The perks of attending a conference
At the start of the month I attended a 2-day symposium titled “Raising Functional Adults”. It was presented by the Pomona Valley/Inland affiliate of the Learning Disabilities Association, and it was very, very worthwhile. I gained a lot of information that may help our family – and yours, as soon as I share it on the blog! It was my first time attending a conference like this, and I’d encourage anyone reading this to give it a try sometime.
In one sense, you wouldn’t expect to get so much great information on ADHD, autism spectrum, and mental illness out of a conference put on by a learning disabilities organization (but learning disabilities were addressed too!) But, as we have learned, when an individual has one of these challenges, he or she frequently has some of the others as well. And as more than one speaker pointed out, the labels/diagnoses we hear can be useful, but they can also be too narrowly focused. In some contexts it may be better just to recognize that these young people learn, think, and behave differently. Over and over at the symposium, we heard it from presenters and attendees: these people are smart, but feel stupid; they have social difficulties, but have so much to offer society. As we gain in understanding, we need to develop programs that will unlock their amazing potential.
Besides the insights gained from the presenters, I also benefited from meeting some of the other parents in attendance. We heard “You are not alone” more than once – how true! It was great to share our stories during breaks, and it was great to be in a room where (for example) EVERYone had witnessed a homework meltdown, EVERYone had had really awkward moments in public with their kids, and EVERYone had tried to track down help for their child’s challenges.
This particular conference also featured a “Care and Share” session one evening, and a Young Adult Workshop titled “Transitioning Into Independence” during the day on Saturday. I didn’t attend the Care and Share, and Nathan did not attend the workshop, but from all accounts these were also very wonderful aspects of the program.
Another good thing about the conference: the vendors. Some were selling books and items relating to the special needs communities, and some were offering information about their nonprofit or for-profit programs. Overall, the symposium was like a real (not virtual) “Climbing the Cinder Cone” – only better. What a concept!
The conference coordinator was Arline Krieger, who is President of the Learning Disabilities Association of California as well as heading up the Pomona Valley/Inland affiliate. The back page of the symposium program featured a timely op-ed that Arline had written. I asked her permission to share it here, and she readily consented. I’ve only edited out a few sentences that dealt specifically with the symposium.
EMERGENCY = That which emerges
An op-ed by Arline Krieger
In the multi-media chaos that has emerged from the tragic shooting in the near perfect little community of Newtown, Connecticut, I read and watched the outpouring of understanding and misunderstanding that confronts us periodically when faced with an extreme result of unrecognized or untreated dysfunction.
Children are not born mentally ill. They are born with a single brain and central nervous system that is unique to that individual, and they each have to learn to control and develop their own self as much as possible. If the child has difficulty, or a glitch in the system, it may be no one’s “fault”, but it becomes everyone’s responsibility.
Parents need to have access to information and be empowered to advocate for appropriate services for their young adult as they can for younger children. Mental Health must be as available as physical health, and not just in crisis. The therapists who work with these young people need to be educated in the brain functions and dysfunctions that can be making their young client think and behave differently than an adult who has already become mentally ill.
Naming and blaming do not prevent and will not correct the breakdowns that occur when we deny or dismiss the pain of young people who feel unseen or abandoned. Love is not enough. Services alone are not enough. Money is not the answer. Not even controlling guns or arming security guards will make us safe. Only attitude and understanding are critical.
Parents must have help to deal with their child’s brain disabilities as compassionately as they are guided through their child’s cancer. Our LDA Association, along with thousands of similar support groups and research organizations throughout the world, must continue to work with the parents and the kids on these problems.
…Together we can listen and learn …, then take that more complete understanding back to our families and communities in the hopes that what will emerge will be a more positive and nurturing picture than the ones in the news today.