In April, I went to the Mid-Atlantic Regional Music Therapy Conference in Pittsburgh, PA. My former job coach Rachel Reed, CJ, and I presented on collaborating for a community music therapy program for The Musical Autist. It was a great presentation. CJ, Rachel and I talked about how we collaborated in 2016 to start a new program called Empowerment Jam Sessions. These are when people with and without disabilities come together to make music in a casual, semi-structured environment. We did this presentation on Thursday afternoon after lunch.
On Friday, CJ, Zoe, and I facilitated a conversation at the networking luncheon about autism acceptance and neurodiversity. The neurodiversity networking luncheon was especially great, because I gave a talk to people about autism and how autistic people face various challenges in their daily lives. We talked about the important role of music therapy and how music therapy helps autistic people overcome things that are hard, like social skills and sensory needs. It was a great conversation and we took feedback from everybody concerning how the conversation went.
When Zoe went to sessions that were specifically for music therapy interns, I had lots of downtime. I would spend it hanging out in the hotel room reading things online on my phone. Zoe and I would also go to the swimming pool that was located in the hotel and we would have a glass of wine at night in the bar with CJ and other colleagues. I felt as if I reconnected with Rachel Reed, who was not only my first job coach, but also my best friend. I thought that when I talked with her she understood everything I said.
I like going to conferences like these, because I feel that I can make connections with people that I do not know and other autistic advocates. I connect with autistic people and nuerotypical people alike. I can talk to them about the mission and vision of The Musical Autist. I feel that I can talk to them about our concerts, jam sessions, and our new program, The Musical Autist troupe, which is a place where a group of autistic students and neurotypical students get together to rehearse music and learn about autistic advocacy. When I talk to people about these things, I feel like I’m accomplishing something. At the end of the day, the questions I always ask myself are, “did I spread the message about autism today? Did I make somebody aware of the mission and vision of our organization?”
The Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference is not the only conference at which I have presented. I spoke at the DIR Floortime Conference in 2015. I also spoke at Autism Society National Conference and the Autism National Committee Conference. Last year, I spoke at the Music and Autism Symposium at NYU in New York City. When I go to these conferences, I feel as if I can get away from my daily routine and take a little break from my day-to-day tasks. I feel that when I go to conferences to speak, it’s like a little vacation. I get to relax and to spread the message about autism acceptance. I enjoy doing these things at these conferences, because I feel that this is my purpose in life. I feel that spreading the message about autism is very important, especially for those who may not know anything about it. It is important that I make my voice heard all over the country and abroad so that all may know how to accept autistic people just the way they are.
At this particular conference that CJ, Zoe, and I went to, I feel that our communication skills were sharpened. I felt as if I could communicate my needs with CJ and Zoe and express the things that I wanted to do. It was important to me that I knew my schedule and that I knew what would happen on a day-to-day basis. It was also important that I had as much downtime as I could before and after my commitment on Thursday, which was to give the presentation, and my commitment on Friday, which was the neurodiversity networking luncheon. When we got home from the conference on Saturday, we took a few days to rest and recover. Eventually, CJ, Rachel, and I filled out a presenter survey that had to be turned in, so that the information could be used for the national conference in the fall. Overall, I think the conference went very well. I really enjoyed myself and enjoyed the company of autistic and neurotypical people.
In the future, I want to present at more and more conferences so that I can share the message of autism acceptance. If anyone is interested in having me as a speaker at their conference or for university classes, you can contact me through The Musical Autist. My hope is that all people will eventually know how to work with autistic people every single day whether it’s through a therapeutic or personal relationship. I want people to realize how hard it is for autistic individuals to overcome our challenges without their support. With the support of therapies and communities, I hope that the world of autism will become a better place and more accommodating towards all autistic people who may need help overcoming various challenges, so that they can live a full, healthy, and productive life.