Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Targeting Autism 2019 Conference Recap

So I went back to Illinois for round two.

I had the honor to speak at the Targeting Autism conference's 2019 iteration this past Friday, and I might have enjoyed it even more than I did the first time I spoke. You can read about my first-ever trip to Illinois here, where I discovered that Springfield shuts down early, people are almost scarily polite, and you can stand in the middle of the street at rush hour and not get hit by a car. This time, we didn't have to leave Chicagoland because the conference was at Dominican University, which is a little Catholic university in Oak Park that quite literally was designed to look like a medieval monastery. I loved the way the campus looked, mostly because I joke that I'm the reincarnation of a 13th century monk who was in charge of the monastery library and drew really weird marginalia in all the books I copied over.
Dominican University, which looks like a medieval monastery where someone like me would have been sequestered away making illuminated manuscripts featuring knights fighting snails in the margins.
I arrived at the hotel the night before much earlier than I did the previous year because I didn't have to drive three hours to get to it, and I was delighted to find that it opened in 1928 so I had basically walked into a Poirot novel when I had stepped into the lobby. Relieved to have only had to drive for about 25 minutes in suburbia instead of several hours in nothingness, I slept wonderfully in a fancy room that I felt like I wasn't rich enough to be sleeping in. The next morning, it was incredibly easy to roll out of bed, get ready, and head over to the conference because I wasn't half-dead.
A bed I probably didn't deserve but slept in anyway.

Once I was settled in at the conference with way too much bacon and eggs, I found my good friend Alyssa Huber and her friend Miranda, who were selling their neurodiversity jewelry and copies of Alyssa's documentary, and we proceeded to hang out whenever we weren't in panels watching other people speak. You can see Alyssa's video recap of the conference here:


There were a ton of incredible speakers on day one of the conference, most notably the legendary John Elder Robison, author of Look Me In The Eye,  and awesome folks we met last year, including Gyasi Burks-Abbott, who was on the group panel with me last year. Day two was equally stacked, with professional autistic Toastmaster Tom Iland, another fellow panelist from last year, Erin Miller, and Library Journal Mover and Shaker Renee Grassi. There was also discussion of how best to provide autistic services in the Muslim, Latinx, and African-American communities, which are really important things to bring up because these are clearly underserved populations (autism is still stereotyped as a "cisgender white boy" thing).

And then I spoke, too, and I guess I was okay.

Some weirdo who thinks she's funny. Photo by Alyssa Huber.
[I'll edit this post to include video of my talk on how to self-advocate in your community as soon as it's available.]

I really appreciate this conference for giving me a platform to voice the concerns of autistic self-advocates (and my own personal concerns, as well). As mentioned above, this was my second time speaking here, and I've found both times that the gathered attendees have been incredibly receptive and ready to learn. They all come into the conference with open minds, ready to receive new ideas and novel methods of helping their communities grow, and I have confidence that they're going to implement what they learned when they return to their homes and libraries. After I spoke, multiple attendees came up to me to inform me that they were now thinking differently about their own children and about autistic folks in their communities and in the world at large, so I was really happy to know people were listening and were taking what all the speakers were saying to heart!

Also, to everyone who complimented my art or told me I was funny: you're the best. I put a lot of work and effort into drawing and being funny, so it means the world to me every time you like my art or laugh at something I said. I'm sorry that every time I do a talk it morphs into a stand-up routine, but that's the best method for me to get things across, I think, so I'm just relieved when you all appreciate it and then still tell me that despite all my jokes and wisecracks you still learned something in between it all. Thank you all for being an amazing audience!

After we were all done for the day, Alyssa and I recorded a message to the Autistic Gaming Initiative team and server at large, with help from Miranda:

My contributions to this video mostly consist of me mugging, but they're contributions nonetheless.

Other things I got to do in Illinois during the time I was there include:
  • Portillo's being delivered to me via DoorDash!
  •  Seeing Chicago in person for the first time, even though I didn't get to spend too much time in the city proper!

  •  Messing around with optics with the Bean!

  •  More Portillo's, this time in an actual Portillo's restaurant!
  •  Riding on L trains!

  •  Finding a portrait of myself as a child painted in Oak Park...?
  •  Getting stuck at the airport for almost 8 hours because my 11:30 am flight out of O'Hare was delayed until 7 pm! Wait...what?
  •  Getting some great sunset and moonrise photos to make up for having to wait 8 hours doing nothing!

All in all - great conference, even better people, and overall a wonderful experience except for the part where United decided I needed to spend eight hours hanging out in the airport. Definitely looking forward to whatever happens with the conference next year - and more than definitely interested in going back once more! 

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