Monday, 11 August 2014

Aspect Autism in Education Conference

Aspect Autism in Education Conference

On the last day of last month and the first day of this month I was in Sydney for the inaugural Autism in Education conference hosted with Aspect (the autism association of New South Wales). I mentioned a little while back that I was going to post a summary of the conference from my perspective. 

It's taken me a while to catch up on sleep and mental energy in normal life after racing around to two conferences in two different states and visiting family. 

As a conference nerd (took a week and a half of my annual leave for this) and somewhat of a research junkie (at uni I was the one undergrad who went along to all the psychology colloquium lectures) I'm probably a bit biased towards liking conferences whether or not they are accepting and diverse but here goes...

The first thing I'll say is that I really liked the size of the conference (about 450 delegates) and the location (the layout was really cool, breakout rooms were close to eachother and who wouldn't want to meet in an old rail yard). 

Walking from my hotel next to central to the venue in Eveleigh was a good way to the first morning. I saw fellow APAC 1013 Future Leader Alex pretty much as soon as I walked in the door and soon after saw and got to have a chat to the amazing, compassionate and incredibly busy Judy Brewer who was also giving the opening plenary.

Some of the speakers I enjoyed hearing included the lady from the WA Catholic Education Office presenting her work on trying to change PE teachers attitudes towards students with autism and give them more appropriate sports options and Erica Dixon from the Victorian Education Department talking about what that state is doing to better serve students with autism by better serving all students. It was a real treat to get to meet Wenn Lawson and hear her present on autism and attention and it was very cool to see so many people I knew get up in front of people and give great talks: Thomas, Daniel, Meredith & Jeanette. Apologies to Mathew and Matthew who's talks I didn't get to see.

I thought it was good having a themed conference. Education is a broad enough topic to have plenty of scope but narrow enough that people are present with the same purpose. As someone who wasn't diagnosed until after finishing school it was useful and valuable to learn about how kids with autism are supported in schools. I particularly enjoyed learning more about program 2 of the autism
CRC and the opportunity to chat and meet with a wide variety of people. I also thought it was good that they included an art exhibition and dance groups in the program.

I can't really comment on the stalls and posters but the layout of that area wasn't overly helpful for me. It was a long and fairly thin area with stalls on either wall and tables of food and drink for lunch and refreshments in the middle. This made for quite the cacophony in breaks. I particularly felt for the people with special dietary needs as reaching the table with their food involved walking through the length of the crowd.

Around the corner from the main break area was the ASC chill out room. This was pretty well set up, giving a space to have space and to chat with other autistics. What would have been useful would have been to have had exclusive use of the room or at least to know ahead of time it was going to also be used rid luggage storage and as  a dressing room for the dance groups.

I enjoyed the social side of the conference. I like meeting and listening to people. I quite enjoyed the drinks after the first day's sessions and appreciated Meredith's informal support when trying to meet  people during the breaks. If I were to change anything about the conference it would have been to make the breaks a bit longer. The short breaks made it difficult to transition between sessions and meant that chatting to someone could potentially mean missing lunch.

My presentation itself went well. I was happy with what I ended up conveying and I didn't get too nervous. I spoke about my experiences of student driven open ended learning in high school, and in particular being a founding student at the Australian Science and Mathematics School. Afterwards an academic who works in the education department at Flinders Uni came up and introduced herself. She said she had been involved in the setting up of the school and that I'd conveyed their take on learning well. She also said she should have recognized my name because it would come up all the time when I was a student there - somewhat the student who was willing and able to do anything :P kind of surreal but also cool to know I had a reputation like that that someone could recognize ten years on.

All in all I am glad I went to the conference. I enjoyed being able to share, learn and catch up with people.

Next blog post should be about the Victorian Autism Conference. 

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