AutismOne/Generation Rescue 2013 was a very informative but busy conference. Not only was there plenty to do, it was also refreshing to see all my friends I hadn’t seen since last year’s conference. The conference, for me, started Friday morning during the first presentation, as I filled a role that I never had in my 5+ years of attendance.
David Geslak, of Exercise Connection, has had a positive influence on how I’ve integrated physical fitness into Harrison’s life. Through what I’ve learned from his past presentations, I’ve gotten Harrison interested in exercise, going through an obstacle course that I built, and I taught him to ride a bike (just to name a few). I emailed David explanations and pictures of it all, and he asked if he could include me in this year’s presentation, thinking it would have a greater impact for a parent to show how they’ve applied his concepts with their own child(ren). I was happy to do it, which gave me an even greater sense of appreciation for what Harrison has accomplished.
The Congressional Panel I attended on Friday left me with the hope that there are people in D.C. actually listening and ready to take our cause to levels never taken before. I left that panel with the hope that wheels are actually starting to turn in our nation’s capital. That night, Dad’s Night Out was a perfect release from all the presentations. Sure, we talked about autism a little, but we were mainly just a bunch of guys hanging out, eating pizza, playing pool, and bowling. The private room we had made it even better! The awesome thing was that every single dad in attendance was ready and willing to talk to another dad about the impact autism has made on our lives.
Saturday’s keynote (featuring Jenny McCarthy) was something I’d never want to miss. You just never know what she is going to say, and the funny thing was that no matter what she does say, most people could relate it to their experience with autism. Alexis Wineman was truly inspiring. What that young lady has overcome and accomplished gave me an even greater sense of hope for what Harrison can (and will) accomplish. She also seemed very happy and willing to stop and talk to anybody. Jacqueline Laurita and her husband speaking to conference attendees showed that autism is a struggle that encapsulates the entire family. The keynote was a truly amazing and inspiring experience.
The vendors also gave me plenty to take home and ponder. I got Harrison (and his little brother, Isaac) now willingly taking fish oil because I found a very palatable version. Actually, the stuff tastes pretty darn good! There were many other products that my wife and I are still considering to start using not just in Harrison’s life, but the entire family’s, which was one common idea expressed by both presenters and vendors: achieving good health is for the entire family.
That last thing I brought home (literally) from this year’s conference wasn’t realized until after getting home. I have never worn flip-flops before, but I saw a very comfortable-looking pair from Healthy Souls. The fact that they donate 20% to Generation Rescue is an added bonus! My wife was surprised that I actually started wearing them, but something inside told me, and I didn’t realize why until I got home.
Harrison saw me wearing them and said, “Dad, you have new shoes!” This started a conversation which was one of the biggest turning points in his recovery: identifying with autism for the first time. I pointed to the “a” in the puzzle piece (on the sandal) and asked, “Do you know what this is?” Harrison replied, “It’s a puzzle piece.” I asked, “Do you know what the “a” means?” Harrison looked at me and replied, “Autism.” I had never heard him say ‘autism’ before, so I asked, “Do you know what autism is?” Harrison replied, “It’s a sickness.” I asked another question, “What kind of sickness?” Harrison pointed to his stomach and head saying, “Where your tummy hurts and you can’t talk.” I was in a state of amazed shock at this point and wanted to keep it going, so I said, “But you can talk now, and you’ve said for awhile that your tummy doesn’t hurt anymore.” Harrison looked up at me, “Yes, I’m getting much better now.” I asked him, “How did you get better?” and he answered, “Dr. Usman, Dr. Krigsman, and Dr. Michele (his primary care), are all taking away my autism.” I could barely squeak out, “Do you remember what it was like when you couldn’t talk?” Harrison answered, “Yes, it was the sickness, but now I’m much better. Can I watch YouTube now please?” Through a heavy layer of tears, I was barely able to answer, “Yes.” Harrison looked up and saw my tears. He got up and hugged me saying, “Dad, don’t be sad. I love you.” If there was anything that I will always remember about AutismOne/Generation Rescue 2013, it was this very conversation. His “sickness,” his autism is going away, and I am so proud of everything he’s done.