by Brandi Willis Schreiber
We, too, are grateful to be exposed to new things, provocative ideas, and amazing people within the field of disabilities that continually change the way we approach our work. For the second time, staff from our department (Kyla Shannon, Taylor Fidler from our main Student Disability Services office, and I) were allowed to attend the National Autism Conference.
This year’s conference presented a new host of impressive individuals working to help people impacted by Autism Spectrum disorders. One of the featured speakers was Soma Mukhopadhyay, Executive Director for Helping Autism Through Learning and Outreach (HALO), a nonprofit organization devoted to promoting the Rapid Prompt Method that Soma developed to help her son, Tito. Soma shared her story about how she developed this teaching method to help her son, who has severe communication deficiencies, learn to communicate. Soma’s unwavering dedication has resulted in countless individuals with Autism learn to communicate and improve academically. This was Taylor Fidler’s favorite session. He said, “The implementation of learning methods and strategies for Rapid Prompting Method (RPM) can have profound effects for students later on. By engaging with students on the spectrum in a non-conventional way she has proven that these students can be successful in the learning process and can utilize these skills as they enter post secondary environments.” In fact, her talk was so impressive that many people in the audience stood to express how her method had helped them. Soma’s story has been featured in an HBO documentary, “A Mother’s Courage: Talking Back to Autism,” and through her dedication to this field, Tito is now a published poet. As a fellow lover of poetry, I was profoundly impacted by Tito and Soma’s story. I cannot imagine the agony of having the words in my mind, but being unable to express them. Tito’s poetry is both heartfelt, profound, and poignant. You can read an insightful interview with Tito and examples of his poetry here.
Another session that made a big impact on us was John Miller’s, “ASD and Bullying: Positive Interventions for Victims and Perpetrators.” Mr. Miller is a high school teacher who also has Autism Spectrum Disorder. His experiences with bullying as a child were miserable, to say the least. He shared stories of being ignored, laughed at, manipulated, and even physically abused. Mr. Miller’s session discussed what bullying looks like and how school administrators and staff can intercede to decrease these behaviors and support ASD students who may not always know how to communicate about bullying. He also discussed what to do if the perpetrator also happens to have ASD. This was Kyla Shannon’s favorite session: “I enjoyed the session on bullying. The presenter’s perspective of both an individual on the Autism Spectrum, the personal stories of being bullied growing up, and his stories of being a teacher to students with similar stories and helping many of them were the same situations I was once in as a special education teacher.” This session reminded us that many of our students might be “silent victims” of bullying, even in the higher education setting, and that as staff we need to listen for language and watch for signs that might indicate this. For Mr. Miller’s complete session presentation, click here.
We are very grateful that our department and administration allows us to attend conferences like these and augment our skills working with this population. Without this kind of support, we would miss the pulse of what is happening with ASD support services. Thank you for helping us do our work and do it better to meet the needs of our students!