Over the last twelve years I have attended many conferences, expos, walks, presentations, meetings and support groups that cater to parents of children on the autism spectrum and other disabilities, as well as the professionals who teach and provide therapeutic services to families.
We are all seeking knowledge and assistance in the areas of behavior, therapies, diet, sensory issues, school placement, educational plans, medication options, camp offerings, sibling conflicts, funding availability, recreation and sports activities, respite, vacation and camp spots, teen development, communication choices, living arrangements, independent living, life and social skills.
As our children age through the system and become adults the family needs change, but also those of us with more than one child on the spectrum seek guidance in more than one area. I find it difficult to fully grasp all the information that is being shared at conferences as I am trying to rush through tracks to get the powerpoint handouts from each one and get snippets of information from more than one source.
From the moment I receive notice of a conference I check my calendar to make note if this is taking place on a weekend or weekday. A weekday conference is doable for most of the time compared to a weekend where childcare arrangements must be taken into consideration. Location and time play an important role in whether this is a conference or event I can register for. Usually there is an early bird registration date and discount, although if you are trying to get funding through the State, an agency or School you cannot control making the deadline.
Most often the registration application wants you to note which track you will be attending, but do not hold you to that choice. Sometimes by the early bird date the schedule for the conference is not yet available, making it difficult to select your choices.
Parking and directions can become an issue at conference locations. Sometimes there are no signs or there is a cost at the parking lot that was not included in the fee. The vendor tables might also be setup before you reach the registration table. At the same time a continental breakfast is taking place so you might want to grab some snacks at the tables on your way into the keynote session.
At some conferences the vendors are not at their tables the entire time but sitting in on the presentations to gain insights as well. Translation may be offered at conferences and assistance animals might be there. There may also be policies regarding if children are allowed at conferences.
I would like to see more informational sessions conducted at the vendor tables throughout conferences. These could be fifteen minute segments showing how to use a product, demonstrations, cooking segments and sharing of tips and ideas for parents.
I personally feel that conferences have way too many options for parents and professionals to choose from. Too many choices put us on overload. Here are some tips to help you navigate through your next conference.
1. Bring conference schedule and map of the location.
2. Plan out your directions with googlemaps or mapquest.
3. Wear comfortable shoes, bring sweater in case of air conditioning.
4. Bring notebook, pen, digital recorder and business cards.
5. Pack snack, water, lunch.
6. Plan out vendor visits ahead of time if possible.
7. Meet up with online friends from Facebook and twitter.
8. Grab powerpoints from each presenter.
9. Get catalogs from vendors and discount codes for online ordering.
10. Obtain samples and swag from vendor tables (pens, notepads, etc)
11. Meet presenters, get book signed, take pics of tables & people.
12. Get parking validated if applicable.
Educational Autism Tips for Families 71 page resourceful ebook for families entering the school system with a recent autism diagnosis. Find out what issues take place over the course of a school day and meet these challenges head on.