Let's start with the NAS Professionals Conference 2014. Though the NAS Professionals Conference is, as billed, one of the biggest autism conferences in the UK, I couldn't believe the range of choices of seminars, workshops and stands, completely dwarfing any event I have had the pleasure of speaking at! As well as doing my part at conferences, I also like listen attentively to the other contributors, as I like to feel that there is something new I can learn from different ways in which different people affected by autism (whether on the autistic spectrum themselves or as a parent/carer or professional) that can reinforce my own ability to cope as well as my understanding of autism generally. As one of the speakers at the event, Roy Richard Grinker, a Professor of Anthropology at George Washington University, Washington DC, said, understanding autism is a human continuum.
For me, the highlight of the conference, and many whom I spoke to seemed to be in agreement, was the performance by stand-up comedian and blogger John Williams, who is also a parent of a young man with autism. Williams, whose blog and show is called My Son's Not Rainman, gave a performance that was both very touching and humorous. In talking about his experiences with his son, he described some very helpful approaches for practising mindfulness, which I felt enhanced my own seminar that I gave a day later. First of all, he described that his son had no concept of time, which however awkward it was for attending school on time, also meant low expectation, enabling him to be more tuned into the moment. Then he described the nightmare of a school prom at a mainstream school opposed to the magic of a school disco in a special school. Whereas at a mainstream school prom, how one presents socially and image-wise is paramount, people are too worried either about how they look or how others may make them look to be enjoying themselves, at his son's school disco, nobody cared about how anyone looked or behaved, and as a result were more in tune with the purpose of the event, enjoying themselves, including a blind girl who was so in tune with the music she was in the moment. I know which one of these two events I'd rather be at!
|With my new friend Mickey
|Taking Mickey for a walk!
|Cross-country skiing in the Lyngen Alps, Norway
One of the main reasons why I headed to Tromso for a break, was to hope that I would be lucky enough to see what some of us as far south as Jersey have maybe been fortunate to have seen in the last few weeks if you looked to the sky at the right time - the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights)! I knew not to expect to see any Northern Lights as the conditions have to be right, even at the magnetic pole, for one to view them. So in case they didn't appear, I had also booked a husky sled expedition, which had to be cancelled due to adverse weather conditions. After the first two nights where low cloud cover obscured any possible views of the lights, as an alternative to the cancelled dogsled expedition, I was offered the chance to visit a traditional Sami (an indigenous people native to northern Scandinavia) home, including a traditional Sami dinner around an open fire. While in tune with the warmth of the fire, the cloud cover later began to break up and I managed to gain a glimpse of a green tinge of Aurora!
|The Northern Lights, near Tromso, Norway
Such an unstructured and impermanent concept of time is more conducive to noticing the effects of mindfulness practice, as well as lowering expectations, something else comedian John Williams suggested to OFSTED inspectors as an approach to accommodating children like his son in school, rather than them pretending to be X-Factor judges!
Stay tuned to Adventures with Autism Works for another exciting announcement ahead of World Autism Awareness Day next month (April)!
A huge thank you to the National Autistic Society for inviting me to take part in a fantastic event!