Visiting Nashville TN for the Future Horizon’s Autism Conference

Temple and I at a FH conference in 2014 held in Atlanta

On Thursday, November the 29th, I will be boarding a flight that is bound for Nashville, Tennesee.  During my stay,  I will spend much of the afternoon and evening studying, dining and sleeping in my hotel.  The following morning, I will grab myself a large breakfast before hopping on the hotel’s shuttle which will drop me off at the Nashville Airport Marriott.  It is at this site that Future horizons will hold it’s autism conference where I will blog about the event and the speakers.

 

I am particularly looking forward to attending this event is that two out of three speakers are women next to being on the spectrum like myself.   What is more is that one of them happens to be Temple Grandin, who I have been acquainted with for quite some time. One of the main reasons is because her latest talks included information about how an adult with autism can learn to drive.  Being that I am 37 and have never learned, I feel it’s never too late.  So I am hoping to inquire with her second reason I catch up with Temple is that I have a friend who is currently unemployed and is facing some levels of discouragement at the moment.   I would like to put her on the phone with him because she is very encouraging and I believing she would give him some helpful advice.   Say, getting a work portfolio work samples that my friend can present when seeking a new job. All the while hoping to provide tips when he gets discouraged.   Ultimately, Temple and I are both very quirky women on the spectrum who believe in getting things done.   I look forward to seeing another go-getter like myself who believes in others on the spectrum.  

Not only that, I look forward to meeting Anita Lesko, who the second woman on the spectrum who will be presenting.   At the present, Lesko and I have not only had the chance to hear her speak live in an interview on World Autism Awareness Day.  I also had a chance to read her book “The Stories I Tell My Friends,” which is exclusively about Temple herself.  I am also inspired by her own amazing adventures including her all autistic wedding and her adventures flying on a fighter jet next to sharing some of the same struggles that I face daily.   As those of you who are my followers recall,  I read and reviewed that book.   So am I excited to finally be able to meet Anita.   

Following both of their talks, I look to get my copy of “The Stories I Tell My Friends” and hopefully at the same time.  Apart from getting the book signed, I hope to pose in a photo together with Temple and Anita.  Particularly as a way of saying “Thank you” for allowing me to read and review their book.

 

 

At long last,  I will have the chance to meet Dr. Jim Ball, who is specialized in ABA.    One of the reasons to listen to him is because of the some of the work that I am currently becoming more familiar with all this.   As I don’t know much about Applied Behavior Analysis, one would argue that it would sensible to get my feet wet.  This is especially since so many adults with autism are protesting the use of ABA versus other therapies such as floor time. 

While I impassioned about the conference,  there are two more days.  During that time, I have to remind myself that things need to be done now and then.  Between work, finals to study for and a flight to catch, there is a lot to be done.  

At this time,  you may wish to look at the link which contains information on the conference. 

https://www.fhautism.com/about-our-autism-conferences/autism-conference-with-temple-grandin-in-nashville-tn-november-30-2018/

Wings for Autism

On April 12, 2016, I had the opportunity to attend a very memorable event at the Atlanta Hartsfield -Jackson International Airport which is one of the busiest in the world next to O’Hare in Chicago.   The invitation was given by a former supervisor who had hired me to work at the Center for Leadership in Disability (CLD) at Georgia State University where I am currently employed.

Wings for Autism, 4

(Delta Airline Pilot during Press Conference).

At any rate, this affair was better known as “Wings for Autism,”  which is a collaboration of major airlines and international airports who reach out to families and their loved ones who live with autism.   By definition, the program offers these families relief by providing an opportunity to help these individuals practice traveling by way of flight.  Being that the surroundings of an airport and the process of boarding a plane can be stressful and scary it has been much harder to fly with their children.   What this new and unique program offers are a monthly practice run where these families will be allowed to practice getting their boarding passes, going through security, and boarding the plane.

Miyah First Class

( Me aboard a Delta Boeing 777 in business class)

On March March 10, 2016, I had first received the invitation by way of e-mail.  Being that I share a love for airports, flying, traveling and Delta Airlines, this was an offer that I could absolutely not refuse.  Though I don’t have any children of my own and being that I live on the spectrum myself,  making an observation was logical.   Based on those observations, I would be able to come to a conclusion and be able to give my input.  So here is the story of how the process works.

