It has been a week since my presentation and it still feels so surreal, even more so now that I’m back to my humdrum routine. I have attended many conferences but never did I think I would be addressing myself to the public one day. The whole experience has been humbling, it didn’t matter that only six turned up for my break-out session, I felt sorry for them they had to sit through a 30 minutes talk from someone who was anxious and inexperienced, even inarticulate at times. However, each and everyone of them has been so encouraging and supportive, I didn’t think I deserve their kindness. I lacked the confidence and composure the other presenters possess but rather than adopting another persona, I confessed my anxieties, this was a mental health conference after all. I was ill-prepared and reading from script, at times I didn’t even know if I was making sense but still, they listened patiently to every word I said. And for the first time in my life, I feel empowered. I don’t see myself as an autism advocate, I was just there to represent myself, speaking in my personal capacity, and that in itself, was liberating. I was there to talk about stigma and the long-term negative impact of a deficit view of autism. And the heartwarming response I received at the end goes to show that a little kindness and encouragement can go a long way, which provides the further reason why we should stop viewing autism through an entirely deficit lens and work on building the strengths and self-esteem of the individual.
So what’s next? I’m not sure. It seems I’m back to where I was. Yes, I could do more but it comes down to the fact that I struggle to find time and energy to work on this personal project after my day-time job, and I’m miserable at work because I’m not doing something of my interest. I was recently looking at the Autistica website and they were inviting autistic researchers to apply for a grant to help them kick-start a career in research. This is the type of opportunity I am looking for. Unfortunately, the funding is only available to UK residents. So it seems I’m still back to square one. Even so, I have no regrets for making this trip and I’m indebted to everyone for your kind support. And to the six of them who were at my presentation, if you happen to read this, my heartfelt thanks to you. ❤
The Hounds 4 Healing is a not for profit organisation that helps to pair up suitable canine with veterans who would benefit from having an assistance dog. I’m so glad they were there at the conference to ease my anxiety!