When it comes to services for children and adults with autism, Asheville offers an array of resources from vocational programs to mentoring to support for families. However, according to Sylvia van Meerten, founder of Empower Autism, there is a gap when it comes to teaching individuals on the autism spectrum how to be happy. “I think that we spend a lot of time correcting children on the spectrum to fit in better, to behave more in line with our social standards,” she says, “but we don’t spend a lot of time teaching them what to do to make themselves happy.”
To help remedy the situation, Empower Autism is hosting its first conference: Autism and the Pursuit of Happiness. Both autism professionals and adults on the spectrum will present their take on how to find greater joy in life. The conference will be held on Saturday, Feb. 8, 9 a.m.-2 p.m. at UNC Asheville’s Highsmith Building.
According to van Meerten, one of the most promising aspects of the conference is that parents of children on the autism spectrum will have a chance to meet adults with autism, something that doesn’t frequently happen in the community. “Families who don’t have a picture of what adulthood could look like for their child can come and hear independent, employed adults on the spectrum talk about their lives and what it was like for them as children,” she says.
$10 direct care workers; $25 general public; $100 vendors. To register, visit empowerautism.com.