Thursday, November 10, 2022

The Return to the Stage


It had been too long since I had a live presentation. It’s amazing how our brains can forget how something feels when we aren’t in the midst of it, and while I remember all the place I’ve presented in the past, I forgot just how much it means and the connection with an audience that forms.

Yesterday I had three presentations at SUNY Canton, and I was amazed at how quickly my lines were remembered. Halfway through my first presentation my soul was already soaring, but it was what happened in the second and third presentations that the scope of what I was doing was made clear.

I’ve had Zoom presentations since the start of the pandemic, but it always felt empty to me. It’s odd, since I don’t like to socialize all that much, that what I’ve missed most is the interaction with the audience, and the questions in the second and third presentation were what I had been missing for years. However, it was a bit overwhelming.

Being removed from interactions with parents for the past two years had sort of created this illusion that we had made all the progress we needed on autism awareness, but more importantly the acceptance and understanding aspect. I mean, I hadn’t heard any horror stories of misunderstandings in a while so that meant they didn’t exist, right? It was a na├»ve thought, but out of sight and out of mind. Reality was reintroduced to me through the questions and comments from the audience and that myth of a world where there’s no issues was quickly dismantled.

As I heard some of the stories, comments, and questions, my level of compassion rose to a level that I haven’t felt in years. It had only been seconds, but I miss the sheltered, disconnected world I had lived in. It was much easier to think the need had subsided, that pain and unnecessary misery weren’t in existence, and that each person on the spectrum, wherever they may be, would be given in an environment to become the best person they can be.

It became difficult to concentrate as I wanted to say something, anything, that would give a glimmer of hope. To be honest, I wanted to cry. This experience was like starting anew on my speaking career. Anger crept in as I remembered every one of these stories I had heard in the past, and to any organization that thought advocacy work, and presenting, wasn’t worth it, but the anger quickly got harnessed to motivation to give the best answer possible to each question.          

I’m grateful to SUNY Canton for inviting me back for a fourth time and allowing my voice a platform to be heard. I won’t fall into the trap of complacency again. The stakes are simply too high. The potential in each person to grow, thrive, and be happy is not something to just think that “well, we can learn more about autism next year.” No! Each day of misunderstandings, each day of needless pain due to ignorance is one too many days. As I’ve said, “understanding is the foundation for hope” and “the earlier the better” have never been more important. We can either look at what was or focus on what will be and I want to make that world that I thought existed when I was disconnected become closer to a reality. I can do. You can do it. We can do it, together moving forward by sharing our voices, experiences, and reaching as many people as possible to give those on the autism spectrum the best environment possible to reach their full potential.

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