I went to a Social Thinking conference in San Diego a few weeks ago. I’ll talk more about the conference in future posts, but I need more time to digest and revisit the information. It was amazing and everyone associated with the conference, the hotel, and the travel part was wonderful. The conference attendees, on the other hand, not so much with the awesome.
Michelle Garcia Winner and Pam Crooke spoke about concrete learners and implications for education, including the Common Core. It was fantastic.
Except for lunch. They had a table for parents to sit and chat. One lady went over there, so I thought I would join her. Then another mom showed up who seemed to know the first mom. They were both from San Diego and couldn’t believe I had come all the way from Seattle. The first mom actually said, “Don’t they have conferences in Seattle?” She and I then exchanged basic info on our kids’ ages and diagnoses. She asked me about ABA and I answered kind of awkwardly, as I am prone to do when I don’t expect a question, and she seemed to not like my answer very much. I have to guess about that, though, because she stopped talking to me.
Then the rest of the table filled up. All from San Diego. The women on either side of me seemed to know each other and proceeded to talk over me as I stared at my plate and ate my salad. Then one of them pulled out a Ryuu box and I said, “Oh! My son’s special ed teacher started using that this year and it’s amazing!” The woman asked me what grade and if he liked it…and then they went right back to talking across me. I finally mumbled something about going to check out the book room and got up with my half-eaten lunch. They didn’t even look up or seem to register that I had moved.
The rest of the days I went out on my own to get lunch.
Michelle and Pam spoke about nuanced challenged social communicators. I think both my boys and I fall into this category and it’s the reason I chose this particular conference rather than one closer to home. I came away with a ton of information.
I sat in the same place as the day before with all the same people. They were a group of speech pathologists from the same local San Diego school district, so they all knew each other. There were several group exercises that lasted a few minutes each on both days. For most of them, Michelle or Pam would tell us to think of a particular student we work with to fill out the assessment or whatever the task was.
The last group exercise wasn’t about students. Michelle had been talking about the difficulty for nuanced challenged social communicators to join social groups. We had a questionnaire asking things like what do we look for in a group we want to join. She told us to think of a large conference, like the one we were attending, with groups of round tables, like the ones where we were sitting, and answer the questions for ourselves. It was supposed to help us help our students learn how to choose a group to join and what to do to join it.
People around the room began discussing the issue, so I turned to the group at my table to join in the conversation. Except they had managed to move their bodies so that I was totally excluded from the group. No one would even look at me. I turned toward the front of the room, shed a few tears, and sent a text to a friend.
I recounted the event to a friend a few days ago and she asked if there was anything I could have done to join in. A valid question. I suppose I could have just started talking, shoving my way into the conversation. That didn’t occur to me at the time, though. What did occur to me was that these are professionals who work with socially challenged kids in school who were working on an assignment about how to join a group, but they didn’t notice the socially challenged person sitting at their table. Ironic much?
We had a different speaker and topic for the third day. My table friends did not show up to shun me. Instead, this woman a few tables to my left wouldn’t stop talking to her friend. There was an empty table right in front of the speaker, so I moved my stuff there during the morning break and went to get a snack. When I came back, two other women were sitting at my new table. Turns out they were fleeing the same talking woman. They were very nice SLPs from Denver. I did meet ONE nice conference goer from the San Diego area, but only one.
Unfortunately, about ten minutes into the next session, a woman two tables away in the opposite direction started doing the same thing – talking – and no amount of dirty looks would get her to shut up.
My conclusion on the trip was that I took in a lot of valuable information that I need to massage into my brain so it will stick and I’m not so fond of SLPs in the San Diego area. Except for the one nice lady from Rancho Cucamonga. Oh, and I came home with so many books that the ticket agent made me take seven of them out of my checked bag and put them in my carry on.
Yeah, I know. I like books. The end.
Oh just fuck them. I was gonna try to excuse their rudeness by saying if you know people from a group that you don’t see often and you get together, blah, blah, blah, but screw that. They were rude.
I’ve done one of two things in that situation depending on how much of an effort I feel like putting in: one, I pull out my phone and read on my kindle ap; or two, I look around to see if there is anyone else who is looking left out and go sit with them. At a conference like that, I figure I’m not there to make friends, I’m there to learn something. But still, fuck them, they were rude and should know better.
They definitely should have known better given their profession, though I will say I wonder if it’s a “thing” (for lack of a better term) that people in a helping profession, forget that people who are like those they’re helping might also be in their profession (which is weird, because I absolutely loved that my adhd counselor had adhd himself and so understood my struggles better than neurotypical folk who didn’t get why choosing an outfit was difficult).
I definitely see people closing circles a lot without really meaning to. I try to make sure I reopen such circles or say something when I can, because I know what it’s like to be that person on the outside, but it can definitely suck if there’s no one there comfortable speaking up like that.
I’m sorry they were crappy and dear lord, I’d have gone batty on the talking women — so freaking rude!!
I definitely enjoy conferences more when I go with a friend or two. I’m an extrovert, so it never occurred to me I’d be lost on my own at a big conference. When I attended my first mystery conferences, I spent half the first day in my hotel room, scanning the guest list for authors I knew. I found a couple romance author friends who had started to write mysteries, and had lunch with them.
There were people I knew as online friends, but I had to squint to read the nametags and since it felt like I was staring at their boobs (in the case of the female attendees), I missed connecting with a lot of people I would have liked to meet in person.
That said, I’ve never had an awful time at a conference. Well, not because of the conference, anyway. I went to one small conference with a friend, and was absolutely fine when we loaded the car and left. In the four hours it took to reach the conference venue, I came down with some kind of 24-hour plague. I was totally bed-bound for the first day and a half of the conference. I was so worried I’d infect my roommate – it was awful! By the last day of the conference, I felt well enough to attend a few workshops. I don’t think I was contagious by then, but every workshop I ended up going to is still a bit of a blur.
I have another friend, a multi-published author, who was treated so badly by a conference organizer it’s put her off conferences of all kinds for life. It’s her story so I won’t share it here, but if I had been me – old, confrontation-hating me – there might have been some bitch-slapping before I went home. I’m mild-mannered most of the time, but you do not want to be around when my temper is let loose.
I feel so bad for you – I wish I’d been able to issue some cutting words on your behalf at that conference you attended. On the plus side, you’ve got some great material for villains in your books!