At the end of April, I drove to Greenville, South Carolina. They invited me to attend and promote The National Converge Autism Summit, put on by Springbrook Autism Behavioral Health. This was the first time I agreed to attend anything like this before, especially in person.
It’s been a few weeks, and the dust has settled. I wanted to share how the trip went, and talk a little about my first experience of attending a conference.
First, my purpose for being there was to promote the conference. That included documenting my experiences, sharing on social media, and interviewing the keynote speakers. This was a great opportunity to grow professionally, and I took full advantage. It’s not every day that I get a chance to sit down with Temple Grandin and Ron Suskind for the podcast. These were great interviews and the Temple Grandin episode can be found here.
The other side of the coin was more personal. I’ve done nothing like that before, certainly not by myself. I’ve also never traveled away from my kids before. The most distance we ever have between us is when they’re visiting their mom for a couple of days. That’s rarely over 48 hours and they’re only a few miles down the road. I felt like I needed to grow as a person and a trip like this was a great place to start.
I had a lot of help to prep for the trip, and I truly appreciate all of it. I had to go clothes shopping but didn’t know what to buy. When I became anxious about leaving, I had the emotional support I needed to push through it. I could never have done this alone. I just want to say that.
It was about a ten-hour drive, but I enjoyed the solitude, peace, and quiet. That’s something I’ve not really had before, and I learned that it’s something I benefit from.
My first day in South Carolina started out with a private tour of the Springbrook Autism Behavioral Health residential facility. I was really nervous about this because I wasn’t sure what to expect. They guided me through the facility and learned all about what they’re doing to help autistic kids. I met a few of the kids and they were all amazing. The staff was great, but the kids really got to me.
It’s hard to see kids needing residential placement, even if it’s more acute.
I walked away from the tour emotionally spent. I wear my emotions on my sleeve and seeing these kids reminded me of when Gavin was younger. His behaviors at the time were so bad that we were struggling to safely manage them in the home. We were faced with the impossible decision to place him in residential care. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.
While Gavin was ultimately never placed because a facility couldn’t be found, the tour brought all those feelings back to the surface. I struggled with that, but I take comfort in knowing that there is a place for kids who need this kind of help. The only thing worse than kids needing temporary residential care is not having a facility capable of providing that type of care. Thankfully, Gavin’s doing amazingly well now and it all worked out, but that doesn’t happen for every family.
Reels I made documenting my experience
The rest of the week was spent meeting all kinds of new people. I met parents who were there to check out the vendors, and/or listen to the speakers. I connected with organizations like Mightier, which I’ve worked with remotely over the years. Meeting them in person after all this time was really cool.
Many people were there to listen to Temple Grandin speak. It was such a cool experience, both meeting and interviewing Temple Grandin, Ron Suskind, and others. I met so many amazing people while I was there. I met Kate Swenson from Finding Cooper’s Voice. We were connected online but meeting in person was really cool. She was there promoting her new book, Forever Boy, as well as doing some of the same things I was doing.
I made some new friends as well and one of those new friendships turned into the new job opportunity that I’m starting soon.
After the first day of the conference was done, Kate, our friend Sunny, and I were invited to have dinner with the executives from Springbrook. It was such an amazing experience. The food and the conversation were great. It was nice to get to know the people behind Springbrook on a more personal level. It gave me additional insight into why they were doing what they were doing. I walked away feeling like they were truly in this to help the kids and their families. That matters because when people are doing things for the right reasons, it makes a big difference in things like patient care.
I closed the trip off by interviewing Mike Rowley, the Administrator for Springbrook Autism Behavioral Health. I had a great conversation with him about Springbrook, the state of the healthcare system regarding helping autistic people, why he works with autistic kids, and where he wants to see things go over the next few years. We talked about some of the many challenges parents face when it comes to residential placement for their child.
I learned so much from this experience and have grown quite a bit. I have a much better understanding of how all of this stuff works and that there is help for autistic kids who need this type of residential care.
Mike did a great job of explaining all about what Springbrook does, what they’re about, and why they exist. You can find that interview below.
I’m so grateful for the experience and I want to thank Springbrook Autism Behavioral Health for the invite. Looking forward to next year. Find more information about Springbrook Autism Behavioral Health.