A New Emphasis on Adults
Last week I had the opportunity to attend the 44th Annual Autism Society Conference in Pittsburgh. The three-day conference had many amazing highlights. One came from fellow Autism After 16 columnist Caroline McGraw, who did a breakout session called “Challenges and Joys of Being a Sibling." Caroline—whom I had never met before the conference—was very powerful in presenting what it is like being the sister of an adult on the autism spectrum. Caroline did an amazing job on her speech and presentation.
Another highlight, which blew my mind, involved the keynote address focusing on adults with autism. This address called “Legislative Efforts and the Autism Community” was given by Congressmen Mike Doyle and Chris Smith. These two individuals played pivotal roles in the passing of the Combating Autism Reauthorization Act of 2011 by the House of Representatives. This bill provided $693 million in federal funding to help those affected by autism. These two congressmen have had a dramatic impact for the autism community in the past. They announced that now they are focusing their agenda on adults with autism.
Even though the congressmen only spoke for about 10 minutes apiece, they each made a lasting impression on me. One quote that stuck in the back of my head was when Smith said we must change the conversation from helping “children with autism” to “people with autism." This hit home for me because for over a year I have been advocating for just that. I’ve said over and over that the popular image of autism has been of children and the conversation should now focus more on adults with autism. To have someone stand up at a national conference and support this meant a great deal to me.
Their overall message is something I think can move mountains for us! The facts are clear. The numbers keep rising for autism. Kids with autism are growing up, and we better be prepared for them. The other take-away for me was the passion behind what they were saying. Both congressmen know that the future is going to be difficult because of the current spending cuts, but they refuse to use that as an excuse.
Finally, a personal highlight for me at the conference was the friendships I made with other young adults on the spectrum. As someone who has a full-time job along with several part-time jobs, it’s difficult to fit in a social life. These three days helped me by being with others my own age along with gaining some great perspectives into autism.
It was also the start of one of my new positions as a member of Autism Society’s Panel of People on the Spectrum of Autism Advisors (PSA). As one of the youngest members on the panel, the social opportunities here along with the opportunities to be mentored were plentiful.
Overall, this was my fourth year at the conference and as in prior years, those three days have done wonderful things for me and for that I’m grateful.