Monday, 26 October 2015

Penny at APAC: the story behind ‘hoodie girl’

I was invited to speak at the Asia-Pacific Autism Conference in Brisbane on Friday 11 September. The conference went from Wednesday to Friday, but due to Year One Population Health teaching commitments on the Thursday, I could only attend the conference on the Friday.

On the Thursday, I had six and a half hours of teaching straight: introducing a guest lecturer, running an assignment meeting and tutor’s meeting, plus taking four hours of tutorials. Then I had to drive from Monash University’s Clayton campus to Melbourne Airport in peak hour across town ahead of my evening flight. I discovered that flights departing at 8:05pm only serve supper (not dinner), and gluten free supper wasn’t provided. I’ll know to bring my own snacks next time.

Friday was an early start, after the hectic day Thursday, with a breakfast meeting with others in the Australian Autism Alliance. It was hard to follow conversation over the noise of the coffee machine and general café noise but it was good to network with others from autism organisations around Australia.

I was speaking in one of four symposiums after morning tea. Luckily speakers had to arrive 15 minutes before the session started as I discovered that speakers were in a spotlight that was too bright (I am more sensitive to light when I’m tired). Unfortunately it wasn’t possible to dim the lights so the session chair encouraged me to wear my I CAN hoodie with the hood ‘up’ while I gave my talk. I was also able to sit in the audience rather than on stage while Matthew Bennett and Jeanette Purkis spoke before me. Tori Haar live tweeted my talk, so my Twitter notifications were crazy after the session had finished.

At the end of the day, APAC tweeted recaps from the day, including photos of the invited speakers. To my delight, the photo of me included me wearing my hoodie. I was out for dinner with some other autism advocates and I quote-retweeted the photo. To our delight, they retweeted that tweet very quickly.

The following day, I tweeted all three images in one tweet that was retweeted seven times and favourited six. As a result, I suspect I’ll be remembered as the ‘hoodie girl’ in the Autism community now.

Hopefully this will be a good thing when future conferences are being organised, and the sensory needs can be considered (the loud hand driers in the bathroom were 'not in service' on the Friday as it turns out this only happened on day three of the conference).

I’m actually on the committee of the Victorian Autism Conference next year, one outcome from APAC was I got to tour the proposed hotel for VAC2016 within a couple of weeks of APAC. In fact, I’ve just heard that my hoodie was mentioned at the Autism CRC Workshop on October 15 as part of discussions around sensory requirements.

I don’t just speak at autism conferences, but work-related conferences too. I hope that the images of me ‘hiding’ under my I CAN hoodie hood at APAC are spread far and wide to raise awareness of the issue that others may not think about. I know I wasn’t the only one who had issues with the bright spotlights.

After APAC finished, it was great to have dinner with my sister Heather who was working in Brisbane at the time – as well as a small group of others with Autism. ‘Hoodie girl’ certainly got mentioned a fair bit. I’d originally planned to network with ASD Learning in Queensland on the Saturday but this proved hard to organise.

Instead, I got to sightsee ahead of my flight back to Melbourne. I went to Roma Street Gardens and took many photos on my phone. The waterfall in the middle of the gardens was rather loud though so I wore my earplugs for a few hours while at the park.

After landing in Melbourne, I had one more challenge to overcome. When I parked the car in the multi-storey car park on Thursday, I took a photo of where I’d parked it. My phone went flat from all my photo taking and I couldn’t find my car on Saturday evening. Thankfully, I thought to go to the security office for help and they charged my phone for me for a few minutes, so I could turn it on, view the photo and find my car.

Over the month of AWEgust, supporters of the I CAN network said “I CAN” to an everyday challenge to bring out the “AWE” in Autism over August. I was busy with teaching commitments over August, so my challenge was a 48-hour trip to Brisbane for APAC in September instead.

It was a challenge at the end of week seven (of a 12-week teaching semester) but despite some difficulties, I managed to cope.

You can read more about my story, and support me and the I CAN Network here: