On day 2 (click here to read my overview of day 1) of the AGOSCI Conference the tears started before Gayle Porter even began her opening keynote speech. For anyone not familiar with AAC, in 2007, Gayle released the PODD communication system which completely revolutionised AAC. PODD communication books and now the PODD pageset on the Compass app have given thousands of people around the world a voice, including my Harry. Not surprising then that the speech therapist introducing Gayle could barely make it through her introduction without getting choked up.
In her keynote, Gayle posed the question about an AAC user’s system: ‘Will I take it to a party?’ Not can I take it, but WILL I take it. She spoke about the importance of long term intervention, of training communication partners and the critical role that parents, friends and family play in ensuring that AAC users value their systems.
She also addressed how often it’s only the ‘now’ that is on display. We see videos of wonderfully competent AAC users, but what we don’t see is the years and years of hard work, continuous modelling and remaining hopeful, even when you’re running on empty, to ensure that one day your child will be able to communicate. The hope that one day, these years of modeling will pay off and your child will finally be able to share their thoughts with you. The tears in the hall fell freely from parents, therapists, teachers and even from Gayle.
Later that morning, a young speech therapist bravely shared her mistaken assumption of a client when she was a first year speechie. With tears streaming down her face, she reflected on how grateful she was to have learnt so early on to never presume anything but competence. And later in the day the tears flowed again from a teacher and speech pathologist who shared the amazing positive transformation in behaviour in a group of pupils with autism after the introduction of a literacy program.
The tears were punctuated by the AGOSCI Conference Dinner. I quickly learned that there is no hanging around the edges of an AGOSCI Conference Dinner dance floor. Within seconds of finishing your last mouthful of food, the dance floor is heaving and it was the most honest representation of society that I have ever seen. We were dancing using our arms, legs and wheelchairs. We were chatting using our voices, AAC devices and sign. Our ages ranged from 7 to 70 and no one judged, no one was excluded and everyone danced with a happy abandon that can only be the result of being in a truly inclusive environment (and possibly a few glasses of wine, ahem). I felt the prick of tears sting my eyes as I considered that this was just one dance floor in one place. What about all the other dance floors? And whilst I am sure that there are dance floors like this dotted all over the world, I felt a renewed determination to advocate, plan and hope for the type of world that I want my children to grow up in.
This conference has taught me so much more than I could possibly have imagined. From the expertise and knowledge of the speakers, I am committed to ensuring that literacy is a key part of Harry’s learning. From the honesty and dedication of AAC users and their families, I am hopeful for a bright, challenging and fulfilled life for Harry. And from the tears, passion, accountability and awesome dance moves of everyone who attended, I know that Harry’s future will be a disco-lit dance floor of inclusion!