November 08, 2016

The 2016 Au-Some Conference

I laughed, I cried, I spoke, I stimmed...I attended what I hope will be an annual conference organized by Autism Canada and Every1Games, the Au-Some Conference.

Months in the making, it was amazing working with other autistic adults to plan and make it happen. We had conference calls that left me with a great sense of community, and email exchanges where we were able to respectfully share our opinions on everything from the cost, format, location, vendors, speakers, food, and t-shirt design. Throughout it all, we had the support of Autism Canada, who brought us all together. Planning and discussions were broken up into easy chunks, so the process did not seem overwhelming. Sub-committees were created to have people focused on certain parts of planning as well. This took a great load off my shoulders since I still work full-time. However, our input as being the authorities on the autistic experience were always taken into account and respected.

A big thank you to everyone who took part in the t-shirt fundraiser (which I'm wearing in the video) or contributed to Autism Canada during the campaign. It paid for my airfare and hotel to attend the conference, so I really appreciate that.

I am also grateful for the many new connections I made at this year's conference, as well as seeing many people from last year's conference. When I say I laughed and cried, I really mean it. There's a wonderful sense of community and belonging being able to be with people who really understand you - your tribe. Even without knowing every person there, I know I can be myself and I enjoy seeing other autistics comfortable and in their element.

So without further ado, here is the video of my talk at the conference. Not the best presentation, in my mind, as I had a cold and hadn't practiced my speech at all (oops!). But my words were well thought out and that's what matters. So look past the way it was delivered and listen to what I have to say. I hope it inspires and encourages you!

Kelly Johnson (2016) Autism at Work from Autism Canada on Vimeo.

June 26, 2016

It's Not My Party

The Tiny Man's court date for his adoption (all this legal stuff!) is coming up right before a long weekend, so I was thinking of having an adoption party. After all, we never had a baby shower or even a "Sprinkle". The speed of how he came to be in my arms one winter day really left us no time for such things.

With the warmer weather, I thought it would be nice to celebrate our new family and mark the day the papers are signed; the I's dotted and the T's crossed. Then I started reading about Adoption Day celebrations and "Gotcha Days". Then I started reading what adoptees had to say...

If you stop to think about it, "gotcha!" doesn't have the most positive connotations. It sounds like a game of tag and I tricked someone. Or I stole him away from someone else. Certainly, our "gotcha" day is someone else's horrible day of loss. My son might not like this idea, and he's allowed to not like it.

In reality, we became a family the day I brought him into our home. We kept to ourselves those first early months and kept things low-key for all our benefit. I had tears of sadness and joy. Similarly, with any other "celebration" concerning adoption, he gets to take the lead. He gets to decide how or if he wants to mark these days.

So even though us parents certainly felt a moment of relief, and maybe even wanted to mark the occasion, it's not our day. It's his. It's not about me. It's all about him. It's not my party, and he can cry if he wants to. Or not. When he's old enough he'll get to chose.

June 13, 2016

The Au-Some Conference

ASD Canada Conference Logo 2016 Au-Some Conference

Join Autism Canada and Every1 Games at the Au-Some Conference in Hamilton, ON, this Au-gust 20th, 2016.


Because I'm speaking. But also because it will be at least as fun as the last Every1Games Unconference I attended last year.

Registration is open right now and limited to 100 attendees. On the registration page, you can also make a donation towards the conference, which will help an Autistic person attend, or help pay for my trip out there.

Let me know if you'll be there! If you can't make it, all talks will be recorded and put on the website after, so you don't have to worry about missing out on everything. 

April 04, 2016

Advisory and Anthologies - I've Been Busy

Late last year, I joined the advisory committee at Autism Canada. It's really great of them to include #ActuallyAutistic people, but also it's been great making connections across the country. We're in the process of planning a conference - there will be three: one in the Maritimes, one central and one in BC. I'm on the planning committee for the central one, which will take place in Hamilton, ON in August.
I'll get you more details closer to the date.

I have to decide soon if I'm going to speak at it. I'm feeling a little nervous and haven't written anything yet.

The other exciting thing that is happening is the anthology I contributed to, All the Weight of Our Dreams, should be coming out at the end of the month. You can check the site for updates. Also, please buy a copy! :)

I've also been asked to write for another anthology, so I better get cracking on that one because the deadline is also in August.

It feels good to be doing things I hope will make the future easier for autistic people, as well as building community. There are few things better than finding your tribe. 

April 03, 2016

What April Does to #ActuallyAutistic People

We're only a few days into the month of April but already Autistic people are running for the hills. It starts with the dread during the final weeks of March. We know what is going to happen.

April is Autism Awareness Month, with April 2nd being the official UN Autism Acceptance Day. Or Awareness. I'm no longer even sure myself. Depending on who you talk to, you're supposed to either accept or be aware (beware?) of Autistics.

Of course, added to all this is Autism $peaks and their Light It Up Blue. Because blue is for boys and females are never autistic!

In response, a lot of Actually Autistic people started #RedInstead. There's also Light It Up Gold, by the Autistic Union (Au, for gold, get it!?)

So there's just a whole lot of posts and memes going around (oops, I'm in the mix as well!), a lot of opinions on which colours should be lit up, a lot of arguing, a lot of blatant ableism, a lot of hurt feelings, friendships lost, energy wasted and on and on and on.

It seems my Actually Autistic friends fall into one of two categories: 1) they either post CONSTANTLY about which side you should be on and if you wear the wrong colour, they'll hate you forever; or 2) go into hiding for the month of April to preserve their sanity.

