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  • Writer's pictureJo Richardson Au

Behind the Mask; Understanding Autism and PDA Conference

I'm holding a conference!

What? Why?? Yep, I asked myself these questions as well when I first embarked on this project, considering everything that my family and I are dealing with currently.

The why of it is that, from our own experiences of services and support in our local area, there is a vast expanse between the understanding of professionals, school staff, etc. and the reality of what us autistics and PDAers are actually like (characteristics, processing style and speed, impairments, etc.) and what the families experience. There hasn’t been a conference like this in my area (I have been to several all over the country) and so I decided that if no one else was going to run one, then I would!

When I first started contemplating holding a conference, I was asked by a few different people whether I had been to conferences before and, after I said that I have been to many, asked why I go to them.

The answer is quite simple; To learn. To soak up as much information and knowledge as I possibly could; like a dehydrated sponge. There’s an old saying ‘knowledge is power’ but I think there is a far more important benefit when it comes to autism or autism related conferences, and that is; ‘knowledge is understanding’. By hearing different speakers, and therefore different perspectives or experiences, you increase your knowledge and understanding of autistics, different therapies and support techniques, what the latest scientific research or findings are, etc.

What I found was that I gained a great deal more insight and understanding from autistic speakers and those with autistics in their lives then I did from professionals on the subject. Studying someone’s displayed behaviours and characteristics doesn’t give you a great insight as to what the person is feeling or experiencing on the inside. With autistic speakers and those with autistics in their lives, it gives you a much more accurate understanding and glimpse into an autistic’s experience of the world.

I can’t articulate how beneficial it is to have a greater understanding of the autistic experience for those who have an autistic child. It makes it a lot easier to properly support your child if you understand why they are exibiting certain behaviours and that you understand their speed and way of processing information so that you can adapt your communication style and format with them. With greater understanding of why your child may behave or react in a certain way also can reduce the stress and overwhelm that the parent can feel in those situations (which in turn will reduce the stress and overwhelm that the child is experiencing) and will also help the parent to adapt how they broach or deal with these situations with their child.

I’m not saying “you must come to this conference or you’re not supporting your child!” by a long stretch of the imagination. I am just explaining the benefits of going to a conference, any conference, that has speakers that are speaking from either the front line or from a first person perspective.

If not a conference, watch YouTube videos by autistic advocates or specialists like Yvonne Newbold, Autistic Not Weird, Harry Thompson or Sara Hendrickx.

Go to workshops by those who understand autistics, such as Us in a Bus.

Read books by autistics or by those with autistics in their lives.

Read articles or blogs by autistics or those with autistics in their lives, such as The Aspergian website or Autistic Not Weird.

Find ways to increase your knowledge and understanding as it can not do any harm yet can make enormous difference to your child.

Ok, back to the details about this conference!

It’s called Behind the Mask; Understanding Autism and PDA Conference and is being held on Saturday 18th April at the Southend Christian Fellowship Centre in Southend, Essex.

I have an all star speaker line up (that I’m still pinching myself that they want to be a part of it) that are;

Chris Bonnello; the writer of the incredible website and Facebook page Autistic Not Weird. He has also written two brilliant books called Underdogs and What I Love Most About Life.

I have seen Chris speak and he gives such a great insight into being autistic and how he’s overcome difficulties in my life, that I actually punched the air and whooped during his presentation. He is incredibly inspiring and really knows his stuff.

Next we have Alison Dear who is a Speech and Language Therapist and a Sensory Integration Specialist. Alison works within schools training staff on how to best support autistic children regarding sensory issues. I haven’t heard Alison speak before but I am very much looking forward to her presentation as she has vast and valuable experience, insight and advice on supporting autistics.

I am the last to speak in the morning on female autistic characteristics, how we differ from male autistics and why girls are harder to (therefore less frequently) diagnose. This is my first speaking appointment so I am hoping not to embarrass myself too much in such a prestigeous line up!

After lunch the epic Harry Thompson will be speaking. He has both a YouTube channel and a Facebook page called Harry Thompson – PDA Extraordinaire. Harry has exploded onto the world speaking stage, speaking in different countries and is off on an Australian and New Zealand tour later in the year.

I saw Harry speak and was blown away; one of only a few PDA speakers on the circuit, he provides such an invaluable perspective on PDA which is badly needed as more children are being identified as PDA and there is very little knowledge or understanding of PDA by professionals who are supporting our children.

Next we have Janet Gurney who is a founder of Us In A Bus; a not for profit charity that works with adults and families with children with significant learning difficulties or with complex needs where they are very shutdown, are in their own world and have limited communication skills. One of the techniques they use is called Intensive Interaction which I have witnessed being used and was astounded at how effective it is. My son is non verbal and most often willl not even acknowledge others around him. When he refused to acknowledge his SALT, she used this technique and within 10 minutes he was playing with her (in his own way).

I have attended workshops with Janet and she is so knowledgeable and lovely too!

Last and most certainly not least, we have the incredible Yvonne Newbold who is the founder of The SEND VCB Project, writer of the No.1 bestseller ‘The Special Parents Handbook’ which is on the NHS recommended reading list for staff and parents of children with additional needs, winner of 3 different awards and she runs workshops on several different aspects of supporting your child with additional needs, how to get the most out of meetings with professionals, violent meltdowns, how to look after yourself as a parent and many more. She is the most inspirational woman that I have ever met and is such a tremendous asset to families who deal with Violent and Challenging/Controlling Behaviour; fighting for services to be created and professionals to be trained for families and children with VCB as well as supporting hundreds of families online, all over the world.

I have heard Yvonne speak and have been to several of her workshops and I think that she is absolutely wonderful.

If that amazing line up wasn’t enough – we will also have a separate room for information and trader stalls with groups such as Autism Anglia – an amazing organisation in our county.

If you would like to purchase tickets to this event, the Eventbrite link is as follows;

It’s shaping up to be an incredible day!

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