Note from Southeast President and Deputy CEO Dorienne Silva
On April 24, 2013 Youth Advocate Program celebrated Autism Acceptance month through hosting the conference "Rethinking Autism" in Greenville, South Carolina. Parents, teachers, self-advocates, human service professionals and local police explored new and positive ways of living and working together with autism by celebrating neuro-diversity. Our presenters raised the bar of expectations rather than focus on limitations caused by autism spectrum disorders.
Our goal was to cultivate greater opportunities for self-determination for those individuals diagnosed on the autism spectrum. "Rethinking Autism" was about changing a societal mindset so that schools, communities and workplaces would start proactively seeking and supporting the untapped benefits of neuro-diversity.
With 150 individuals in attendance the day started out strong through a Keynote speech from college student and self-advocate Nick Pentzell, whose message really challenged participants to "presume competence" when working with individuals with spectrum disorders. Plenary speaker and parent advocate Pat Amos followed by sharing the heart and soul of YAP's mission through emphasizing the importance of inclusion and unity.
Our partner organizations provided invaluable information about autism and local resources through the breakout workshops, the Sensory Playroom, and the expert panel that closed the day with a Question and Answer period. Our heartfelt thanks goes to Spring Brook Behavioral Health; the SC Autism Society; Able SC; Protection and Advocacy; South Carolina State University; Children's Hospital, Greenville Health Network; and the Children's Museum of the Upstate. We'd like to send a special thank you to the South Carolina Developmental Disabilities Council for their grant, which helped fund the conference.
Here are some comments for attendees of the day:
"Finally, a new approach"
"Thank You! This was an informative and elevating experience."
"It was great to "presume competence" with you guys!!"
"There is hope"
"Phenomenal Conference! Loved Pat Amos! Thank you!"
"Very thought provoking"
The conference was a huge success: people left not only with new information, but with thoughts of how we can all work together to accept and develop opportunities for all those that we share our work, home and community space.
A very special thank you to the YAP team who worked for months on the details of the conference: Ann Branning for all of her work in the conference planning and organizing; Pat Amos for her inspiring workshops; Diana Matteson for her incredible session on the arts; Caroline Petrilla for her diligence in helping make it happen through fundraising and press releases; and of course great appreciation for SC directors William Cameron, Pam Bohanon and Tom Lindenmuth as well as student intern Crystal Colina.