With all that happened in Canada, and the curling video, and the news story WGEM did about my presentation to teachers I was unable to blog and state that on 11/11/2014 I celebrated a massive milestone as on that day, five years prior, I gave my first presentation.
I can't believe it's been five years! That first presentation I gave was at the 2009 MNEA conference and it had many of the elements that I present on today. I was energetic on that day but nowhere near the enthusiasm I present with today. I was somewhat dry and the art of humor wasn't acquired yet, but still the audience gave a resounding applause at the end. And, at that the end of that presentation, I thought that was the end of my dabble into the world of public speaking. Boy, was I wrong.
I just eclipsed the 580 mark in total number of presentations given and ever since I started presenting I've said that, on the day I was diagnosed, autism awareness was nowhere near where we are today and I'm sure that the same amount of time from now as back then we will be even further. And you know what? I firmly believe this. Not only has my presentation evolved over five years but so too have the audiences base of knowledge on autism. I had a fifth grader last month ask me, "What is the best reward/token system for a person on the autism spectrum?" I state again, a fifth grader! That would mean, when I gave my first presentation, that student was probably in kindergarten. Now, this isn't to say that all students are asking ultra technical questions, yet at the same time this means that, from my vantage point looking at the audience, that the base level of knowledge is growing.
I was joking with a coworker yesterday that I'm going to have to start reading more and more research papers to stay ahead of all these kids I speak to that know more about the research world than I do. While I could feel, at times, as if they're trying to outdo me or impress me I feel no such thing. When I'm presented with something I can't answer from a sixth grader's question I feel ALIVE like you can't believe. I think back to when I was in sixth grade and I remember vividly the time the word "autistic" came up and everyone thought we were going to be talking about Picasso or Rembrandt. Back then autism, and "autistic" weren't a common saying so everyone heard, "artistic." This isn't the case anymore from what I've seen.
With each passing year I feel more and more blessed about what I do and last night I had just as much fun and enjoyment as I ever have had. Some people work, some have jobs, some have careers, but I don't know if there's an exact word to describe what I have because I do work, but it doesn't feel that way; I am employed so that means I have a job; I have been at this for five years and it's a finely tuned craft so it would be considered a career, I guess, but it doesn't feel like a job, a career, work, or anything like that. What I do I do out of absolute love because I know where I came from. This blog I've talked about the past five years but if we were to go back just one year more the picture is a lot darker. Hope? HA! Hope was something that didn't exist in my world. My world was small, I was cutoff from most everything, and I simply counted the days. What was there to look forward to when I was relegated to a life of, "no job, no friends, and no happiness"?
There was a lot of work, and lot of people who got me to where I am, as well as Easter Seals Midwest for giving me the platform to share my story, but again I do it because I love doing it and it needs to be done. I do realize my story is my own and my progress isn't everyone's progress. In my presentation I don't sell a magic cure, I don't say how to fix a problem exactly, but if those with Asperger's and those around us be it parents, siblings, or teachers can better understand us then perhaps a lot of social friction can be relieved and a sense of understanding can form. From that then there is room for growth.
Still, I can't believe it's been five years. For myself, if you had told me back then I'd still be doing this to this day I wouldn't have believed it. One, I never would have thought I could keep an audiences attention, but secondly I would have been confident I'd have burned out because I never had been able to stay at a job for more than six months as I would always get bored or be misunderstood by coworkers. If you've seen a presentation though, I'm not bored at all and with each day comes something new to experience, something new to write about, new people to talk to, new conversations that spark my brain that leads to a new concept that I can then turn around and have a story to help a parent eight months from now better understand why their child may do something.
It's been a phenomenal run and there's no sign of letting up. There's some exciting things that will be coming soon and each year gets bigger and bigger. When I began it was normal to present to just 10, 5, or sometimes even just 2 people. Now, it's rare if I go a month without at least one presentation over 100 people. Of course, I've never lost my belief in The Power of One and with each presentation, whether it is to 1 or 100 or even 1,000 I will put in the same effort because to bring upon understanding to just person is to change one person's world and that, well, that can change a life which is why this job, career, work, no, let's call it an acute passion isn't going to get old or boring anytime soon. I can't wait to write my 10 year anniversary blog post in five years!