International Autism Awareness by Robert Naseef, Ph.D.

On April 2, 2011, the Autism Society of El Paso sponsored its “12th Annual International Autism Conference.” Over 150 people attended from 2 countries and 3 states: Texas, New Mexico, and Chihuahua (Mexico). On Friday evening, over 40 men gathered to talk about fatherhood when a child has autism. As one father put it, “The conference wasn’t about you, it was about us. You helped us to talk about ourselves and connect with each other.” As the father of a nonverbal adult son on the spectrum, that meant the world to me.Then on Saturday , over 100 men and women, parents and professionals, Spanish and English speaking, spent the day talking about families and taking care of everyone’s needs. I was their guest speaker and facilitator. Having let down their “armor” the night before, men were able to speak openly of their struggles, their dreams, and their love for their families. The women were deeply moved by hearing how much they are appreciated and then spoke from their hearts.

How is this international? When people come together across borders in different languages to speak of common experiences and shared thoughts and feelings, there is an incredible wave of fellowship and compassion. Men and women showed appreciation for each other and their struggles to be present for each other under trying circumstances. Although connecting for children with autism is different and difficult, being aware makes contact possible. As one parent shared, “If there’s anything our children with autism teach us, it is to be present in the moment.”