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Joined: 25 Aug 2013
Age: 66
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Location: Long Island, New York

14 May 2023, 9:44 am

Convention organized by autistic adults, for autistic adults seeks to provide answers, activities, connection


Utah has one of the highest rates of autism in the United States — nearly 3% of adults on the autism spectrum, according to the CDC's 2023 study.

On Friday and Saturday, a convention called "Autcon" was held in Provo. The program director and participants say adults with autism are much more than just a label.

Peter and Connie Mackinnon first met at a "watermelon bust" in 1969 at Utah Lake. Now, they have been married for 53 years, but the Mackinnons say the early years of their marriage were rough as they learned to navigate the differences between Connie's neurotypical brain and Peter's — at the time unknown — neurodiverse brain.

"I didn't get diagnosed until I was 49 years old. Most of the things that upset her the most were my tendency to go from one extreme to another or exaggerate," Peter said.

Peter's tendencies are common for people with autism, and Connie says over the years she has learned how his brain works.

"When we had an argument, Peter would want to go and take a walk and I would want him to stay and talk it out, but I learned I had to let him go and take his walk, then when he comes back, we could talk it over better," Connie said.

Jared Stewart, the program director of Autcon, and presenter Samantha Easter were both diagnosed with autism later in life. Stewart wasn't diagnosed until he was out of college.

"Getting a diagnosis has been life-changing because your entire life, you know that you're different, and getting that diagnosis means you're no longer thinking you're a broken horse, but that you're a zebra," Easter said. "And knowing what you need and being able to express that... that's what I think a lot of the Autcon is about."

Autcon is the only autism conference in the nation put on for adults with autism by adults with autism. For Stewart, Easter and many others at Autcon, their diagnosis has propelled them into helping other adults with autism learn about living a productive life through activities, panels and friendship.

What we want to do is have a space where people with autism and related neurodiversity... and dyslexia can come and they can be part of the majority," Stewart said. "They can ask questions about challenges they have that no one else has, and that they can hopefully get some answers and feel some connection and feel not so alone."

Easter and Stewart say having presenters, panelists and participants with autism helps everyone involved feel represented and accepted.

"I just think it's so important for autistic people like myself to speak to other autistic people, instead of neurotypicals talking about autism or myself talking to neurotypicals," Easter said.

"A lot of conferences on autism are put on by very well-meaning professionals and doctors and PhDs who know a lot about autism, but they've never lived the experience," Stewart said. "Having that lived experience and being able to relate to that lived experience often makes a difference."

“So often it seems the neurotypical world is so rigid and wants to put everyone into one box, and if you're outside of that a little and if you stick out, that's no good," Stewart said.

Professionally Identified and joined WP August 26, 2013
DSM 5: Autism Spectrum Disorder, DSM IV: Aspergers Moderate Severity

“My autism is not a superpower. It also isn’t some kind of god-forsaken, endless fountain of suffering inflicted on my family. It’s just part of who I am as a person”. - Sara Luterman