As I shared in my last post, I was privileged to be invited to APAC 2019 in Singapore to give a plenary presentation on our positive education journey. I also delivered a workshop to professionals, participated in a parent panel and even ended up on Singapore radio! It was a whirlwind few days of learning, networking, presenting and exploring.
Nathan and I arrived a day earlier than the conference so we could fit in a bit of Singapore sightseeing. We even escaped the conference for a little while on the first day to see a bit more of Sentosa Island, where the conference was held. It obviously wasn’t nearly enough time to do Singapore justice – I can’t wait to go back next year to spend more time there, enroute to our European adventure…
While we took time out to have fun (we were kid-free after all!), we also learned a lot throughout the conference.
Lessons Learned at APAC 2019
Overall, the conference had a positive message of acceptance, tempered with the reality that so much more needs to be done to support autistic adults across the lifespan. Measures of employment and social inclusion are still woefully low for the autistic community with an average 52% of adults unemployed. Conversely, mental health rates are staggeringly high, with 40-60% of adults on the spectrum experiencing issues with mental health.
A consistent message throughout the conference was how we can better support autistic individuals to achieve greater quality of life across the lifespan. One way, is to focus on strengths, not deficits. This is something I’m passionate about with my own kids and it was reasssuring to see this approach backed up by research. Focusing on the environment (to limit sensory overwhelm), actively working to reduce stress (to improve mental health outcomes), increasing exercise and introducing adjustments to support participation in daily life were other suggestions to improve quality of life across the lifespan.
Autistic creativity was showcased at every turn, with performances, art and animation featured every day of the conference. Nathan bought beautifully designed products by the Art Faculty, a social enterprise utilising the skills of individuals on the spectrum to support their work (and as gifts for the kids). It was a joy to see true talent appreciated and celebrated.
I came away with renewed energy and determination to continue doing what I can to make the parenting experience a more supported one. I also came back with more confidence for the future of my kids, having heard from researchers, teachers, professionals and advocates, who are all working towards creating a more accepting community.
It’s going to take time but I’m optimistic that we are all on the right track to build a better and more positive future for everyone on the spectrum.
Sessions Delivered at APAC 2019
I presented two sessions and was part of a parent panel at APAC 2019. I’ve included a summary of both my presentations below, plus the accompanying slides. I plan on delivering these in webinar form later in the year, so make sure you’re following the facebook page to find out more.
Plenary – A Positive Education Journey: Strategies for Success at School
The education journey can be daunting. At times, it can seem there is no easy way forward for you or for your child. With so many challenges to face, parents often find it hard to obtain the support their child needs and can become overwhelmed.
In this practical presentation, discover how one parent forged a positive education journey across multiple special education and mainstream settings (including high school). Learn proven strategies for school success to improve outcomes for you and your child, regardless of age or education setting.
Strategies covered in the presentation include:
- Relationship management (how to build strong partnerships)
- Advocacy (how to obtain the supports your child needs)
- Mindset (understanding your own expectations & assumptions)
- Wellbeing (how to maintain your positivity and health)
- Strengths (adopting a strengths based approach to your child’s education)
- Transitions (how to manage moves between schools)
- Resilience (how to overcome bumps in the education road)
If you have any questions about this presentation, leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you with more details. You obviously don’t get as much context with only the slides but I’m planning on delivering this as a webinar presentation to make up for it!
Workshop – Bridging the Gap: How to Develop Positive Partnerships with Families
Research shows that outcomes for students on the autism spectrum improve when a strong partnership is formed with families. However, forming effective relationships with parents can prove difficult for educators, specialists and service providers, who often lack first hand knowledge and understanding of the parent experience.
In this presentation, discover how you can bridge the gap with families to achieve improved relationships and better outcomes for all. Delivered by a parent with lived experience, find out how gaining a better understanding of the parent perspective can refine your current processes and yield better results.
Areas covered in the presentation include:
- The benefits of developing positive relationships with parents (incl. research)
- Insight into the parent experience and how this influences attitudes and behaviour
- Understanding parent expectations
- Identifying what parent engagement should look like
- Why you need to review processes from the parent perspective
- The benefits of developing a communication plan to better engage parents and manage interactions
- Further strategies to engage parents using relationship management principles
I also prepared a handout for workshop participants, featuring focus questions and a communication assessment tool to help evaluate your communication strategy and identify areas for improvement, to build better relationships.
This presentation is designed mainly for professionals and I intend to offer this as a part of a webinar series in future. It also forms the backbone of the professional development training I’m finalising. If you have any questions about it, please leave a comment and I’ll do my best to give you more context.
APAC 2019 was an amazing experience. Overall, I felt the gap between research and real life was finally closing. Researchers are starting to see what we on the ground all know – that autism is lifelong and we need to do so much more to support autistic individuals as they grow, in the early years and beyond.
The positive tone of the conference was great. With two autistic plenary speakers and many more delivering in concurrent sessions, it was a much needed glimpse into the challenges and the opportunities that autism brings. I hope the next APAC, scheduled in Perth October 27 – 30 2020, goes further and features an autistic keynote speaker. It’s time.