All You Need Is LOVE
The second annual Love & Autism conference will host the first all-autism wedding. Here, we chat with founder Jenny Palmiotto about the event and finding love in unexpected places.
Second Annual Love & Autism Conference
How did you become involved in the autism community and cause?
I started working in the field of autism, if you can believe this, because of love. Actually more like a crush. While I was doing my undergraduate work, I had a crush on a guy named Bill. He got a job at a local group home for adults with autism and I wanted to work with him. He ended up not taking the job, but I did. I’ve now been working in the field of autism for 15 years. Pretty early on in my career, I recognized that there was a great need for clinicians that focused on relationships within autism treatment.
This is the second annual Love & Autism conference. What was your inspiration behind the event?
As a mental health provider, I often receive brochures for various autism conferences. I felt really underwhelmed by what was being offered. I decided to plan a conference that fit with my values as a clinician—that love is the primary goal in life and this doesn't change with neurological differences associated with autism. This year, I’ve come to realize how important this message is to those that are on the autism spectrum. I find that the public’s perception of autism is often very narrow. Too often, the stories that are told about individuals with autism suggest that their successes in life come after they have overcome autism. My personal view is that these successes and triumphs should be celebrated, yet it isn’t because the individual overcame autism. They have autism and they are successful. This is why I decided to put the ampersand sign (&) in our logo.
How will this year’s conference differ from the last? What can attendees expect?
Last year's participants loved the speakers with autism and found those speakers to be exceptional. Because of this, we arranged for even more “thought leaders” that identify on the autism spectrum. More than 80 percent of this year’s speakers have ASD. So often the conversation about people with autism is related to this population needing support, yet with Love & Autism, there is an outpouring of support from people with autism.
Who are the notable speakers, and what subjects will they cover?
Last year’s crowd favorites and stars of the Tribeca Film Festival’s documentary Autism In Love, Lindsey Nebeker and David Hamrick, will join us again. There was not a dry eye last year when Lindsey left the stage with one last picture on the screen. It was her hand in David’s, and there was a ring on that left finger! I’m personally very excited to hear New York Times’ best-selling author David Finch’s talk, "So...Are We Supposed to Hug Now? Best Practices for Neurologically Mixed Relationships.” Anthony Ianni, an anti-bully expert, brings up a timely discussion on living your dreams even if faced with adverse circumstances. And so many more. Each speaker was invited personally because of the power of their story.
This year’s special event, Anita and Abraham’s wedding, is significant in a number of ways. Tell us about the couple.
It’s not every day that you get to plan a wedding for a couple that you don’t know. But I just knew I needed to be part of creating Anita and Abraham’s dream wedding. Anita called me right after their engagement to share her exciting news. She described her vision of creating an inclusive wedding where two people on the autism spectrum would unite their lives forever with an all autistic “I Do” crew.
As a couples’ therapist, often I see marriages in distress, it’s so wonderful to see this couple so fully in love and full of love for one another. Theirs is an epic romance. