Community. If I was to sum up this year’s Symposium, it would be this. The speaker line up reflected this and affirms the growing inclusion of the individuals and their loved ones in all areas of work revolving around autism. In his opening speech Professor Andrew Whitehouse exemplified what a role model that has successfully bridged the gap and created connections between the research world and individuals and their loved ones looks like. He emphasised what the objective for research is, the person and how to ensure their quality of life is at the forefront and that equitable opportunities are afforded. Payam, our keynote, then followed. Payam lives in Atlanta, USA amongst a growing community of revolutionary thinkers. As we planned for the Symposium earlier this year, what unfolded was a conversation via email unveiling a committed and purposeful young man who clearly has a message. He wrote “My symbol of hope would be the shooting star because it is fascinating to see and although they seem rare, in reality they are only hidden among many others. Those who are capable of taking time to look for this will be pleasantly surprised. The people who appreciate me, have the patience to wait and watch for my beauty to shine through.” Payam and his mother Parisa set the stage for the Symposium that again emphasised the objective; the individual.
There were many contributions. Saturday saw Cian O’Clery, Series Director of the award winning ABC series Employable Me, interview Judy Singer whose original 1998 thesis Neurodiversity, The Birth of an Idea first introduced that word into modern day vernacular. Together they explored Judy’s experiences with her family as well as her own reflections. The candid nature of the interview enabled the full house to get insight into how Judy’s experiences framed her research.
The event involved interspersing expert advice and research information with personal accounts from individuals’ unique experiences, not least the closing address where siblings spoke warmly of their relationships.
Advocates, fathers, mothers, carers, brothers, sisters, researchers and supporters make up our community, all with one focus – everyday life. Working, living and loving in our community as best as we can. There is momentum growing, a shift towards an equitable future for our community; you can read it, hear it and feel it amongst us. I see it in the young people we work with and their ambitions about themselves and their world. We are consolidating our approach to understanding our roles as partners in each other’s lives and learning to listen to all voices which all have something very valuable to say.
As we close the chapter on this year’s Symposium, it is apparent that for our community, it is an event that enables them to come together, learn, reconnect and recharge together as a community should.