Recently I was given the amazing opportunity to interview the incredible Karen Simmons who is the creator and CEO of Autism Today.   She is a complete inspiration and I can’t even believe I was given the honor to pick her brain a little bit!  I was especially grateful because I wasn’t able to attend the conferences that they are having here in Vancouver on the 13th and 19th, which you can still get seats to if you are in the Vancouver area here!  Without further adieu I want to bring to you the wonderful Karen Simmons!!! (applause) 

1.        What were the first thoughts that lead to the creation of Autism Today?   What was its “birth thought”?
Honestly, getting the resources into the hands of all the many millions of parents out there in the world who can’t afford to travel across the country to attend conferences, or that don’t have the time to track down the many answers to their questions is the main reason I started Autism Today.  Our vision with Autism Today is to have a world where people with autism are respected, loved, self-reliant, happy and understood for who they are as a result of the strategies implemented by those that love and care for them.  Our mission is that as the first and largest information website worldwide we provide the keys to a treasure chest of affordable solutions and expertise for families, educators and professionals right at their fingertips. Through a plethora of conferences, products and services caregivers learn to empower those on the spectrum through their lifespan so they can be their own personal best by expressing their unique gifts, strengths and talents
 I couldn’t imagine anyone not being able to have the tools to help their child available to them.  To me as a new mom at the time, the thought of not helping my child was absurd.  Even to this day it astounds me that families still are struggling to get the resources or understand about the importance of early diagnosis and intervention which is the main key to helping your child through his or her lifespan. 
2.       What is the most rewarding part of doing your conferences?  Is there one particular story that stands out? 
Helping the parents understand how to help their children and to change the lives of the autism family towards the better.  I remember, it just so happens, a mother at our 2007 Autism Biennial Vancouver Congress who had just received the new diagnosis of autism for her child.  She was devastated and didn’t know what to do.  She happened to hear about our conference and convinced her husband to let her come.  The first day she was a mess and, however, by the end of the conference she approached me, with tears in her eyes, and thanked me for hosting the conference.  Two years later at our 2009 conference she told me how the conference had changed their entire life and without it she didn’t have any idea where they would be to this day.  Her question to me was “How many other families are out there that didn’t know about our conference or perhaps just couldn’t afford to attend”?  Their lives and the life of their child would just not have anywhere near the same opportunity to succeed. 
Here’s an example of what we also do and will be doing in your city.  We will be back in your lovely city next week for a one day workshop with world renowned Dr. Jed Baker who wrote several books including The Social Skills Picture Book for all school ages and presents all across North America.  He is one of the best presenters we have and it took me a long time to convince him to come out to Vancouver because he doesn’t like to leave his family for periods of time.  He’s a true dedicated family man that really believes in our kids.  Anyway he offers so many tools for parents and educators alike that it would be a shame to miss him.  Here’s a little bit about the conference.  Its called “A  Social Skills Training Workshop for Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorders, All Kids Can Succeed: Handling Challenging Behaviours and Teaching Social Skills being held in Vancouver, BC this Thursday, April 19th, 2012 at the Norman Rothstein Theatre – 950 West 41st Ave (at Oak Street)
Heres some of the benefits of attending the conference that Parents, teachers and professionals will do.  They will:
o    Learn how to prevent and manage meltdowns or tantrums
o    Learn strategies to teach verbal and non-verbal students
o    Find out how to develop an effective behavior plan
o    Become a facilitator to help create peer acceptance
o    Gain skills in teaching peers to be more tolerant and supportive
o    Inclusion Techniques for creating lasting friendships
o    Discover how to put together a social skills training programs
o    Case studies that show the strategies in action
o    Discover the reasons for social skill deficits and disruptive behavior
 
3.       As a daycare provider, what are some of the best ways I can help accommodate an autistic child? (eg involving them in activities , discipline, speech development etc….)
Certainly the biggest challenges are around social skills and behavioral issues, so understanding the child with autism and all the challenges that accompany them, helps in knowing what to do in certain particular situations. Time outs are not necessarily a good thing for discipline since kids with autism might even enjoy them since they don’t like to interact with others as much.   I wrote a little booklet called “How to Plan the Perfect Party for Children with Autism” which sheds a lot of light on things one can do when interacting with a child with autism and am more than happy to share it if you’d like. YES!!!!
4.       Do you find the school systems of today better at accommodating autistic children than the past? Or are they still out of date with the knowledge of the topics?
Of course the school systems have certainly come a long way since the days Jonny and Alex attended early school.  Though methodologies and teaching techniques differ a great deal from those days, what remains the same is the passion, love and attention the teachers have and feel for our children.  They are in this field for a reason and do their very best most times to help our kids to the best of their ability.  Jonny and Alex had early intervention of sorts back in the day and of course time passes on and everything changes.  If they were in school today they would certainly have more up to date behavioral and developmental interventions, though I am not sure how they would turn out as a result.  You just never know.
 
5.       I know Vancouver couldn’t possibly compare to your first conference location in Honolulu but what have you enjoyed about our city here in Vancouver? 
Are you kidding?  What’s not to absolutely love about Vancouver?  It’s one of my most favorite cities with your beautiful waterfront, wonderful climate and gorgeous mountains.  I wish I could have had more play time there and if we could do all of our conferences there it would be great but we need to get the resources to all the folks everywhere so we go where we can.  Honolulu is also nice and there are many families struggling for resources over there which is what we look for when choosing a city to go to.
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6.       For parents who may be unfamiliar with some of the warning signs of autism, to you, what would be some of the key ones?
Some of the early warning signs to really pay attention to are lack of eye contact, inappropriate social skills, spinning around and around, lining objects up, repeating the same thing over and over like an echo or watching a movie over and over again.  Loss of speech or being late in developing language is another sign.  The window to notice the above warning signs is around 2 -5 years old. Of course autism is being detected earlier and earlier in children so the signs of autism for particular age groups are different. 
7.        How has being a part of autism today changed your life and the life of your families?
I have been deeply involved with Autism Today since I first learned about my sons diagnosis.  By digging in and initially getting past my own denial about the diagnosis I have learned a tremendous amount about autism and have helped my family and others understand along the way.  If I had any regrets it would be that I have taken a lot of time away from my own family and devoted it to Autism Today and like any obsessive focus towards any particular career, there has been the resentment from my family members towards my dedication towards Autism Today.  You might say I have two families, my Autism Today family and my own family at home.  Balance is a lesson I am always struggling to learn within myself.
8.       What is the best way to help a husband and wife stay connected to one another when they have a child with autism in the family?
Never give up on the relationship and don’t play games.  It is tempting when issues around the games we play as human beings like the ego game, the blame game and the denial game.  Always try to be bigger than the autism and bring the love you have for each other as a couple into center focus.  Like the oxygen mask on the plane is there for the adult to put on first so the child can survive, you have to put the oxygen mask on your relationship first before the child and be on the same page as much as you possibly can for the child.

If you have any other questions or concerns I highly suggest you check out Autism Today it is an AMAZING place to go and find information to any and all your questions.

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3 Comments

  1. What an amazing interview and I am glad that she was able to share some great insight for the parents that have children with this health condition. Keep up the excellent work!

  2. Great interview… It’s great to see when others such as Karen learn Autism gradually as other parents do. Great tips, I will share this with others.
    CJR @ TMB

  3. This is great! I absolutely love all the kids with autism I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. It’s always hard watching the parents try to get through that though.

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