The INAS 2022 Neurodiversity Conference
This Week’s Guest
Dawn-Marie Solais is an Emotional Intelligence and Life Skills coach specializing in neurodivergence. She founded INAS Neurodiversity Conferences, Information Networking Advocacy and Support and INAS 2022 will be held on Saturday, September 24th both in person and virtually where I will be participating along with other staff of the International Council on Development and Learning (ICDL) and many others. In this podcast, we want to promote the upcoming conference, learn about who Dawn-Marie is, and describe why Dawn-Marie started this conference.
How did INAS begin?
Dawn-Marie has partnered up with the International Council on Development and Learning (ICDL), which is a major sponsor of the upcoming INAS 2022 Neurodiversity Conference and so we connected to meet, learning about each other’s work. Dawn-Marie says this conference was birthed when she went out looking for this conference and couldn’t find it. Dawn-Marie is autistic, ADHD, and has dyslexia and dyscalculia. She knew she was dyslexic since she was 15 but only discovered the rest of her identity at the age of 50, after raising three children who are also neurodivergent. She wanted to attend a conference to hear people talk about their experiences.
She found higher education conferences, but they were only for higher ed folks. Business conferences had a bit of neurodivergence. She wanted a conference everyone could attend and recognize neurodivergent people in every aspect of life. She started telling anyone who would listen about her idea about sharing experiences and seeing what happens. The more people she told, the more people got excited.
At the INAS 2022 Neurodiversity Conference there will be recorded virtual sessions with a virtual ticket, and there will also be live events that are mostly panel discussions. There will be very little that will be presentation-like, Dawn-Marie explains. There will be less talking ‘to’ you, and more talking ‘with’ you. It’s about sharing rather than about informing or dictating ideas. There are more than 30 people participating (including me) as speakers, either live, virtually, or recorded.
Dawn-Marie has chosen to remain in the self-identifying world because there are so many impediments to diagnosis. There are so many resources online to understand your identity. She believes it’s important that people feel valid when they feel they know themselves. She rejects the notion that neurodivergent people have to be told what to do and who to be. Having someone dictate to her how to ride a bike is different from not having within her the ability to understand and ‘be’ while she rode the bike.
She doesn’t speak against a medical diagnosis because people do need it for access to other supports and care. She does though advocate for a perspective that legitimizes the self-identifying neurodivergent individual. I shared that Autistics for Autistics Ontario (A4A Ontario) accept those who self diagnose. If you get a diagnosis in Toronto, you have to pay upwards of $3,000. Public services require many prerequisites and have a wait list of over one year long.
Kieran Rose, the Autistic Self-Advocate, who has interacted with thousands of autistic adults, and has neurodivergent children, has helped me understand my own neurodivergence and why I felt different my entire life from my friends and others, and that traits of mine that many people have found ‘annoying’ were actually neurodivergent traits that have been great strengths of mine.
The Self-Identification Process
In Dawn-Marie’s Emotional Intelligence coaching, she found that many of the clients who came to her were neurodivergent. She had a bizarre success rate in being correct in suggesting looking into ADHD or Autism in her clients. It led her to look into her own identity. She wrote a book about discovering her neurodivergence and looking back on her life, which was quite troubling and challenging. She realized she wasn’t the problem, as she was made to feel, but not knowing herself was.
Whether it was the school system, a societal perspective, or deeply abusive people in her life who were able to gaslight her, Dawn-Marie realized that her brain processed information differently. Her understanding of how her brain works better allows her to be a fuller version of herself with more confidence, more self-care, and more success, and to be able to decide what situations are safe for her or not, and be able to invite people to come in and support her successfully.
She now has a fresh viewpoint and valid ideas about who she is, how she thinks and processes, how she emotionally responds and reacts. It also made her a better coach. All of the pieces she studied made more sense to her with neurodivergence as her identity. She could look at herself and like herself, which she hadn’t been able to do beforehand. Her book is called ‘My Dramatic and Inappropriate Neuroawesome Life‘ because she’s been called dramatic and inappropriate for as long as she can remember.
She says that’s not a good set of descriptors for her. It’s a misunderstanding of her being, external to her and within. Instead of looking at herself as ‘too much’, or ‘not enough’, she is someone who is whole, capable, intelligent and wonderful in a unique set of ways changed everything. She had no other path but to recognize the good that knowledge did for her and for her three neurodivergent children.
