Everyday Lives Autism Conference

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It is the return of the “Everyday Lives Autism” conference. Which is set to be held from January 9 through January 11, 2024, at the Hershey Lodge in Hershey, PA. The past few conferences were held online due to the worldwide pandemic. I have been fortunate for the last few times the conference was held in person, to be at the lodge because I have been the vendor for my adult ASD support group “Spectrum Friends.” The conference is put on by The Office of Developmental Programs (ODP) through the Department of Human Services in association with the Bureau of Autism Resources and Special Populations. They always have a great lineup of presenters along with breakout sessions on different topics for attendees to choose from and this year is no different. You can find a short list of some of the presenters for the 2024 conference will be found at the conference website: https://everydaylives.org/.

The 2024 conference themes include professional development for providers, wellness and resiliency, and behavioral and communication supports, along with topics such as supporting families, health equity, employment, self-advocacy, leadership training, grant writing, staff retention and development, trauma-informed care, and transformational change. The conference will offer 25 unique presentations by self-advocates, support professionals, clinicians, policymakers, and thought leaders. There will be a new and exciting addition to the conference called “Move Your Way.” This campaign is a promotional campaign for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Physical activity guidelines during the conference for the attendees will be encouraged to move their way along with scheduled group activities like walks around the hotel grounds and sharing their movement routine through the conference app boards.

At previous conferences at the lodge, the hotel would provide snack breaks for all attendees with cookies and soft pretzel logs (which are delicious), along with coffee, tea, and water. I would eat several of the soft pretzels. During the conference, you can also get a fun photo taken of yourself or your group downstairs of the hotel as a souvenir. The one conference I remember most was when I got to catch up with a friend whom I had not seen in years. His name is Dr. Kerry Magro. He is a well-known adult self-advocate, a published author of several books about autism, a public speaker, and a presenter. I got to meet Kerry for the first time many years ago at a Greater Harrisburg Autism Society event where he was the main speaker and I spoke after his presentation.

Now let me get back to the actual “Everyday Lives” conference. When I attend this particular conference, I can do some networking with other vendors. I typically like to meet with representatives from other organizations who would be willing to be a future guest speaker at my Spectrum Friends group meetings. If you have never attended this conference you should truly try to. You will learn a lot since there’s always new information on autism for families and professionals who work in the autism field that you may not know anything about. I will be representing our adult ASD support group and manning a table there. Anyone at the conference can stop by and get information about our adult social group. You’ll also have the opportunity to meet me! I am a well-respected self-advocate in Pennsylvania as well as an advisor for the Self-Advocates United as 1 (SAU1) board, a role that I started back in August of 2023.

Thomas Hassell

Thomas is 62 years old and has spent the past few decades involved in autism-related social/support groups among other organizations and has become a well-known self-advocate throughout Pennsylvania. For the past 15 years, he’s led a group called “Spectrum Friends” that helps people with autism come together, listen to guest speakers, make new friends, and go on fun field trips. He’s also won and been nominated for multiple disability/autism advocacy awards for his work within the community. Thomas continues to strive for greatness every day and is looking forward to sharing his life story and amazing experiences through ASDNext blogs!

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