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Special-Ism writers, Seth Fowler and Chris Abildgaard, NCSP, LPC, had not previously met in person prior to their membership to Special-Ism’s writing team. Through Special-Ism’s networking platform, we discovered that, unbeknownst to each of them, both would be speaking at the Autism Society National Conference in San Diego in July of 2012.  We immediately suggested that the two connect in person at the conference, of which they both did.


Look at my Eyes by Seth
Seth FowlerSeth and his wife, Melanie presented “Look At My Eyes…the Importance of Early Intervention and Navigating the Autism Spectrum”. This well attended session emphasized these key soundbites:

  1. It’s not your fault, it’s not your fault, it’s not your fault.
  2. Your child didn’t ask to be autistic, stop being selfish and blaming and work to improve their lives.  The faster you can grieve and move on, the faster changes in your life and your child’s life will happen.
  3. Husbands, be the man you are called to be and suck it up…stay with your family!
  4. Document everything when dealing with insurance companies.
  5. You can’t do it alone…rely on family, friends, groups, churches.

Seth says, “Although the session was well attended, I would have certainly liked more dads!”

Emotional Regulation by Chris
ChrisAbildgaardChris’ presentation examined the effectiveness of using a standardized measure of executive functioning (EF), The Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function (BRIEF) (BRIEF Professional Manual, 2000) to assist in creating social cognitive intervention tools and strategies related to emotional regulation. The presentation also included therapeutically based interventions to support clients learning social cognitive and EF tools/strategies for everyday use.

Pleased with the overall attendance, Chris presented to approximately 70 participants. The “nuggets” Chris hoped to impart included:

  1.  Individuals with social cognitive deficits will struggle with “social” & executive functioning (EF) issues through their lives. They will struggle not because they “want to” but because this is part of their neurological make up, this is part of who they are.
  2. Sometimes, we as adults make judgments about “invisible deficits” because children with these deficits look like they have made a conscious choice to be lazy and unmotivated!
  3. The need to stop thinking about EF in isolation (it’s not just organization!!). Rather EF ties directly into a number of social cognitive aspects.
  4. Repetition and repeated exposure of social concepts as they relate to EF is important.
  5. Using a standardized assessment which relates to executive functions can help to show progress in social development.

Let’s “Do” Lunch!
Seth and Chris connected via “texting” as Chris was in a taxi on his way to the conference. Melanie and Seth joined Chris for lunch right before his breakout session at the conference. Dining outside on a beautiful patio at the Town and Country Resort and Conference Center, the three learned valuable insights from one another. Enjoying salad and sandwiches, the three chatted for a good 45 minutes as if they had previously met. To his honor, Seth and Melanie gifted Chris with a copy of Look At My Eyes of which Chris has already begun reading.

Seth Impressed by Chris

“There were so many things I liked about meeting with Chris. I like that there is a male participating in the lives of children on the spectrum. I am really interested in his socialization groups…how they look at the child but also look at the overall makeup of the group to make sure there’s a fit both ways. I like that he’s involved in educating and helping children of all ages on the spectrum to fit into the ‘real world’ as much as possible. Very interesting perspective. One that I never really stopped to consider, not being a man.”

Chris’ insights regarding schools and therapies for children on the spectrum were invaluable, but one particular nugget really resonated with Seth.

“As a parent, my main goal is to give my son the tools and opportunities to succeed in the ‘real world’ as much as possible. There is no set way or formula for making that happen. Chris gave us insight as to Benhaven’s [the  location of Social Learning Center, where Chris is the Director] mission that lines up with ours…to help our children succeed in life. His programs include working with public school systems on how to integrate children into a mainstreamed school…not only give the children the right tools and skills, but the teachers, administrators and ‘typical’ students tools as well. We also discussed the need for family support groups–peer support groups, residential living schools and so much more. There’s not one way to work with children on the autism spectrum and Chris and his organization understand that. The more outlets and avenues we can provide for our children on the spectrum, the better chance they’ll have for success!”

Chris Values Seth’s Perspective

“One of the topics we discussed was Seth’s desire to not only help his son and others on the autism spectrum but to also tell his story about being a dad of a child on the autism spectrum. I believe that for a variety of reasons, we as a professional group hear more from moms of children with various isms. We hear mostly about the maternal perspective to the struggles and triumphs experienced. This is not to say fathers are not involved, as I can name a bunch of dads I work with who are extremely invested and want to learn about the strategies and interventions we are working on. However, I believe that dads go through the grieving and processing stages of having a child with special needs at a different pace than moms. This is not the ‘rule’ by any means, just a clinical observation. To sit and talk with Seth about his experiences and goals to really effect change and bring to light the ‘dads’ voice was really inspiring.”

Both Appreciate the Value of Special-Ism
Seth reports to Special-Ism, “I’m pleased we were able to connect through Special-Ism. You see names and faces on Facebook, Websites, Twitter and then when you get to meet them face-to-face, it makes the world feel a lot smaller.

Chris was equally pleased to be able to connect through Special-Ism. “It was an absolute pleasure meeting with Seth and his wife to hear their story and parental insights as advocates, educators, authors, and learners….all for the purpose of helping others in a similar position.

Chris elaborates further,

“I feel that Special-Ism is a wonderful resource for parents and educators alike. With the group of writers and professionals involved with Special-Ism, it has the potential to reach and serve the needs of so many people who span a wide range of abilities and disabilities. Special-Ism is not about promoting one intervention or one philosophical methodology – it is about education and altering the readers to different options and suggestions people may want to try or explore, which is what I like the most about Special-Ism.”

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An “Ism” is our coined term synonymous with a “challenge”. Many children, with or without a diagnostic label, experience various challenges throughout their developmental years which are impacting them in the classroom and at home. At Special-Ism, the Ism is our focus. We do not look at the diagnostic label, instead, we look at the Isms and offer solutions no matter the diagnosis.