ASA's 37th National Conference on Autism Spectrum Disorders (July 13-15, 2006)

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Thursday, July 13, 2006: 11:00 AM-12:15 PM
Narragansett Ballroom C
#2005- We Are Family: Parents on the Spectrum Speak Out
We are parents of autistic kids -- but with a difference: we are each also individuals at various points on the spectrum ourselves. As a panel, we will explore how that difference factors into how we relate to our kids (autistic and non) and our partners, into how we advocate for our kids and ourselves, and into our varied perspectives on autism in general. This session is dedicated to the memories of Patricia Clark, ASA Greater Georgia chapter, and Eileen Torchio.

Presenters:Valerie Paradiz, Ph.D., Open Center for Autism, Co-Founder - Valerie Paradiz is the author of the memoir, Elijah's Cup. Her programs for children and adults with ASDs have been featured in the New York Times, Redbook Magazine, The Guardian, and on Japanese Television (NHK). Valerie is a member of the board of directors of the Autism Society of America.

Sondra K. Williams, Adult, with, Autism, None, Parent, Advocate, Speaker, Presenter - Sondra Williams is an adult with autism in the state of Ohio. She is married and has four kids all diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome. She is the author of the book titled Reflections of Self and a DVD titled "Define Me."

Lisa Janice Cohen, AANE, Parent with AS of AS child, author, advocate - Lisa wears many hats: Professionally, she is a physical therapist in private practice with 20 years of experience working with orthopedics and chronic pain. She is also a published poet and an aspiring novelist. Lisa is currently writing her second novel, a futuristic thriller called "MindBlind." Her first novel, "The Wings of Winter" is searching for a literary agent. Her writing blog is at: Her Asperger self-advocacy blog is at:

Phil Schwarz, Asperger's Association of New England, Vice-president - Phil Schwarz is Vice-President of the Asperger's Association of New England (, a board-member-at-large of the Massachusetts chapter of the ASA, and a member of the program committee for Autreat, the annual conference/retreat of Autism Network International ( He is the father of an autistic son and a daughter in the broader phenotype, and an Asperger's adult himself, married to a non-autistic spouse. Professionally, he is a software developer. Some of his thoughts on being a parent on the spectrum can be found in his essay "Wearing Two Hats" (

Dena Gassner, MSW, Center for Understanding, Director - Dena Gassner, MSW diagnostic evaluation; provider of professional developmental training; mental health/school advocacy and national autism consultation. Board member, Autism Society of Middle TN; advisory board member, ASA; GRASP. Member; Vanderbilt University Post-secondary Task Force. Many seek her uncanny professional and personal insight into success embracing one’s authentic autistic self.

Jerry Natowitz, Asperger's Association of New England, Software Engineer - Jerry is an AS adult, father of a non-autistic daughter, and partner of a non-autistic spouse. He is a member of the Asperger's Association of New England, a software engineer by profession, and a chef by avocation.

Michael Bourke, MS, GRASP, Entrepreneur - Michael Bourke is an AS adult, and father of 4 children, ranging from AS to non-autistic. He has had various vocations in his working life, ranging from medicine to engineering to construction -- but considers the most important thing to be relationships.

A panel presentation in the following format:

1. Opening remarks by panelists (5 min. each)

Panelists will:

o Summarize their own background & family situation, e.g.

· how and when they arrived at a diagnosis (some of us, in the process of our kids' diagnoses!)

· brief profiles of their kids, partners, and other significant family members

o Describe 1-2 key positives or negatives that arise for them specifically because they're on the spectrum, e.g.

· in the course of how they relate to their kids on the spectrum

· in the course of how they relate to their non-autistic kids, if any

· in the course of how they relate to their partners (who may be on the spectrum or non-autistic)

· in the course of how they relate to extended family

· in the course of how they relate to people outside the family

· in situations where they are advocating for their kids in school settings

· in situations where they are advocating for their kids in extracurricular settings

· in situations where they are participating as a family in a larger group or community

Some possible positives:

· better able to understand the thinking/emotions/behavior of their kids on the spectrum

· better able to act as an interpreter or mediator for their kids

· better able to demystify autistic ways for non-autistic people

Some possible negatives:

· they are not taken seriously or "written off" when they disclose their diagnosis

· their diagnosis is not taken seriously because if they're parenting kids, they must obviously be "doing so well"

· divergent styles or instincts become an obstacle between them and partners, or between them and their (non-autistic, or maybe even autistic) kids

· some aspects of parenting are exhausting from a physical, emotional, or sensory perspective

· they find it difficult to relate to other, non-autistic parents, or to participate in social contexts with other, non-autistic parents

2. Some brief discussion among panelists of implications for parents who don't have a diagnosis but who are in the broader autism phenotype (have some autistic traits):

o What are the benefits of identifying and leveraging their autistic traits in how they relate to their kids?

o What are the difficulties they might encounter by doing so?

o What are the factors inhibiting them from doing so?

o What could be done about those factors?

3. Audience questions and discussion

Learning objectives:

Attendees will get an introduction to some of the intergenerational aspects of autism, through the panelists' descriptions of how they relate to their kids and partners. Attendees will get some food for thought about how they might beneficially leverage the commonalities they, their partners, or other family members might share with their autistic family members in how they relate to them, and advocate for them. Attendees will gain insight into how some of their peers on the spectrum have dealt with some of the difficulties inherent in parenting and family dynamics.

Contribution to best practices:

The session will identify the benefits of affirming and leveraging the commonalities that parents and family members in the broader phenotype – a substantial fraction of the parent population, by all measures – share with their autistic family members. It will bring to light some of the issues faced by parents who are on the spectrum themselves in advocating for their autistic children, and in the dynamics of their relationships with their children (autistic and non-autistic), partners, extended family, and community. It will suggest approaches to address some of those issues and produce favorable outcomes.

See more of The ASA's 37th National Conference on Autism Spectrum Disorders (July 13-15, 2006)