In a Quiet Room

I’m just back from the 47th Annual Autism Society National Conference. What a wonderful and inspiring journey with the autism community this was. I learned more about the culture, the community, their towering commitment and incredible range of activities and support initiatives. I even learned a little about the politics.

From the first day, it was often announced that for those who needed it, there was a “quiet room”.  Although I realized the room was for those attendees who were on the spectrum and needed to duck out from noise and lights, I thought it sounded very inviting.

Flash forward three days to the end of the conference. The experience of being among such exceptional people, who described their struggles, hopes and dreams so beautifully, was transformative for me. After the curtain went down on the last keynote, I was winding though the maze-like corridors of the Marriott and came upon a simple sign announcing the “Quiet Room”.

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I went in and it was very quiet. A perfect place to end this incredible experience. Thank you to everyone who made this possible.

I met many of the leaders of the Autistic Society such as long-time USA Today reporter Richard Wolf, host of the event, and Scott Badesch, President and CEO who shed light on their aspirations and accomplishments.

In preparation for the event I read two books written by the opening and closing keynote speakers: In a Different Key​: ​The Story of Autism​ written by John Donvan and Caren Zucker, and NeuroTribes written by Steve Silberman.

These books have deeply enriched my understanding of the story of autism. I can’t recommend these books strongly enough, even if you are not personally touched by autism.

Moreover, I was fortunate to meet with John and Caren as well as Steve Silberman and discuss Sing to Say with them.

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More than seven years in the making, In a Different Key​: ​The Story of Autism​, by Emmy Award–winning correspondent John Donvan and Peabody Award–winning television news producer Caren Zucker, weaves together the largely unknown history of the diagnosis of autism. For more information see:  Nightline, PBS Newshour and On Point.

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Steve Silberman is an award-winning science writer whose articles have appeared in Wired, the New Yorker, the MIT Technology Review, Nature, Salon, and many other publications. He is the author of the New York Times bestseller NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity

Silberman also has a gold record for co-producing the Grateful Dead’s career-spanning box set, So Many Roads (1965-1995), which was Rolling Stone’s box set of the year. His liner notes have been featured in CDs and DVDs by Crosby, Stills, and Nash, the Jerry Garcia Band, and many others. When we met, we had much to share about music.

 Steve has also given a Ted Talk on the Forgotten History of Autism, which I also found very interesting.

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During the conference, Autistic Society honored both John Donvan and Caren Zucker as well as Steve Silberman with a Dr. Temple Grandin Award for Outstanding Literary Work. 

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I also met with Stephen Shore, author, musician, Professor at Adelphi University and consultant to the Boston Conservatory’s Program for Students on the Autism Spectrum.   Stephen gave an insightful presentation entitled Performing in Musical Ensembles for Individuals with Autism. I look forward to seeing him again when NDi Media visits the Boston Conservatory in the fall.autism channel 2 sizedMany thanks to the team at the Autism Channel; President Jeffrey Kasky, and colleague Randy Maale who were very gracious in their appreciation of our efforts with Sing to Say.  The Autism Channel is the only channel in the world that licenses, produces and broadcasts programming explicitly for the community. Interestingly enough, they provide their content to the Royal Caribbean Cruises who ensure products and services are accessible to the autism and developmental disability communities

During the conference, Royal Caribbean Cruises was awarded the Adam Heavner Memorial Award for Business of the Year for their ongoing commitment to the autism community. I had a great discussion with Ron Pettit -Senior Manager, Disability Inclusion & ADA Compliance about (how Sing to Say might fit in) We look forward to continuing the conversation.

Check back in a few days for part II of this blog post, which will include a report on an amazing initiative from the people at Sesame Street for very young kids with autism.

-Neil Smolar