Despite the fact that the day had been grey, damp and cold, despite the fact that the car park had entailed a long walk across poor ground and despite the fact that darkness was falling fast, the crowd yelled out for more. Why; because through tears of sadness we had spent the day laughing out loud.
Yesterday I had the privilege, and it was a privilege, to chair Brookdale’s latest conference. An event where we had strayed a long way from the established path and backed a hunch. Three or four times a year we stage free autism conferences for large numbers of professionals and carers, our way of giving something back, our experience of hosting these is that it is always those speakers with autism that generate the most interest. What if we were to host an event where all five speakers were on the spectrum and not pre-scripted or censor their words? The first inkling that we had got it right came as the applications rolled in, we ended up capping at 250 delegates and over a 100 on the waiting list.
The day before I had listened to Joe Powell who is on the spectrum speak eloquently alongside Jane Asher and Geoffrey Madrell at Research Autism’s tenth anniversary bash at the Houses of Parliament, a celebration of their very important work in the field. Afterwards I mentioned to Joe what we were doing and he affirmed that he thought it a great idea.
We figured that if you want to understand what it feels like to write music, who do you ask, those connected with the industry or the songwriters themselves? But how would it go, would I be left with my timekeeping in tatters and a lot of awkwarditty? Instead each and every speaker in their own styles provided the most wonderful candid and colourful very personal stories and insights into their childhood, their schooling experiences, their contact with professionals and us Neuro Typicals alongside their disasters were their triumphs, forging a way forward in our NT world.
As the humour had us rolling in the aisles, the inspiring creativity, the level of insight and desire to communicate and help others, frankly left any stereotypes in tatters. More to the point the only times my timekeeping became a problem was when I gave the one minute signal to one of the speakers who expressed mock outrage at my one finger signal, cue more laughter at my expense and then later when informing the final speaker five more minutes, he asked for ten and this is when the audience seriously undermined me and asked for more! What a day, a genuinely moving and enriching experience.