Last Monday I gave a lecture at Children’s Specialized Hospital in Mountainside, NJ on “Transitioning with Autism from Pediatrics to Adulthood.” This was the longest presentation I’ve ever done in the past two years as a motivational speaker. In the presentation I provided an overview of my life growing up on the spectrum, but spent the majority of the time discussing transitional services—or lack thereof—in housing, medical insurance and employment for adults with autism. I was thrilled with the experience! It was great to be greeted with passion as I got to hear from the doctors and professionals about the children they took care of and their interaction with the parents of their patients.
Then, at the very end of my presentation, I was taken aback a bit when the question-and-answer session started. One of the questions that stumped me came from a physician who asked, “Kerry, what are some of the helpful tips your physician gave you for the children we work with?"
I kind of just stared blankly for a second while trying to find a way to respond. I really didn’t know what to say. It wasn’t that I couldn’t have discussed some of my experiences, but it was a question in many ways that just went over my head. I took a moment, took a few sips of water and asked my mom (who came with me) if she’d like to answer that question. I was lucky to have her there that day as back up for that specific question. She spent some time talking about the therapies and interventions that worked well for me.
The event ended about 20 minutes later with greetings from members of the audience and overall positive remarks regarding my lecture. As a self-advocate, many times I use my experiences growing up as my go-to answers and more recently what it is like to become a young adult with autism. I realized after this event I’d like my answers in the future to reflect more of what I have learned from interactions with my mentors, autism groups, and other related organizations to become a more knowledgeable speaker.
I need to come to understand that the more I start thinking about “we” and focusing on the entire spectrum, the more knowledgeable of a speaker I will be for audiences. This is something I could see being beneficial for other young self-advocates as well. The time has come to try to expand what we feel comfortable with and get other perspectives into autism. Autism is after all a “spectrum disorder” where no one individual is the same as the next.
After the event, I wondered for the first time about possibly getting a doctorate in Autism Studies one day. I want to share my knowledge not only with those who’ve experienced autism but with experts and professionals in the field like the people I met at Children’s Specialized Hospital. I would even be interested in getting involved with therapies I had while growing up such as speech, physical and occupational therapy. Who knows what the future has in store! But I do know I’d like to learn more and then use that knowledge to benefit others. At the end of the day, making a difference in the lives of others will always be the key to my success.