Dawn-Marie wants to amplify voices trying to make positive impacts in this space and help others. This deep passion helped birth the INAS Conferences. She is very aware that she can only do so much by herself, so by joining with others she can do more. She also has disabling features in her life including sensory challenges that she can now navigate much better, but she can also recognize that she has a world that can make room for these things.
She remembers the argument against making ramps on buildings. Now we have ramps into almost every building and every public building, and we can all use the ramps. She knows what the arguments are against a world that embraces the wide needs of a neurodivergent population but she also knows that the moment we turn the corner–like we did with physical accessibility to public buildings–we won’t only see life become better for the neurodivergent population, but that life can become better for everyone.
Inspiring a Better World
Part of the INAS Neurodiversity Conference is about gathering the voices who can create this openness of society that makes things better for all. That’s the goal, she says. She had a client tell her that she wanted to take pictures of the board in her classroom but the teacher said if she let her do it, she’d have to let everybody do it. Dawn-Marie hopes that instead of “If I let you, I’ll have to let all” let’s ask, “What would help you as an individual?” whether it be to learn better, work better, or navigate the grocery store better.
If it helps one person, it will likely help many. What opens, what invites, what helps things get better, Dawn-Marie asks. This is what INAS is about, she explains. What makes people afraid of accommodating differences is that who they are will disappear in the process, but this isn’t it. Instead, it opens doors for everyone, even if it’s not the same door. Then, nobody disappears in the environment and nobody is made secondary in the environment. You can maintain what is good for you and open opportunities and supports for others, Dawn-Marie continues.
At INAS in person, the conference is split up into three sections because for many of us we need to focus on what’s important to us. The morning is focused towards family, the afternoon is focused on adults in transition including financial literacy, diversity equity and inclusion, and an education panel. In the evening there will be no more break-out sessions nor vendors like during the day, but only a panel asking who we are, what we’re trying to accomplish, and what are our ‘asks’ from the community. What can we do starting tomorrow? It’s important to Dawn-Marie that there be actionable products from the event.
As a virtual participant with your virtual ticket, you can watch all of the conference live or as a recording. You’ll benefit from hearing all of the different perspectives and how they interact with, touch, and represent the neurodivergent world, listening to what’s important to them. In that, we find more of ourselves, Dawn-Marie says, more of the people in our lives, and more ways to share all of that so that together we can take steps towards greater understanding, inclusion, advocacy and support.
The conference will be filled with people who are interested in making your world better.
To get your ticket to the 2022 INAS Neurodiversity Conference, go to the ticketing page and choose which events you would like to attend. If you are financially unable, you can also choose the section to request a free ticket. If you can afford it, buy a ticket. If you can’t, request a ticket, Dawn-Marie explains. They want anyone who wants to attend to be able to get a ticket. There are also ways to contribute so everyone can attend. Dawn-Marie’s organization is not not-for-profit yet, so you can’t get a tax receipt, but hopefully it will be in the future. You can also buy a ticket on behalf of someone else, and they’ll make sure that somebody gets it.
A special ‘thank you’ to ICDL for their generous financial support for this conference as a sponsor.
Will Parents Benefit from Attending?
In Person Conference (Binghamton, NY) DIR/Floortime has an entire room devoted to them for both the morning and afternoon where you can meet Floortime professionals. There is a financial institution doing financial education and well-being, not to make money, but how to make good financial decisions if you have a child with needs. There are also community rooms where you can just hang out and meet others, change diapers, etc. They have LGBTQi+ space since there’s a huge intersection with that community and autism. There’s also a room for discussing the conference conversations you just heard.
Virtual Conference Whoever you are, you will find relevant content. You may find relevance by surprise, too, Dawn-Marie says. There will be live virtual break-out sessions to participate in. There are individuals talking about what it is like to be a neurodivergent person. There are people talking about their lived experiences, hyper mobility, virtual and live music concerts designed for the neurodivergent community, access to medical care, etc. There will be 25+ hours of content and you have until the end of December to digest it.
This week’s PRACTICE TIP:
This week read the descriptions of the speakers at the INAS 2022 Neurodiversity Conference and register!
For example: Do any of the descriptions of the speakers resonate with you or your child? What might you learn if you register and attend in person or virtually? Think about how this conference can support you and your family.
Thank you to Dawn-Marie for promoting the INAS 2022 Neurodiversity Conference and describing what it will be about and how to register. I hope that you learned something valuable, will register for the conference, and will share it on Facebook or Twitter and feel free to share relevant experiences, questions, or comments in the Comments section below.
Until next time, here’s to choosing play and experiencing joy everyday!