Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Controversial Conferences, An Interview, and a Really Big Move

My last update came over a month ago, and now Thanksgiving has already come and gone. Unbelievable! And so much has happened since I last posted here. In just the week after the Herstory 12th Anniversary Gala reading, I spoke at two more events: the Special Day for Special Kids at the West Hills Day Camp in Huntington, NY on October 26th, and the New Jersey State Federation of Women's Clubs Annual Fall Conference at the Bridgewater Marriott in Bridgewater, NJ on October 27th. In the weeks that followed, I spoke at a social skills group for adults on the spectrum at the JCC in Manhattan, and then at an Asperger Girls' group at the Faye J. Lindner Autism Center in Bethpage, NY.

Conference-wise, I spoke on the "Transitions to Independence in ASD" panel at Kean University's "Autism: Putting the Pieces Together" conference on November 21st. I had never even heard of the university or the conference until my business manager Nicole told me about it. She had initially asked if I wanted to vendor a table with her, as she was going to reserve a vendor table for her company, Learning By Design, LLC. I readily accepted her offer, and that was when she told me that she'd spoken to the woman running the conference and had told her about me, and now there was a possibility that I'd get to speak on one of the panels. We waited a little longer, and after not hearing back from that woman for a few weeks, I took the reins and sent her an e-mail myself, expressing my interest. She responded, saying that she'd love to have me speak at the conference on the "Transition" panel. The rest, as they say, is history.

Now, this conference was different from ones I'd attended in the past, in that the keynote speaker was a proponent of DIR/Floortime, an autism therapy created by Dr. Stanley Greenspan. In fact, the speaker was his own son, Jake Greenspan. I knew from my classes at school that there is no scientific evidence that validates the claims made by Greenspan. Indeed, there is not one empirically validated research study attesting to DIR/Floortime's effectiveness. But, I felt it best to go into the conference with an open mind, and I had not been shy about mentioning my affiliation with Caldwell College and the ABA program when asking to speak on the panel, so the fact that they wanted me to speak there had to mean that they were willing to welcome other disciplines and those who subscribe to them. That did make me feel more comfortable with being there.

My comfort level slowly started to decrease, however, when in his speech, Mr. Greenspan took a few shots at the methods and practices of ABA. Of course, he made a (thinly-veiled) attempt to disguise the fact that it was ABA about which he was speaking, but Nicole and I knew the truth. Now, I'm not one to take pot shots back at someone, but the whole time I was sitting there, all I could think was, "This guy is saying things, and at the same time, not saying anything at all!" It was baffling. I'd been surprised enough when he first came out onstage; I was expecting an older, bespectacled, somewhat nerdy fellow, perhaps one who wore a brown corduroy blazer. But, Jake Greenspan was, in fact, a hunky piece of man-beef to the nth degree. I was stunned. What was this could-be GQ model doing delivering a keynote speech at an autism conference? It didn't take me very long to catch on, though. He was a figurehead, a puppet for his father sent to represent him and his creation, DIR/Floortime. After all, who better to have standing onstage before an audience than a dashing young man who could easily woo and sway the masses? A very clever ploy, indeed.

Let's get one thing straight, though: this is not about finger-pointing or feuding. There are too many families, too many children and adults with autism spectrum disorders who need help and answers, to engage in petty, childish rivalry. That's what really grated my cheese about Mr. Greenspan's comments; instead of encouraging a partnership, instead of urging differing schools of therapy to work together and cooperate, he furthered an agenda of division and animosity. It's really just sad, because it's individuals on the spectrum who are losing out in the end. I'm not a saint by any stretch of the imagination, but I intend to do my absolute best to rise above trading jabs at conferences and vying for professional or personal glory. That's not what I care about. My interest lies solely with doing everything I can to raise autism and Asperger's syndrome awareness, and to help the people who are here now, fighting to survive in this world. That's what matters most.

A large part of the reason I haven't updated in so long is because on November 5th, I moved from my old apartment in Caldwell to a new one in Upper Montclair. I'm now living with one of my best friends, Dan, who is from Long Island. I feel that where I am now is a major upgrade from where I used to live, both physically and psychologically. Before, I was just renting a room in a house; now, the whole space (a third floor of a house) is mine (and Dan's). It's so relieving to be able to stretch my wings at last, and to be rid of the stressors that plagued me over the last few months. I'm still settling in and getting used to things, and the fact that this move was in the middle of the semester made things really hard, but it's becoming easier, bit by bit. I think this place is going to help me be much more productive, in terms of both writing my book and carving out a career as an autism liaison.

Finally, I have one more thing to share with you all: I'm in print again! I was interviewed by Liane Willey for the Winter 2008 issue of Autism Spectrum Quarterly magazine. Diane Twachtman-Cullen, the magazine's Editor-in-Chief, accepted for publication an article that I wrote (it'll be in the February 2009 issue), and asked if I would want to be interviewed by Liane for the "C.E.O." (Celebrations of Excellence and Originality) column, as a lead-in piece. I readily agreed, and the issue is now finally in print. I haven't received my hard copy yet, but my parents got theirs a few days ago, and I had my dad scan the article so that I could disseminate it around the Interwebs (and I will do the same when the February 2009 issue comes out). So, here it is! (Click on the images to make them bigger.) If the thumbnails don't work, click here and here to read the article.

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1 comment:

  1. Hello Amy,

    Good to read how interested you are in advocacy in the autism community. Awareness is key.
    I must disagree, however, with your seemingly naive opinion on the DIR/floortime approach. For someone who has been working for 3 years within the DIR/floortime framework, I can tell you that it is a very complex developmental approach that focuses primarily on interaction, communication, and building relationships...and I have experienced amazing results.
    I've learned through my clinical experience that no therapist/practictioner, whether ABA or DIR, likes to be misunderstood in their beliefs. With that being said, you seem to have many misconceptions about DIR/Floortime. If your dream is to be an advocate, you can't dismiss an approach you know nothing about.
    I suggest you read, "The Boy Who Loved Windows," "The Out-of-Sync child," and "Engaging Autism"
    Every person with autism is an individual with individual needs and there is no recipe to treating all. Having an understanding and knowledge of many approaches to autism is important whether working with people with autism or just advocating for them. You don't know unless you try.
    Good luck in your endeavors.