On March 21st, JKP authors Liane Holliday Willey, Shana Nichols and Rudy Simone will be speaking at the 5TH Annual Grace Curtis “Stand Up and Be Counted” Conference at the Lighthouse Voc-Ed Center in Connecticut, USA.

The theme of this year’s conference is “Celebrating Females on the Autism Spectrum”.

Here, they talk a bit about the event and their plans for Autism Awareness Day, coming up on April 2nd.

Who was Grace Curtis, and what is her legacy?

Liane: Grace Curtis had a son on the spectrum. She and her husband worked diligently to help him receive the supports he needed to live the best life he could. They became very involved in special education rights and opportunities in Connecticut and with their considerable financial help, the Lighthouse Voc-Ed Center was established to give parents respite time for their children with special needs. Shana, Rudy and I will be speaking at the Grace Curtis “Stand Up and Be Counted” seminar, named in her honor for all she did to establish the center and honor those with differences and their families, and for all her husband continues to do.

How did you become involved in this event, and what will you be speaking about?

Liane: I became increasingly more interested in Asperger syndrome (AS) and females as my daughter got older. I really wanted her to grow-up in a very informed culture, a place where women on the spectrum were seen as lovely beacons of light with precious insight to share. It seems to me we are only beginning to uncover the potential of the Aspie female. Looking around my own peers for inspiration, I thought it would be great to seek out Rudy and Shana to see if they would like to join me in a group effort to promote and engage the vision. Much to my delight, they agreed and before you knew it, we were three women coming up with a format for sharing what we all know to be true about autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

At Grace Curtis, I will be discussing the effects of AS on the 3rd Act of our lives as Aspie females. Much of my presentation will be based on sections from my forthcoming book Asperger Safety Skills for Women: How to Save a Perfectly Good Female Life, due out this Summer through JKP.

Shana: I became involved with the Grace Curtis conference this year as a result of my friendship and the work I have been doing with Liane and Rudy. I am a psychologist who specializes in working with and understanding the experiences of females on the spectrum. As a professional, I believe it is so important for us to truly understand and listen to our clients and their families, to listen to the unique story that is shared by girls and women with ASDs. I have been so lucky to be able to team up with Liane and Rudy as a bridge between the professional world and the very real and often challenging experiences that girls and women face.

At the conference I will be speaking about diagnosis in girlhood and adolescence, and about the journey that girls and their families embark upon as they enter the teenage years. It is a topic I am very passionate about and though adolescence can be difficult, it can also be a time of wonderful self-discovery and growth.

Rudy: We are spreading the word that women with Aspergers, or Aspergirls as I like to call us, have a unique set of challenges. We share the same traits as our spectrum brothers, but because society perceives females differently, often those same traits are overlooked or are misinterpreted. This in turn often leads to misdiagnose and lack of the correct understanding and support.

At Grace Curtis, I will be speaking about the challenges of transitioning to adult life and all that entails–relationships, motherhood, marriage or cohabitation, employment, as well as the internal challenges–sensory overload, depression, etc. Giving talks at autism/asperger conferences have been some of the most gratifying experiences of my life and I’m greatly looking forward to it.

Autism Awareness Day is April 2nd. How will you be celebrating this year?

Liane: Every day is autism awareness day to a person on the spectrum and each day we celebrate our differences, but this year I’ve decided to go outside my home to celebrate. I will spend the day making jewelry that reflects the joy of being different. The universally accepted puzzle piece that most people use to represent autism is fine, but to me it implies something is missing. I prefer my symbol which is a happily rearing horse with polka dots! My symbol whimsically represents the notion that there is reason to celebrate being different. When I give people my jewelry it sparks dialogue and it presents a great opportunity for me to talk about ASD with people beyond those who read our books and come to our conferences. Now that’s a celebration!

Shana: This year, Autism Awareness Day is the day before I will be speaking at the Asperger Syndrome and High Functioning Autism Association (AHA) Annual Conference on Adolescence and Adult Issues on Long Island, New York, USA. Each spring, AHA puts on an incredible day of learning, connecting, meeting new friends, and seeing old. It is a time to share with others what we’ve learned throughout the year, and what we envision for the next. Extra special, this year Rudy Simone will be speaking as well! For me, an awareness day just highlights what we do all year – communicate, share, celebrate. I’m looking forward to this one.

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2011.

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