She is my version of a rock star, and I can’t think of a rock star I would have been more excited about meeting. Her books (and her mom’s book) have had a massive impact on my life, and on my parenting. When I heard she was going to be in town for a conference I was giddy, until I saw the price of the conference. Then my brother stepped up and offered to pay for a ticket for me. (Thank you very much Steve). I was THRILLED.
The night before the conference she had a book signing at Barnes and Noble, and I had to go to it. Zach wanted to meet her too, so we brought the kids. Zane was less than thrilled at the idea of going, and I after giving him a choice (either get out of the car, go into the bookstore and wait in line nicely, or no computer) I realized the irony of using a technique I had gotten directly from her books (except for Temple, her mom used TV) to get him to cooperate with meeting her. To his credit, he did come with us and wait in the long line patiently.
Waiting in line was like a reunion of sorts. I didn’t realize how many people in the local Autism community I knew until I was in the bookstore and knew, either by name or face, a good third of the people there. lol. Several of Zane’s former therapists, some of the students from the University Speech Therapy program, other families, media, and various other workers and advocates I have meet over the years were there. Some of them I had known long enough that they were shocked at how much older the kids were. lol.
We have been to book signings before and they usually have the authors near entrance. I even commented to Zach that I wondered if they would have her up by the doors because it seemed like an overwhelming place for somebody with sensory issues. I smiled when I got there and realized they had her way in the back corner, where it was much quieter and less busy, and had the lines weaving through the stacks so it both obstructed her view of the line, and muffled the noise quite a bit. Such a simple, smart solution.
As we waited in line we debated which book to get to have her sign. I finally settled on The Way I See It: A Personal Look at Autism and Asperger’s because I had checked the books from the library a ridiculous number of times at this point, and I had wanted to buy it for some time. While waiting somebody came through the line with a stack of post it notes, asking how we wanted the book inscribed. Another smart idea because it reduced the amount of interaction necessary for Temple.
As we finally rounded the last corner and I was faced with the big display of books, I decided to add The Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships: Decoding Social Mysteries Through the Unique Perspectives of Autism for Zane, for when he gets older, but didn’t have time to get a little post it note for it. I didn’t have time to dig out the post-it notes in my purse (yes, I am that dorky, I carry post-its with me all the time) before it was our turn.
When we went to her table, camera in hand, she was “in the zone”. She said “hi” as we walked up, handing her the book, and much to my delighted surprise, Zane said “hi” right back. I wanted to do a little dance when he did that…it is a rare thing, especially for somebody he doesn’t know. As I handed her the second, book (without the note) I asked her to sign it to Zane, and she looked up, breaking out of her “zone”. I put my hand on Zane’s head and said “This is Zane”, she looked at Zane, looked back at me, back at Zane, then immediately asked me “Are you going to the Autism Conference tomorrow?”. (Apparently it was blindingly obvious that he is also Autistic…the book chosen was probably a big clue since it is for a pretty specific audience) I told her yes, I was very excited about it, and then told her that her books were a big help to me. I was so excited that I forgot to take a picture. Me. Forgot to take a picture. There were even people standing right there, a good half dozen people that I knew by name, that I could have asked to take it for us, but I totally blanked out. I was told by several people that they saw Zane on the news footage. I saw one channel that had his hair and chin looking at the books, but not anything other people would recognize, so it must have been on another channel. I was standing next to a person who was interviewed for a while (my back to the camera, and I didn’t notice it until I was walking away), and I could hear myself in the background. lol
The conference the next day was AWESOME! It was so interesting to hear her speak and I learned so much. It reconfirmed my commitment to make sure he has functional communication, but to put a higher priority on skill development than trying to obtain a level of social communication that isn’t very realistic for him. No amount of social skills training is going to make him a salesperson or customer service type person, but if he can develop a marketable skill, something that he can develop a portfolio for where the work speaks for itself, he has a shot in life. She also talked about biomed and pharmacological interventions that have worked for her, and her evaluation process in deciding what is worth trying. It was extremely useful because she was able to talk about some of the issues with a frankness that most people would find uncomfortable in front of an audience, but was exactly the kind of information you need when dealing with these issues.
She was also excited about the movie that came out about her and thrilled with Claire Dane’s portrayal, which made me want to rewatch the movie yet again (as if I don’t already have it memorized). One of the things I liked about the film was the visual potrayal of her thought process. It was how I imagined Zane thought, so I wondered how she felt about it. I didn’t even have to ask because she was pleased enough to mention that exact thing during her lecture.
I also saw quite a few familiar faces, including another parent who’s son has been with my son for several years in social skills groups and therapies, so we have spent a lot of hours talking over the years. She came with some other people and we ate together and she helped take a picture for me so that I finally had a picture of Temple Grandin. The three of us were talking about our kids while taking the pictures (I took one for her too), so Temple isn’t thinking about posing, but somehow it was perfect anyway. She is amazingly approachable and easy to talk to, with the added advantage of not having to do the elaborate social dance when you want to ask a question. With her, you just ask.
As I was standing there talking, right after the picture, as Temple went around the corner to do a radio interview, I suddenly noticed the huge banner/poster thing that I was facing during this picture. I had walked past it a dozen times but didn’t notice it.
Bigger than life size little Zane.
The irony being that neither Zane nor Elise (the OT behind him) is at Heartspring any more.
The rest of the conference was also really interesting.
The second speaker was Britt Collins, an OT, who was good, but didn’t really delve deeply enough for my tastes. I did pick up a different use for a therapy ball that I will be using, and the overall lecture was good. I think if I went to a conference where she had more lecture time it would be much better, largely because I am really familiar with sensory issues and didn’t need a review to get into it.
The last speaker was Diane Bahr, who talked about feeding issues and speech development. This one made my brain really work. It was fabulous, but I would have been lost if I wasn’t already very familiar with a lot of technical terminology. As it was, I learned a lot. There are a lot of things that I have done, as a parent, that I knew was important, but I never really knew why (beyond…”it is good for development”), and now I have a much deeper grasp of those things. Everything from “tummy time” as an infant/toddler, to breastfeeding, to how/when to introduce foods and drinks to children and why those things have such an impact on development and speech. Now I know why I was asked about all of those things and why I have been told that I did everything (well, I am sure not “everything”, but you know what I mean) right. It was interesting to hear that there is a dramatic increase in ST/OT clients due to parenting practices (like leaving kids in the infant carrier/buckets, kids staying on baby/toddler foods too long) that is really affecting the occupation. After going through what normal development entailed, on a very detailed level, she explained how to address serious eating/feeding/speech issues, at it was FASCINATING. She focused on motor based speech delays and feeding issues, including drooling, biting and sensory/texture issues. Definitely worth listening to.
After her lecture I stood around listening to other people’s questions (I do that at most lectures because I think I learn as much from specific questions as I do from lectures) and, after my question, she asked the group of parents that were left hanging around about the local services. I mentioned that we currently got services through the university, but for opposite reasons…that my son’s speech delay was due to autism and apraxia (motor based) and my daughter’s delay was totally phonological, so the therapies are quite different. She was thrilled to know that the university recognized the difference because a lot of places don’t, but it is critical to making progress to understand the reason for the delay. (because some techniques cross over, but some are more targeted). She asked about the specifics and it was gratifying to see her positive reaction. I even had some other parents ask me about it later, as we were leaving. That was sort of neat too.
It was an awesome experience. A huge thank you to Steve who made it possible for me to go.