Image of Young Adult Panel at 2013 Autism Consortium Symposium
Young Adult Panel at 2013 Autism Consortium Symposium

On a chilly November morning, I took the Green Line train over to the Joseph B. Martin Conference Center at Harvard Medical School for the annual Autism Consortium Symposium. This isn’t the first time I have attended the research symposium, but this past year is one that I will never forget. There were the usual sessions around the latest and exciting cutting-edge findings in autism research from the giants over at Harvard and MIT, but a panel of 3 remarkable young adults with autism having a conversation about their transition to adulthood – “In their Own Words” ¬– left me feeling inspired and energized. The moderator opened with introductions from the panel – Michael is at Mitchell College for Sports Management; Kush is at UMass Lowell pursuing a degree in Civil Engineering; and Darcie is in the Threshold Program at Lesley University. They chatted briefly about their work experiences. Michael talked about his first job as a baseball coach and when he had the opportunity to work in the classroom as a City Year member. Kush explained how he is part of a team of researchers testing the chemical properties of packaging materials for solders. Darcie expressed how she loves working with animals and children, and the time she was “forced” to answer the phone as part of her job. With a constellation of experiences that led them to where they are today, the most powerful words spoken to a 100+ crowd of researchers, providers and parents were the advice and wisdom they had to share. On to topic of friendships, Kush noted it got easier as he got older since people were “willing to accept differences and not make a big deal out of it.” When offering advice to teens about transitions, Michael said to “find your strength and go for it!” Darcie asserted, “keep your options open because you are going to make changes in this world,” while Kush concluded, “use your supports because you can’t do it alone,” and “surround yourself with a great team of people.” Perhaps, the most insightful perspective for me was when the issue of bullying was mentioned, and Kush said of his offenders, “it was due to a lack of understanding, and it was for them to deal with, not me.” These incredible young adults had the audience grabbing for tissues by the end of the session. I was humbled as I walked out of the conference center on that wintery November day, and all I can remember thinking I wish I had those same insights in my early twenties. To borrow from Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.” For more information about the Autism Consortium, please visit the website: For more information about the author, Katherine Blakeslee, follow her rumblings on Twitter @kbswoon

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