A Reflection on Why we do, What we do

May 12, 2015

On April 18, parents, students, teachers, and various service provider organizations from across the Richmond region gathered at the Annual Central Virginia Autism Conference to network and provide resources for individuals with autism.

The conference, sponsored by the Central Virginia Autism Society, took place at the United Methodist Church on River Road in Richmond. More than 100 attendees enjoyed a range of events, including a keynote presentation, break-out sessions, meeting with vendors, and networking opportunities.

Jennifer O’Toole delivered the keynote address, Relentless Positivity (and a Little Bit of Caffeine). O’Toole was diagnosed as an adult on the spectrum, is the mother of three Aspersers’ kids, and an award-winning educator and author of an internationally celebrated book series.

Having the opportunity to represent Grafton outside of the school always offers a fresh perspective. It provides the opportunity to network, but most rewarding is the opportunity to speak with families as they navigate academic and residential options for their children.

I shared a candid conversation with one particular family when they stopped by Grafton’s booth. I could sense the overwhelming feelings these parents were experiencing as they asked critical questions about residential education options. My advice included providing an opportunity for their child to participate in the residential decision-making, to whatever extent possible.

Their child would gain a stronger sense of self-determination through the exploration, which might include going on tours of various group homes and schools, and feel ownership in a new lifestyle that offered new opportunities, such as increased social interaction and community-based instruction.

I suggested that any move would likely be difficult for the entire family, but I encouraged the parents to keep reminding themselves that increased independence would be in their child’s best interest.

The family was blown away by the information I shared with regard to residential school options. “The idea that a residential school would allow for lifelong inclusion in a community is something we, as parent, might not always be able to provide,” they shared.

I left the conference confident in knowing that even if Grafton wasn’t the school of choice for this family, they were now more informed about their options.

And it helped put things in perspective for me, as a representing service provider, to articulate “why we do what we do.”