Written by Denys Collins
On October 5th and 6th, more than 200 people gathered at Pioneer Park for the Autism Society of Alaska’s Second Annual Autism Conference. The two day event saw people from all over Alaska including attendees from the Aleutians. Individuals with autism, professionals, educators, family members, and caregivers filled the Civic Center ready to learn and connect. Michelle Garcia Winner began Thursday bright and early with her keynote on Social Thinking and focused the day applying it to younger kids. On day two she dug deeper into Social Thinking with application on teens and adults. Following her second day keynote began the 8 breakout sessions from local Alaskan speakers and a chance to visit the 15 exhibit booths to conclude the final day.
The Needs of the State
Vibrations of conversations filled the air with people making face-to- face connections. Those interested in networking and learning about products, resources, and services that address the needs and enhance the lives of individuals that experience autism were able to connect on a deeper level during the conference. One parent stated, “These past few days have been so impactful to me.I have learned so much and have received the gift of perspective.While being so informative it has also been a very emotional 2 days.”
“A beautiful connection between information and individuals blooms during the conference. We format the topics based on the overarching questions our organization hears come through our door from across the State. As an options based organization we see our role as being the platform for all resources, information and services for Alaskans. The conference gives us a stage to connect our community to the diverse resources available to help reach the needs of our families, ” expressed Danielle Tessen, the Executive Director for the Autism Society of Alaska.
This Alaskan focused information and interaction was made possible because of our generous sponsors and dedicated volunteers. In order for every Alaskan that experiences autism to have the highest quality of life, we must all do our part together as a community. This is precisely what was seen at the conference, Alaskans uniting to support those impacted by autism. It is also the reason the Autism Society of Alaska saw a need to host the first conference in 2016.
“Alaska has some amazing resources. My intention with starting the ASA conference was to network at every level from parents to service providers and individuals who experience autism all under one roof. Along with that idea is the reality that most of us can not afford to travel outside to seek additional information. With everyone together, it’s another opportunity to enrich what Alaska has with some additional amazing outside resources like we have had the opportunity to do with Dr. Temple Grandin and Michelle Garcia Winner. The power of shared information is an amazing catapult to impacting the lives of those who experience autism and the community of those who support and love them!” explained Brandy Raby, Board President of the Autism Society of Alaska.
Michelle Garcia Winner & Social Thinking
Michelle Garcia Winner guided attendees through Social Thinking strategies and treatment frameworks during her interactive presentations. Those attending were able to learn and understand that socializing is more complex than they may have previously thought prior to the event. Winner broke up the multifaceted process into simpler steps and concepts to better understand and apply in day to day situations. She unpacked a topic most of us never think about to find the core social issue those with autism may experience. The message resonated with many, as we heard in the comments in our evaluations and public testimony. Those with the fortunate opportunity to listen found the atmosphere to be “relaxed,” and the information to be “relevant” and “useful.” Winner answered questions and offered insightful workshop time among those present. By the end, many left with a new mindset on social cognition and what it means to socialize. A framework all attending can apply to day to day life to positively impact our community.
Keeping it Local
Most of the second day focused on information and resources for Alaska. 15 exhibiting booths offered one on one time to discuss services, agencies, and resources in state. Speakers from around the area covered an extensive variety of topics.
- Feel at Home: Unlock the Door to Healthy Living and Leisure with Amiee C. Smith, M.A: Alaska Autism Resource Center.
- Alphabet Soup: ABA, BCBA, RBT and EPSDT (Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Behavior Analysis and How Medicaid is Going to Cover It) with Christie Reinhardt, Program Coordinator II: The Governor’s Council on Disabilities & Special Education.
- Microenterprise Grant Application Process with Larrisa Cummings, Microenterprise Grant Fund Administrator: UAA Center for Human Development.
- Functional Neurological Interventions for Autism with Dr. Daniel Costello, DC: Alaska Brain and Spine.
- What Can I Choose? Exploring Devices and Equipment Commonly Used to Influence Sensory Needs with Derrick Cannon, PT, DPT & Traci Roon, PT: Building Blocks.
- Living Puzzled: How Being Autistic has Shaped My Purpose in Life with Heidi Lieb-Wiliams: Speaker/Self Advocate, Mom, Self Employed Entrepreneur, Actress & Aspiring Filmmaker.
- Building Emotional Awareness and Regulation Skills for Children who Experience Autism with Matthew Sena, MS LPC. & Bill Couthran, Psy.D.: Hope Counseling Center.
- The New Dr. Brennan is a Woman and ECHO is a Community? What in the World is Going on in Public Health and What Does This Have to do With Me? with Christie Reinhardt, Coordinator II: The Governor’s Council on Disabilities & Special Education.
If you were unable to make it to the conference, you can find handouts at here as they become available.
Wrap It Up
Alaska, a large state faced with unique challenges and needs, makes it overwhelming to try to locate services, resources, and information related to autism. This conference offers a platform for people to discover local resources in Alaska and offers a community for support and networking. All attendees, presenters, volunteers, organizations and sponsors that come together for the Alaska Autism Conference are seeking and providing a level of connection, information, resources, and support. The Autism Society of Alaska is filled with gratitude to be able to offer this event for a second time. We continue to learn from each conference to grow and adapt to meet the needs of our state.