Straight from the Source – 2018 Conference Speaker, Raesin Caine

T-minus two weeks until #MNAC2018 and we could not be MORE excited about all the insightful, informative sessions this year! Milestones is especially thrilled about the outstanding line-up of self-advocates presenting, one being Raesin Caine, MS. Raesin is a self-proclaimed nerd for science, the arts, and learning new things whenever she can. Diagnosed just last year with autism, Raesin celebrated when she received the news. Since her diagnosis, Raesin has made it a personal goal to change the way people think about autism by counteracting negative perspectives of the disorder when she encounters them.

“If I had my way, I’d do away with the charity walks, puzzle pieces, and tragic language, and insist on reframing autism in a way that promotes confidence, ownership, and celebration (I’m imagining the enthusiasm you’d find at a drag ball or marching band extravaganza.)”

What initially got you interested in the Milestones Conference? Can you describe your first conference experience and why you wanted to come back as a speaker?

“Admittedly, I was starstruck by Temple Grandin, who has been one of my heroes since I first read about her back in the nineties in the book, An Anthroplogist on Mars. I was also curious about what I could learn at an autism conference since I’d never attended one before.

I had a lot to say on my feedback form for last year’s conference. I learned important things at some of the workshops, met great people, and absolutely loved Dr. Grandin’s talk. At the same time, I felt disappointed by the number of sessions offered by self-advocates. It’s important for self-advocates to see ourselves throughout the programming and for neurotypical people to listen to our perspectives, so that’s why I decided to submit a presentation proposal.

I spoke up in a couple of workshops during the question-and-answer sessions last year and a number of people pulled me aside to ask me more about my experience. Their reactions were a good reminder that parents, sponsors, and other attendees need to hear from self-advocates especially because we tend to be heavily outnumbered at autism conferences. I am certain autism conferences would proceed quite differently if self-advocates developed the full conference schedule, gave all the talks, and provided all the sponsorship.”

You’re presenting on the intersectionality of race, identity, sexuality, and society on June 15th – what an interesting topic. What inspired you to submit this workshop?

“Intersectionality is what makes the human experience interesting and complex. Race, identity, and sexuality are loaded topics that can be intimidating or threatening to approach in conversation, and that’s exactly why they need to be discussed. Many parents want to shield their children from hurtful and ugly things that can happen in this world, but doing so can lead to a rough transition from the safe environment of home and school to a biased, impatient, demanding, and sometimes cruel society. Adding racism, gender, gender identity, and sexuality to the mix without a long on-ramp can set a person up for a pretty difficult time, so I’m hoping I can help make things a little easier for some people. At the very least, I hope it will spark some fruitful discussions people have at the conference or when they get home.”

We do too! What can attendees expect to learn in your session?

“I’m going to start off by talking about how autism isn’t the only thing that shapes our experiences.  I’ll explain how my parents prepared me well for the realities of racial discrimination and how those lessons played a critical role in my ability to endure multiple kinds of discrimination without internalizing too much of it. Attendees will also get to hear a few of my recommendations for engaging in difficult discussions, so I’ll be providing a few DOs and DON’Ts.”

You believe it’s essential to tackle conversations about often difficult topics head-on. How has doing so helped you in your personal life?

“My parents’ refusal to shelter me was the best preparation for life. Knowing early on that people might decide things about me based on my race, other parts of my identity, or how I move through the world helped me learn not to take things too personally. That’s an important skill to have whether you’re in the minority based on race, religion, disability status, sexual orientation, gender identity, or a combination of those (that’s not even a complete list of ways one can be in the minority).

Teaching resilience is just as important as teaching acceptance. If I had to do childhood all over again, I would still opt to go for life lessons and skip the interventions. I can’t make eye contact and refuse to work on that, but it really hasn’t mattered. People who interact with me remember that they’ve just met someone who is solid in who they are.  I want more people to understand that showing up as our whole selves is the best way to show up. That should be the emphasis, not learning how to act in ways that feel unnatural or uncomfortable to us. Learning the vocabulary to identify our feelings, describe our experiences, and define what we want and need are important lessons for all people. Tackling difficult topics early-on can provide some shortcuts that help us bypass a lot of uncertainty and hurt.”

What advice would you give parents looking for ways to bring up these complex topics with their children and promote self-acceptance in their home?

“There are so many people in this world facing adversity and intolerance, so there’s no shortage of discussion material in the news, from fictional characters, or from people we know personally. All of these sources can be a good place to start. Another option would be for the parent to ask questions that invite the child to share their own opinions or experiences about discrimination, isolation, or who they are.

It’s important to note that conversations may not go well if the child doesn’t feel like it’s a good idea to be honest. If the parent and child can’t engage in these conversations together, the parent can always encourage the child to speak with someone else the child trusts. It’s great when parents can be our trusted individuals of choice, but it doesn’t always work that way. Many people have chosen families comprised of friends, mentors, and other people who can provide the acceptance that might be missing at home.

One of my presentation slides suggests letting someone tell you who they are or what they’ve experienced. The next step is to simply take their word for it. Adults don’t always give young people credit for knowing who they are and what they do and don’t like. Parents can be responsible for a child’s deepest emotional wounds, so learning and accepting who our children are instead of deciding who we want them to be can be a tremendous act of love. Self-acceptance is more readily cultivated if we start from there.”

Learn more about Raesin’s workshop on Friday, June 15th and other sessions presented by individuals with autism here!


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