Any convention worth its salt is more than one day long. Pro tip: if you go to a convention and it is only one day, that convention sucks. You better get out of it, because conventions are only worth your time and attention if there is a sleepover portion to the occasion. I am assuming this is well-known axiom is why CARS+ (The California Association of Resource Specialists) chooses to put together a two-conference; otherwise people would automatically know what a stinker it is.
Day two of the CARS+ convention was set to go off the same way day one did. The first convention session was at 8:30 am, and the bad taste leftover from yesterday was enough to make one really consider skipping a session (or two) altogether.
But then something totally unexpected happened: the conference got interesting. During lunch (another chicken dish that was not nearly as satisfying as the previous day’s stuffed counterpart) the conference’s keynote was delivered. Hank Smith is both an educator and a parent. His son Ian – who was also in attendance – is autistic. Hank began by talking about his experience. He seemed pretty uncomfortable, but his speech was visceral and affecting – it put the whole conference in perspective. After a day and a half of listening to people’s inane arguments, it was refreshing to be reminded of the realities of the special education field. The complaints are not the important thing; the kids are what matter.
And when Ian himself came on stage it was very cool. By now, by his early 20s, Ian is relatively high functioning, but it took so much time and effort to get him there. His and Hank’s journey was truly inspiring (and hopefully Hank’s draft-stage memoir gets published soon). My own experience with students in special education is mostly limited to learning disabilities and moderate autism, so it was enlightening to see where it can all lead on a greater scale of difficulty. Ian seems to have a great quality of life, though the difficulty never ends. Luckily the young man has found escape in the form of math and yo-yo (at which he is quite amazing).
Hank and Ian’s keynote was followed by a question and answer session. Of course, the complainers can’t help making it about themselves in such moments, but even when faced with impossible questions (and nonsensical questions) Ian handled himself with aplomb.
For the most part, my reaction to CARS+ can be summarized by the picture above: my companion Mr. Smith (an alias) and I have our backs to the camera in a metaphorical moment of rejection (making it all the more ironic that some idiot chose to include this picture in the lunchtime slide show – you can’t even see our beautiful faces) But then you meet a kid like Ian, who is proof that with enough effort and care this whole system can work, and I think that evidence is exactly what I went searching for in Irvine. Good on you CARS+, pulling off the last-second goal.