As I begin the 7th year of hosting my Autism Lecture Series I see now why it is time to bring the series to a close. How could it get any better than supporting people who live on the spectrum each day as they reveal their own stories filled with frustration, anger, sadness, hope & humor? It can’t.

I had the pleasure this month to facilitate two powerful discussions, one in Redwood City at Wings Learning Center, the other San Rafael at Marin County Office of Education with young adults on the autism spectrum.

The planning of this event started over a year ago when I connected to colleagues who were supporting people with ASD. I explained to them that I wanted parents & professionals to hear the real voices of people on the spectrum. I wanted teachers, therapists, administrators, residential & vocational staff, medical practitioners, mothers, fathers & grandparents to hear the voices of those who experience autism themselves. So, young people were identified & I met them at coffee shops, centers, restaurants & schools to explain how it would all work. Some I just had email conversations.

I developed a set of questions to give them ahead of time, so their anxiety could be lessened. I drew the building & the room the presentations would occur in & I discussed with them step by step how I would support & facilitate the time we had together. We discussed dress code & social skills for the day.

Each speaker sent me his/her bio & a picture to use in communications. I sent monthly reminders to the speakers & their support teams & finally the first lecture day arrived (September 14 in Redwood City & September 24th in San Rafael)

I couldn’t have been more proud to have been part of making this happen. There were moments of anger, when Jamie, Arin & Rose told their stories about how they were bullied. There were moments of laughter when Erin & Rose described how they took very proactive ways to deal with those classmates who would choose to take advantage of them. There were moments of sadness when Jamie offered such touching pearls of wisdom to mothers in the audience (When your son or daughters are hurting, don’t be afraid to just hold them & let them feel the beat of your heart)

There were moments of confirmation when Gwen & Jamie expressed their hopes to one day get married & have children & when Rose expressed the desire to be employed by Nintendo or Sega or when Tamsin expressed the desire to be able to live anywhere she chose to live & that it be close to where she wanted to work & connect to a community.

Then there was the moment when a mother asked for suggestions to stop her son’s hand movements because he would be going to a public school & she wanted him to fit in, when Jamie asked, “Why does it matter to you what other’s think?” “Don’t you just want your son to be able to show his excitement or be himself?”

Our guests learned that it is often difficult for these people to advocate for themselves. They had to learn these skills well after finishing high school. Guests learned that these young people failed college because no one prepared them for college life. Rose remembered being confused about the time her first class started & finding out that she would be late didn’t go at all and then chose not to go to any classes that day as she feared all her teachers would be mad. All she needed was someone to tell her it’s okay sometimes to be late & just because you’re late to one class doesn’t mean you can’t go to the others.

Our guests heard the voices of these young adults who live each day on the spectrum & felt grater compassion & understanding

I can’t wait till next month to hear the advice given.

Karen Kaplan