Milestones National Autism Conference
Mother’s Day is a special time to celebrate motherhood. This Mother’s Day, we’re highlighting one of this year’s conference speakers, April T. Giauque, a mother of nine, five of which have special needs.
Coming to the Milestones Conference all the way from Austin, Texas, April is a public speaker and trains teachers how to implement social skill strategies, transition skills, independent living skills, and employment skills to support students who are on the autism spectrum. She moved to Austin in 2015 to pursue better education supports for her children, which also led her to her most recent position as a transition teacher at the Texas School for the Deaf in the 18+ ACCESS program.
Tell us about your experience as a mother and as a special needs teacher?
Being a mother to 9 children is never boring! I’m on the go making, baking, lifting, hugging, holding, counseling, laughing, disciplining, helping, social coaching, crying and cheering for and with them. Since I do all of that with my own family, it was an easy transition to do that with students. For me, motherhood and teaching are synonymous with each other.
How do you juggle being a mother of nine and an educator?
Oh that! I just use wrinkle my nose and ta-dah, its done! No, seriously, there isn’t any magic in it. There is a lot of organization, hard work, and prayer that goes into this. There are large “to do” lists, schedules, and communication. It is all about what motivates me which is love. I love others the best way I can and through love my family, students, and others feel uplifted.
Mother’s Day can be used as a time to reflect on the accomplishments and challenges motherhood brings. What would you say are some of the most rewarding aspects of motherhood?
When I watch my children stumble, fall, or even fail at something—they don’t stay down. They get right back in the game of life—that makes me feel amazing. Other accomplishments are when I hear about my children from other people and the impression my children left with them. Finally, the best reward is in the quiet of the evening as they open up and talk about their day while I massage their backs or arms, or hold them as they drift to sleep.
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Meet Wendy Duke of Theatre on the Spectrum and Center for Applied Drama and Autism. As a Milestones conference veteran, Wendy knows all the ins and outs of being an exhibitor. She’s also presenting this year! Learn more about Wendy and get the inside scoop on taking on the exhibit hall like a pro.
So tell me a little bit about yourself and the Center for Applied Drama and Autism (CADA)?
Laura Valendza and I are co-founders of the Center for Applied Drama and Autism, a non-profit located in Akron, OH. We were both teaching at Miller South School for the Visual & Performing Arts and began working on some ideas to help our students with autism use drama to develop confidence and to build social skills. Over the past six years, we have developed a Saturday youth program featuring classes for ages eight to 18 and a youth theatre company. Last year, we began a day theatre company for adults with disabilities in collaboration with Ardmore Inc., a local service provider.
What drove you to create your organization?
We noticed that many young people with autism were attracted to drama. We realized that the theatre provides a safe space to have fun and make friends while playing games and acting in roles that help empower our students in real life.
You’re also the program director for Theatre on the Spectrum. What is the most rewarding aspect of your position?
Each individual who has applied to join our theatre company has the same thing in common: the need to perform and the lack of an opportunity to do so, due to a society that has not encouraged them to step on stage or in front of a camera. You might say I changed careers from working with gifted students to working with students whose gifts were never recognized.
You’ve returned to the Milestones Autism Conference time and time again. What makes you come back every year?
I began attending knowing so little about autism and I come back because I learn something new every year! Each year, I take home piles of notes from the presentations along with books purchased from the fabulous vendors in the exhibition hall. In the past years, I hoped to see someone present on drama and autism, but alas — nothing! So eventually, Laura and I submitted a proposal and we were accepted! This year will be CADA’s third presentation at Milestones.
What insight would you give to other autism organizations and service providers who haven’t attended the conference?
First off, there is so much to see and so many presentations to attend that you will want to wear some sensible shoes! The presenters are always ready to answer your questions. Take time to have a cup of coffee and make friends with other people attending the conference. I have found that people are very willing to share ideas and resources. Continue reading →