It was around 9:30 in the morning when we met up  and began receiving our special boarding passes in the international terminal.   Rather than replicas of what a boarding pass would normally look like, we received special letters from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).  While waiting a solo violinist who played various tunes from classical to modern alternative music. All the while it was my turn to receive my boarding pass but had to wait since the staff accidentally misplaced mine.  When I did receive it, I was directed to a security checkpoint where the usual routine of taking off my shoes and passing my bag through the metal special metal detector.  Thought I made it through security, sadly my purse was checked only to find that I had two plastic bottles containing water which I had forgotten was prohibited since 2006.    Yet, this did not bother to phase me one bit even though I could have had a meltdown right there and then. Rather I laughed it off and was directed to take a descent to two escalator fights to a the “Plane Train.”  Upon arriving and waiting for the airport train, I was greeted by a TSA officer who told me that she had a nineteen year old child with severe autism who could not speak.   She also instructed to take the train to concourse E where there would be a reception and small press conference with local media officials.   Upon arriving at concourse E, I headed straight away to the reception where I engaged in a short conversation with one of the airline pilots who helped with the festivities.   It was during that conversation that I had geeked out with her on the type of aircraft that we would be boarding later that day.   As it turned out, our Boeing class was a 777, which often flies long trips to Africa or Japan.

In any manner, the reception soon ended when we were asked to sit at the nearest gate where the short press conference to place.  It was inside this conference that several officials from Delta and from the airport had a chance to briefly share their stories about raising children with autism and their struggles in flying with them.  As a listened, I was intrigued and touched by each story as I was not only understood but accepted by people who work in a hectic world where people hardly stop to acknowledge autism.  Rather they are rushing to get you through security,  take a break from acutely long flights to sleep and eat, to making sure everyone boards according to TSA procedures.  Seeing the opposite was almost like slowing down enough to smell the roses for the autism community.

It was soon after that it was time to board the plane for our feign stimulated flight where the customer service agents announced the time and number of our flight.  Rather than giving each guest a row and a seat number,  everyone was allowed to board all at once.   While we were allowed to pick our own seats, there was a requirement to sit in the middle of the plane where the pilot had us fasten our seat belts and set our cell phones to”Airplane mode.”  It was shortly after that the pilot spoke over the PA system about instructions in helping their loved ones learn to fly which I found some areas to be helpful such as booking your airline tickets as early as possible.  On the other hand, I observed that the pilot did not hand over the PA to the flight attendants to give a practice run about  before and aircraft departs the ground.  This is something that greatly disturbed me because I feel that when flying, these individuals on the spectrum need to be taught the importance of those things in order to prepare for an emergency.  Instead, we were allowed to see what the environment of an aircraft looks like, hear from the pilot as well as give a self-guided tour from the back of the cockpit.

A second thing that caught my attention was a young man who had a meltdown right in front of me. This was by way of throwing a tantrum, crying and feeling impatient.  Why? He hated the idea of sitting still and was frustrated because he wanted to get off and get McDonald’s.  Since our plane was sitting at the gate, the staff were nice enough to get him off the plane and grab lunch.  My feeling on the matter is that one cannot just get off a plane and grab whatever they want to eat any told they want because they simply crave it.  Rather it’s best to find McDonald’s at an airport as it’s often widely available and stock up on their child’s favorites to carry onto the plane to enjoy during the flight.  I also feel that a first flight should be shorter which ranges from one to two hours with the individual sitting on an outside seat where they could get out and go for a walk.   All the while have them participate in frequent practice days at their local airport before hand so the airport and the airplane scenario become familiar.   All the while feel the most comfortable with flying.

Now in conclusion to being a part of “Wings for Autism” and its celebration, I will give a review.  First and foremost I believe that it is a groundbreaking program that will benefit many individuals alike and that will hopefully catch the eye of other venues and companies to help these individuals feel comfortable in society.   On the other hand, I do feel that the “Wings for Autism” have a lot of tweaking to undergo in the assistance to successful travels.  For one thing, these kids need to be taught about assigned seats and waiting their turn at the gate.  That is unless their parents make arrangements with the airline ahead of time to allow early boarding time before everyone else.   Secondly, we all know that traveling isn’t going to be perfect all the time and that means a flight to be delayed or canceled due to things like weather.  People with autism like routine and when a routine is interrupted that is when you have meltdowns and panic attacks.  My feeling is that the organizations and the airlines need to be teaching them about delays and cancellations so each family can have a backup plan.   Being that I am interested and intrigued at what the world of traveling is doing, I long to be more involved in seeing that these things happen.