What Did the Milestones Team Learn at This Year's Conference?
Posted on 06/25/19 in Milestones Conference by Milestones
Even after 17 years, the Milestones team still walks away from each conference impressed by the caliber of speakers and new strategies presented at every conference. Given our different interests and areas of expertise, we thought it would be fun to round up staff members to ask them for their favorite takeaways from this conference.
Leslie Rotsky, Conference Director
Keynote Haley Moss emphasized that being a self-advocate is not and should not be reserved for those individuals with autism who are higher functioning or who are verbal. We need to see and create ways for ALL individuals to tell us what they want, what they need, what they like, what they don’t like, and what accommodations will help them.
Beth Thompson, Program Director
I learned the most from all of the amazing female self-advocates at this year’s conference. I learned from our fabulous keynote that skills don’t need to be gained in sequential order to be mastered; an out-of-order alphabet is still the same alphabet. Haley also shared that while she passed the Bar her first time, she still struggles with driving, further highlighting that individuals on the spectrum can have real strengths in some areas and still need support in another area that could be seen as “less hard” for others. The "Straight from the Source: The Future is Female" panel taught me that many women on the spectrum have worked very hard to mask their symptoms of autism and feel continually exhausted from the process of “hiding” their autism traits.
Mia Buchwald Gelles, Operations Director
Michelle Garcia Winner reminded me of the importance, first and foremost, of focusing on the person, your connection with them, their interests and desires first before trying to change their behavior. Starting from this perspective ensures a deeper understanding of the issue at hand, the motivation behind the current situation, and a more meaningful and appropriate intervention and outcome.
I loved learning about Michelle’s distinction between social skills vs social competencies. Rather than working on a discrete list of skills, the emphasis on competencies means teaching the problem-solving process and how to make decisions for yourself. It works from the inside of the mind (or through thought processes) to the outside or external actions.
The mainstream educational curriculum has embedded social concepts that general education teachers are not equipped to teach. For example within reading, there is attending to social interactions, interpreting, problem-solving/predicting and social response. The third grade writing standard assumes social understanding which is not taught. There is so much that goes in to each and every one of our social responses and it is inspiring to see Michelle break that down.
Haley Moss spoke about the importance of sharing with children who have autism that they have “magical powers”; that being different isn't bad -- it can be extraordinary. She also stressed that true inclusion is being involved in decision-making around things that impact our lives. We must listen to as many people as possible to get to know their experiences and their stories, which will sensitize us as family members and professionals to understanding and hear what our loved ones and students want and need, when we are including them in decisions that affect their lives.
Haley Dunn, Teen/Adult Coordinator
My favorite session at the conference was Deep Dive: The Co-Morbidity of ASD and Mental Health" for a few reasons, one of them being I helped plan it. But it was mostly because of the new longer format (which was repeated the following day with a session on the BCBA track). The session hosted four seasoned professionals who discussed their expertise and then offered a time for participants to work through cases with their guidance based on the learning in the first half. It was great to have a longer time to get into a topic, especially one as deep and complex as mental health. While the topic was deep and at times intense, I think those that attended really benefited from the extra learning time and case studies.
Molly D. Dann-Pipinias, Administrative Assistant
I have been involved with Milestones for seven years now and this year more than ever, I realized it is truly the only conference or autism event I’ve been to that takes care of the individuals with ASD so completely. We are involved in all facets of the conference. We are committee members, speakers, attendees, Milestones employees, and volunteers. We also have a sensory or quiet room, fully designed by people on the spectrum. For me, that is an amazing accommodation that most ASD events don’t offer. This year, we also featured artists on the spectrum, which was a huge success. People got to appreciate the skills and talents we have. We also offered a sensory-friendly meal option created by people with ASD. Milestones really does practice what it preaches.They offer people a chance with ASD, mild or severe, verbal or non-verbal, a community where they belong. It’s a community that we get to have an active voice in. Nothing for us without us. The Milestones National Conference is the epitome of how people on the spectrum should be treated.
Nathan Morgan, Early Childhood/School-Age Coordinator
This year, I made it my goal to attend sessions that address under-served groups in the autism community. I've read about the experiences of women on the spectrum, even seen some of the unique struggles when working with families. However, the keynote and sessions by Haley Moss and other self-advocates really enhanced my understanding of the pressing need for accurate diagnosis and appropriate supports. I was also privileged with being able to co-present the "Double Rainbow: The Intersection of Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and the Autism Spectrum". Several self-advocates, parents, and professionals approached me after this session and shared with me their own experiences. Regardless of race, sex, gender, sexual orientation, or other traits, when we create a culture of inclusivity it makes things better for everyone.
Hannah Harp, Communications Coordinator
This year, I walked away with a better understanding of the cultural and systemic biases that impact individuals with autism within minority communities here in America and around the world. African American children here in the U.S. continue to be diagnosed at a later age, and are often diagnosed with a conduct or emotion disorder before receiving a proper autism diagnosis. When assessment and detection is delayed, an overall understanding and acceptance of autism in these communities is then also delayed, which creates a cycle that is difficult to combat. It is so important that everyone involved is able to grasp the origins of the disparities at hand so we can tackle this issue from all angles together and improve the lives of those who continue to experience a lack of support and access to proper treatment/services.
Madison VanBurkelo, Helpdesk Coordinator
I attended Wendy Duke's session "Act for Advocacy!", and was amazed by the way that acting out situations of discrimination or rudeness helped the self-advocates feel better prepared to advocate from themselves in real life. The actors were beyond amazing, taking real life experiences from the audience and acting them out. It is so important that individuals with disabilities feel comfortable standing up for themselves and asking for what they need and I think that teaching that by acting is an incredibly unique and thoughtful way to do so.
Jill Lipman, Website Consultant
While attending Joni Johnson's session, "The Autism Umbrella and Related Co-Morbid Disorders", I was surprised to learn that Cognitive Behavioral Disorder (CBD), a therapy often recommended for people needing therapeutic treatment, may not work successfully on people with autism and that research shows they respond better to Solution-Focused Therapy. I also learned from this same session that medication affects individuals with autism differently, and therefore they don't respond well to stimulants and other drugs often prescribed to people with depression, OCD and other similar disorders.
Lisa Danielpour, Digital Content/Communications Consultant
I was inspired listening to Michelle Garcia Winner's expertise as the creator of the Social Thinking therapy approach and Haley Moss' heartfelt, vital insights as an attorney and person with autism. Michelle emphasized that it’s critical to understand each unique person before developing your plan to help them learn social emotional skills that are embedded in the academic curriculum and work world. I was so touched by Haley's eloquent discussion of disclosure and acceptance. She poignantly said, "Disability is diversity. All kinds of minds are needed to make this world go round. When you are different the world sees you differently...but you’re not less. You’re different."
I loved how Michelle and Haley each focused on empowering people with autism from their perspective. It was also incredible as always to see how quickly attendees connected and looked for ways to support each other.
Have a question about this year's conference? Give Milestones a call at 216.464.7600 or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
photos by New Image Photography