By Kodey Toney
This week I had the privilege to attend the Oklahoma Statewide Autism Conference in Midwest City. This was the first time for me to attend, and I enjoyed every minute of the experience. When I attend these conferences I have several motives. The first is to learn as much as I can to help my child. The second is to gain as many resources as I can so I can share with the people of eastern Oklahoma. The third is that I can network with new people and renew relationships with people I’ve met in the past so that I can continue to gain knowledge and resources for my advocacy. I achieved all of these goals this week, and would like share some information with you.
The conference is sponsored by the Oklahoma Autism Network through the University of Oklahoma Health Science Center. This group did an excellent job of bringing in some awesome speakers and presenters with great insight into the autism world.
Rep. Jason Nelson kicked off the day by speaking to the crowd about being reactive. Nelson is one of the leading lawmakers in the state, and is one of the greatest proponents of people with disabilities. He explained that we have to be creative in order to be reactive in helping to advocate for people on the spectrum.
The first morning we were honored to hear the great Temple Grandin address the crowd as the keynote speaker. If you don’t know who Dr. Grandin is go look her up, I’ll wait…she is one of the greatest assets we in the autism world have forunderstanding our children’s condition.
The first thing that Grandin talked about hit close to home. She’s a big advocate for making children use the physical world and limit their technology. She exclaimed, “We have to get them off the video games and out of the basements.” She went on to give ways to help with this. If your child loves to play Minecraft, and Konner does, then we have to give them another outlet for that. Give them some Legos and make them play Minecraft with them. I found this to be a great idea, and while it’s easier said than done, the point is that we have to find other outlets for our children than just technology. Those devices like computer, video game consoles, phones, and tablets are good in moderation, but we have to find other channels for their imaginations.
She explained that using a tablet or iPad verses using a laptop or computer is also a better choice for children on the spectrum because of the location of the words and the keyboard is better. This something I’ve never even thought about, but if the child can look right at the letters as they are typed out instead of looking down at the keyboard and then up at the screen there is going to be more productivity.
She also explained that we have to continue to force children to use social skills. One thing that parents tend to do, myself included, is have anxiety issues with going into the public with your child. That uncertainty of what may happen causes you to hate most outings. I tend to have to psych myself up. She reinforced what we all know. You child is never going to get comfortable in those places if we don’t continue to put them in those situations. Take them to Wal-Mart or McDonalds, but take it a step forward. Make them order their food. Make them pay for their toy or items at the grocery store. Put them into situations where they will feel comfortable. When they get older they are going to have to do some of these things for themselves.
These of course are only highlights of a great presentation. There are some other hot-spots of the conference that I wanted to share.
One of the keynote speakers on the second day was Dr. Brenda Smith Myles, PhD. She spoke to the crowd about the “Hidden Curriculum: Practical Solutions for Understanding Rules in Social Situations.” This was eye-opening for me. These are the “unwritten rules” of life that we just assume everyone knows. An example Myles have was the rules of hitting on a girl you like –literally and figuratively. When we are six years old we as males tend to show our affection for girl by hitting and pulling hair. A child on the spectrum might not understand this, but will either follow the lead of some other boy, or be given instruction on the proper use of hitting and pulling. This is all fine until the child becomes a teenager and has an infatuation with a girl. When you are 17-18 years old and you hit a girl or pull hair that’s called assault. Now this may seem outlandish to some, but there are children on the spectrum that don’t understand this “hidden curriculum” of life. We has “neurotypicals” take for granted that someone should know these social rules.
She went on to explain that many of these rules are issues including things that could cause serious repercussions. Bathroom etiquette and dealing with law enforcement are two main areas of concern. Without proper training they could have some major consequences. I hope to hit on this more in a later column.
There was so much information my problem is trying to cram it all into this week’s article. I tried to hit on the main subjects, and will try to throw other information into later columns where I can. I hope this gives a little insight into the great information I received at this conference though.