between behavior and being annoying in which he pointed out that annoying is not a behavior. Last, I chatted with Jim briefly who I found delightful and very passionate about her work. We talked about Temple and how we both really appreciate how much she has done. I also talked about my work at the Center for Leadership in Disability and how I am training to become certified in registered behavior therapy besides connecting with him outside of the conference.
All things considered, the conference ended, and I headed back to the airport that evening to catch my flight home. As I reflected on all the wonderful things that happened during that day, I came away feeling refreshed remembering there is hope for an autistic and their families. What I most love about Future Horizon’s is that they have positive people who care about helping other people in the community grow. As a blogger and an attendee, I would like to thank Future Horizon’s, Dr. Jim Ball, Anita Lesko and Dr. Temple Grandin for all that each of you do.