Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Planet APSE

This week I gave a presentation on autism and no one, not even one person, during or after the presentation, or even the next day, mentioned the movie Rain Man to me. This is a first. Rain Man has come up at every talk I've done before this, through, I promise, no fault of my own. I have always tried to respond politely that yes, that is one way autism can look, one of many, many ways. It was nice not to have to do that.

What was even better, what was amazing to me about this particular group, was the way they listened. No one argued against what I said about person-first language. Instead, someone asked me afterward how professionals could help spread the word about the preferences of autistic adults without appearing to be ignorant of the more accepted standards used in particular fields. No one even tried to steer the conversation toward the imaginary epidemic, though I'd opened the door for them to do so. As a matter of fact, every question directed toward me was thoughtful and relevant to the materials presented and given in a spirit of obvious respect for the autistic persons in the lives of the askers. I felt almost as if I had landed on a different planet.
The name of this planet is APSE (formerly the Association of Persons in Supported Employment). These are the folks who work with employers to develop, facilitate or create jobs for people with a wide range of what society views as disabling conditions. What they do best is listen. They listen to what employers need and to what the individuals they serve need and value and want to do. As a group, they understand the true meanings of words like "ally" and "empower" and they know how to step aside when they start getting in the way.

The talk I gave this week was for the APSE conference in my state. It was about Autism at Work, and partly based on my personal experiences and those of other autistic people I know. It was attended by a variety of professionals, several of whom also have autistic family members. None of them said anything like, "You are not like my child; my child is really autistic." In other words, they didn't disrespect, disregard or call me a liar. They listened. They shared their own stories with me. They waited patiently and respectfully as I tried to remember the words for things.

Not everyone was so perfectly nice, of course; these are human beings after all, and there was an incident I didn't appreciate in the least. I may write about that in a day or two, after I've gotten some distance from it. It was a different experience overall, though, and one I'm very happy to have had.
I made it through almost the entire three days without a word about Hollywood portrayals of my people (other than Jerry Espenson, of course). Then on the way out, someone stopped me. "Have you seen the movie..."

I was reminding my eyes not to roll. No worries, though. She just wanted to know if I'd seen Mozart and the Whale, if I'd liked it. I gave it a mixed review. At least it was something from this decade.


  1. Can I steal your birdie picture?

    Glad to hear that 'overall' it was a positive experience for you and your audience.

  2. Hi Maddy,
    Burgess is the bird-child of Evonne and Leif, who graciously allowed him to star in this PowerPoint presentation. See more photos of Burgess

  3. Ah. Yes. Fantastic. Perhaps the "culture" they've integrated into their organization might be useful to usssssss . . .

  4. Man, totally read that as "Planet ASPIE" on second glance. And yes, Maddy, Burgess says you're welcome to use his photo if you provide a link back to the Flickr page Bev provided. (Thanks, Bev.)

  5. Glad to hear that your experience was positive overall. I've certainly learned a lot from you.

  6. These people sound remarkably sane and progressive. I'd like to foster stronger ties between them and two organizations on whose boards I serve: the Autism National Committee (, and the Asperger's Association of New England (

  7. bev isn't that the most refreshing feeling ever? it's nice to have a good presentation here and there when there are so many Q&A sessions that you're like: "did they not hear anything i said?"

  8. Sounds as though you did a really good job.

  9. Bev, tip from one presenter to another:

    If those are PowerPoint slides, then you would be better off using a sans-serif font (such as Arial) because the serifs get fuzzy in projection and reduce legibility. This is especially true for variegated backgrounds like that blue one.

  10. Andrea,
    You are right of course. My love of all things texture-y causes me to pick these backgrounds which are better left alone. As for sans-serif, I understand the value and am trying to acclimate myself slowly, though these are for some reason like the text equivalent of polyester to me.

    I have sometimes been asked to use sans-serif for certain presentations (ITV) and have done so grudgingly. I'm sure I will be moving more in that direction if I continue doing this sort of work.

    I feel virtuous and stoic when forgoing Bazooka and Rockwell, but to give up Bell MT...I just don't know how I can do it. Is there a 12 step group for this? Serif Anonymous? Damn, now I want to write a post about fonts!

  11. Phil Schwarz,
    That sounds great. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help with this.

  12. And Bev, that's cute, with the big-ass link for the entirety of my comments. Maximizing our Burgess, hmm?


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