Leaders spoke who listened to their hearts, their intuition, and to the children. These bold parents and professionals radically and gently attuned to the truth of the children and saw them differently.
By Marisa Leon
I arrived an hour early both days to the Mozart and the Mind symposium in San Diego, due to sheer excitement. Saturday morning, walking up to the check-in line, I noticed a woman wearing a turquoise western shirt…our hero. I stopped in my tracks for a second, smiled, and whispered to myself, “There’s Temple.” Hope and joy instantly filled my heart. It was the perfect starting point for an astounding weekend.
After making it through the doors on that first day, Dr. Temple Grandin and I had a short conversation. She asked what I did and why I was there. She spoke in a beautifully authoritative manner. I recognized just how much she nurtures and looks out for the autistic community. I responded nervously as it felt like I was having the biggest job interview of my life, “I’m a speech therapist, but I created a company to expand how I offer communication services.” She immediately asked, “Well, how do you do that?!” I shared, “I work more with the parents and help them communicate differently with their children, and I have found the children communicate more and more easily as a result.”
Temple looked away and exclaimed to everyone near her booth, “Parents are too overprotective! They want their children to be software engineers, but won’t teach them to go shopping.” She then shifted her focus to someone else. It was a brief moment I will appreciate forever.
The rock stars of autism were everywhere! Making my way through the booths, I met Kevin Housseini and his mother, Debra Muzikar. Kevin’s paintings are so influential in my world. His painting, Gauguin and Me, is one of my favorite paintings of all time.
I met Matteo and his mother, Annette Musso. During our conversation, Matteo spelled out, “We don’t need to be healed. Celebrate autism. Autism rocks!”
I shared with Diego, and his mother, Edlyn Pena, how his messages are helping me support so many children and parents. Diego spelled, “Thank you.” I met an administrator from Bridges Academy, Kim Vargas. Serendipitously, a lifelong friend of mine, who is a special education teacher and mother of an autistic son, told me about Bridges Academy long before the event. Kim was excited to learn this and connections were made. Two weeks later, Kim gave my friend and me a tour of Bridges. It was awe-inspiring to see a talent-based model being successfully and joyfully implemented in education.
The presentations were phenomenal and, for me, unprecedented. Leaders spoke who listened to their hearts, their intuition, and to the children. These bold parents and professionals radically and gently attuned to the truth of the children and saw them differently. Their children and students blossom as they are seen and treated as intelligent and competent human beings. Hope, joy, and wisdom emanated from the words shared on stage, both in spoken and typed form.
There were the artists themselves: author, Diego Pena, author and poet, Matteo Musso, visual artists, Jeremy Sicile-Kira and Grant Manier. Grant spoke about his journey becoming an artist. Diego, Matteo, and Jeremy use letter boards to communicate. They took to the stage with their extraordinary mothers and, together, they shared tips to help neurotypicals understand autism on a deeper level.
Jeremy shared, “The Secret of Life is easy to say, but hard to do: Believe in yourself; believe in your child.” Matteo shared, “We need your help to blossom and you need our help to learn more about yourself and why you’re here.” Diego shares in his book, “We are capable of being heroes, but our abilities are as unique as our disabilities.” Amoako Buachie and Joel Anderson each painted stunning works of art, on stage, during the presentations. It was an honor to see these influential young men beautifully show what is possible in the world of autism.
The researchers, educators, and therapists all talked of teaching to the talents and “obsessions” of the children. They also shared how crucial it is to understand the different learning styles of the students. The students gain access to the academic world in a way that works for them! Dr. Grandin went into great detail about different learning styles, including, how hands-on courses can significantly help the students academically and vocationally. She also emphasized the need for parents to stretch their children out of their comfort zones. She, once again, exclaimed, “Parents are too overprotective!”
Kristine Barnett, author of, The Spark: A Mother’s Story of Nurturing, Genius, and Autism, emphasized the change needed in autism starts with ourselves. She beautifully stated, “It takes an incredible amount of bravery to see these children for who they are. Let’s start with ourselves. Let’s stop trying to fix these beautiful minds. We need to stop pathologizing autism and these children.” She ended with a statement I have believed for many years and still do: “If we let these children show us who they are, rather than trying to make them into what we want them to be, they will make us a beautiful world.”
In 20 years of attending autism workshops as a speech therapist, I have never been to an event like the Mozart and the Mind autism symposium in San Diego, California. It was a paradigm-shifting weekend as autism was presented through celebration, visionary genius, art, strength, and love. Everyone in attendance, collectively and individually, made gigantic strides forward in changing how autism is perceived and how autistic people are treated. By Sunday evening, I felt like we were in a collective rocket ship blasting off into exciting spaces and places of wonderful new beginnings, realities, and paradigms for all. I truly feel anything is possible. Here we go!
Editor’s Note: Art of Autism Board member and Mozart & The Mind autism advisory member Dr. Lamis Jabri arranged for all the speakers at this symposium. Art of Autism board member Tom Iland was the emcee. See more pictures of the symposium and Mozart & The Mind 2019 events here.
Marisa Leon is a speech-language pathologist and founder of Autism Heals, a company dedicated to creating a new paradigm in the world of autism and communication. She integrates 20 years of experience as a clinician with the essential aspects of multidimensionality. The children have taught her that emotion, perception, awareness, spirituality, acceptance, and love are all key elements of communication. There is an alternative and freeing approach to communication. Autism Heals is a new option.
Online sessions are offered for anyone wanting to communicate on a deeper and expanded level. In-home sessions and advocacy services are offered to families of autism in the Los Angeles area. Please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a free consultation and to receive more information.