There's no right or wrong way. Everyone has to do what is best for them, but it does kinda suck for me because I want my friends back - both types, the vocal ones and the quiet ones. Both are hurting. Some express it outwardly and some keep it inside, but April is a tough month. Either way, we're getting hurt because we know there is so much work to do to change attitudes and we are bombarded by messages.

Please understand while many of us are proud of our neurology, proud to be Autistic, and even proud to have your support, this month can be overwhelming and we might be tired of hearing any more about it. Some of us are also without the friendship of the people who understand us best during this time, and that's not always easy to handle either.

Hoping for a day where this month does more to help us than harm us. 

March 08, 2016

Adoption Is A Feminist Issue

For International Women's Day, I'd like to focus on women and adoption, since it's close to my heart.

For obvious biological reasons, adoption tends to affect women more than men. Working from the understanding that feminism is about equality and inclusive (including transgender people), I am not saying it does not affect men, but physically the work is done by women. In the end, the choices before and after are often left to women alone.

To understand why adoption itself is a feminist issue, let's look at everything that leads up to that act.

A woman needs to have education about how her body works. She needs education about contraception and health issues, if she chooses. She needs education about sexual consent. She needs access to contraception and health care. If something happens, she needs access to unbiased education, health care, emergency contraceptives or abortion. If none of that happens, she needs access to health care and resources to help her learn and be supported caring for her baby.

If none of that happens, we, as a society, have failed her.

In Canada, we're failing huge parts of the population. There are not enough accessible health clinics or abortion clinics. Some provinces have none at all.
Let me repeat that. Some provinces have no abortion clinics. None. Not one. 

If you live in PEI, you would have to take time off work, make up some sort of excuse for your family/friends, have the available funds and travel to New Brunswick and stay in a hotel until you can get your abortion there, then travel back. You'd also most likely have to go through it all alone.

Adoption is not a solution. It's an option, but it's a bandaid solution for all the other ways we have failed women as a society. 

How can I say that when I've adopted a child? Don't get me wrong, I love my baby. I feel so very lucky to have had this option to expand my family. We are all very happy to have him with us. But I can acknowledge that and acknowledge the fact he should be with his first mother. I can acknowledge and accept that he would have not made the choice to be separated from her, and she would probably not have made the choice to be separated from him if other options had been available.

We have a tendency, as a society, to judge these women who "give up their babies" and demonize them - maybe that assuages people's guilt that they didn't do more to help. Maybe it makes them feel better somehow. But we can't fix problems we chose to ignore. It's not just a feminist issue, it's a class issue. It's an accessibility issue, it's a financial issue, it's a political issue. It's a fairness issue.

The fact is, she made the best choice she could with the limited options and services available to her. She simply wasn't given the same deck of cards to play with as others do. If there's anyone that should be demonized, it's the government and politics that lead to things being that way; the haves and havenots and that inequality. Because when it affects women and children, it affects us all. 

March 05, 2016

The Wait Is Not Over

Since my last adoption update, our birth mother gave birth a little early. I got the call while I was at work on a Monday morning that she gave birth. Because it was so close to Christmas holidays, I chose to keep working. There wasn't much I could do while waiting for the baby to be released from the hospital and I felt like I should keep my mind distracted. Let me tell you, it's a truly bizarre feeling to know "your" child is born, but you are not there to hear his cries or comfort him.

The social worker told me to expect to receive the baby sometime in the afternoon the next day, so I went into work that morning. My co-workers were truly amazing and surprised me with a gift card and a deluxe baby bath. It was really heart-warming how they came together on such short notice to support me. I left work that afternoon with them wishing me well and hoping everything goes smoothly.

I went home for lunch and got a call from the social worker. "There's been a delay...and some changes...."
There are always curve balls in adoption, I think. You just have to roll with it. Originally, our social worker was going to deliver him to our house. That changed and they asked us to go to the hospital.

My sister had arrived by then (she lives in another province), and I knew there was potential to wait more at the hospital, so I decided it was best if Hubby and the Little Man wait at home, and I drove to the hospital with my sister.

We got there and waited. And waited. And waited. We browsed in the gift shop. And wandered. And sat. And waited. Finally the social worker told us to wait outside the elevators, they were coming down. So we waited in the hospital hall. Very anti-climatic. Very odd. To think this is THE MOMENT you get to see your child and we're standing in the middle of a hospital.

So with that, three social workers come out, mine carrying our baby and in the middle of the hall, they hand him to me. But just like when I gave birth, when you set your eyes on your baby, for a few minutes the world stops turning and no one else exists. You have no pain, no fears, no worries. You feel love and protection. It doesn't matter if you're lying in a hospital bed or standing in a hospital hall, you see your baby and it's wonderful.

And with that, we pile into the car - me, my sister, our social worker and the Tiny Man - and we drive home. We walk in the door and present the new baby to Hubby and the Little Man. The Little Man is so proud and declares we're, "a real family now." The social worker stays with us for the first hour to make sure we're settled in and with that, our new family is formed.

From there, we had to get past the 30-day wait period - the time that the biological family can request the baby back. This was not as nerve-racking as I thought it would be. I did not guard my heart just in case. As far as I was concerned, this was my child for however long I have him and I will love him because that's what he needs.

We have had him two months now and it feels like he was always supposed to be with us. The Little Man tells everyone he can about his baby brother. He is so happy.

But the waiting is not over.

We have to wait for our day in court for the Order of Placement, which transfers guardianship of the Tiny Man from child protective services to us. Then after that, we have to wait for the finalized adoption. Again, like every other aspect of adoption we've experienced so far, there's no clue how long we'll wait. So the wait is not over!

In the meantime, we just keep living and enjoying our little family.

~ To Be Continued ~