Larry Bissonnette and Tracy Thresher both have limited speech due to autism, and when they were growing up, this meant they were labeled “retarded” and excluded from regular education. But their lives were turned around when, as adults, each learned to communicate by typing. Bissonnette, 52, and Thresher, 42, eventually embarked on a world tour to shine a light on autism that became the 2010 documentary film Wretches & Jabberers.
In March, California Lutheran University will host a free screening of the film, directed by Academy Award winner Geraldine Wurzburg, and sponsor the “Spectrum of Opportunity: Autism, Inclusion and Communication” conference, a community event designed to support people who type and use letter boards to communicate. Bissonnette, Thresher and Wurzburg will speak at the conference.
Bissonnette’s and Thresher’s journey in the film, which will screen at 6:30 p.m. March 17 in Cal Lutheran’s Preus-Brandt Forum, helps portray the global face of autism through the stories of six men and women from Sri Lanka, Japan and Finland. The film is described as part personal portrait, part adventure travelogue, with ample doses of humor.
The “Spectrum of Opportunity” conference will take place from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. March 19 at Cal Lutheran’s Gilbert Sports and Fitness Center. In addition to keynote speeches from Bissonnette, Thresher and Wurzburg, conference highlights include:
- Navigating the Maze of Autism Services and Research: Sharon Kedar, Ph.D., a geophysicist and father of Ido Kedar, author of “Ido In Autismland,” will outline the challenges parents, scientists and professionals face in supporting people with autism, and address misconceptions about what science does and does not say about autism. A talk from Ido Kedar entitled “Teens Who Type” will follow.
- Roads to Communication: Darlene Hanson, M.A., CCC, and Katie Anawalt, M.S., CCC-SLP, of Resource for Education, Advocacy, Communication, and Housing will use video clips of people who type or use letter boards to demonstrate strategies and ideas for building skills for supported and independent typing.
There will also a panel discussion including educators who support students who type, a parent panel to discuss lessons learned, and additional “Teens Who Type” presentations. Light breakfast and buffet lunch will be served, and is included in the cost of registration.
Space is limited. Early-bird registration (prior to Feb. 1) is $40 per person. General registration is $55, and the conference is free for school district personnel and Cal Lutheran students.
Learn more and register here.