Recap of Geneva Centre for Autism 2010 International Symposium – Part 2: A Message of Unconditional Love

This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series Geneva Centre for Autism 2010 International Symposium

The moment had finally arrived for me to walk across the stage towards the podium, clenching onto the papers which contained the speech I would deliver to close the 2010 International Symposium in Toronto.

Initially, I had a long-developing case of butterflies that most speakers and performers would feel.  Even after 5 years of public speaking under my belt, there are always the concerns that pop up in my head right before you take the stage… “What if this doesn’t go well?  I hope I don’t fuck up.” Once I got up to the podium, however, those concerns disappeared into thin air.

Dave had completed the first half of the Closing Address with a slide show presentation which included an electromagnetic spectrum diagram with the different “wave patterns” of romantic feelings a person may feel.  He included a run-through of tips for individuals with ASDs who may be interested in pursuing a date or a relationship.  To close his segment, Dave shared the story of how we both met (a coincidental run-in at the ASA National Conference in 2005).  I always let him tell that story to our audience since he presents it so well.

I applied a twist to the second half of the Closing Address by revealing a raw account of my life, based on a theme of unconditional love.  When Dave and I were initially asked by the Symposium organizers to speak about love, I immediately thought of expanding it to a theme that most anyone can relate.  After all, love does not just exist in romantic bonds.  Love also exists in our families, our friendships, and in ourselves.

A really great way to connect with your audience is to share your own personal experiences.  Some of these experiences may be painful and difficult to share, but in the process of writing or composing a creative work, I always challenge myself to confront past memories like a head-on collision.  I  allow myself to feel the pain that dwells inside these emotions, admit my vulnerability, and as a result, a sense of self-understanding and relief ensues.  When comes the time to deliver it to my audience, I may still be facing the fear of re-living these emotions, but I am very willing and ready to share that part of myself.

In the final days of preparing and writing my speech, I re-lived my childhood.  I re-lived the experiences of growing up with my brother and never being able to connect with him like a typical sibling relationship.  James has far more intellectual challenges, and even though he and I share the same diagnosis, my brother always remained a mystery to me.  My parents and I could never fully understand what he was feeling or what he was thinking.  When he had his behavioral meltdowns, it was always very difficult to figure out how to help him, since he has not as of yet been able to explicitly communicate his feelings to a level in which the rest of the world can understand.  Currently, in his late 20s, he is still unable to speak and only uses a maximum of 10 sign language symbols.

Through the example my parents set, I was able to learn one of life’s most important lessons: how to love someone unconditionally.

In raising James, my mother and my father were forced to confront themselves on what it really means to be a parent.  Through the example my parents set, I was able to learn one of life’s most important lessons: how to love someone unconditionally without expecting to receive that reassurance you are being loved in return.  However, even though I have not been able to tell whether James loves me or even recognizes me as his sister, I’m convinced he understands and takes in a lot more that any of us will ever realize.

In addition to sharing that story about my family, I also spoke on what romantic love is like for 2 individuals with autism.  Taking the same metaphor in an article I wrote for the Autism Spectrum Quarterly,  I described how it is like a collaboration between 2 composers of a symphony written in the Contemporary period.   Symphonies in this era contain an abundance of off-key chords and uneven beats, but when the creation is heard in its entirety, the listener can learn to appreciate it.  During my childhood years of studying classical piano, the pieces written during the Contemporary period were among my absolute favorite to perform in recitals, because this kind of music was very different and mysterious.

Even though falling in love may come naturally for many of us on the autism spectrum, companionship is an art that needs to be practiced and cultivated.

I told our audience that even though falling in love may come naturally for many of us on the autism spectrum, companionship is an art that needs to be practiced and cultivated.  Two individuals are coming together, and each individual has his or her separate needs, sensitivities, and preferences.  This can happen in any relationship, but for individuals with autism or Asperger’s, it is often magnified because of the tendency towards self-centeredness.  There are two requirements in order to make these partnerships successful: 1) compromise, and 2) effective communication (whether it be verbal, written, typed, etc.).  This very much applies to Dave and myself.

In closing my speech, I confessed that even with healthy communication in our relationship, I still have trouble verbally expressing strong emotions due to their overwhelming nature.  I told my audience how I tended to say to Dave, “Love ya” instead of  “I love you”, and how I can’t always look at him in the eye.  I try to reassure him by saying, “Just know whenever there is a time I have trouble looking into your eyes, I hope you’ll still know that I love you.”

We all feel love, and it’s a concept that’s very real.

Judging by the mixture of tears and laughter expressed by our audience, it’s safe to say Dave and I created a dichotomy of emotions in our delivery of the Closing Address.  But it ended up being well received.  We were both extremely humbled by the positive support and feedback, as this alone is what encourages me to continue to do the work that I do for the autism community.

Remembrance and unconditional love… the two concepts I will always remember solidifying the theme of my very first visit to Canada.

image source: Laura4Smith

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One Comment

  1. Posted December 30, 2010 at 4:13 PM | Permalink

    You did a beautiful job describing your closing address, Lindsey.

    I appreciate very much how you spoke openly about the neuro-differences between you and your brother, and in particular the differences in how you each present on the autism spectrum. It is not an easy topic to take on in the blogosphere as too many times our individual autism experiences are criticized instead of honored with the respect every individual has a right to receive.

    I only wish I could have been there with you and Dave in Geneva to hear your presentation first hand. In any case, this blog post is a beautiful tribute to love, differences, respect, and honor. Thank you for sharing this experience, Lindsey. Happy New Year to you and Dave!

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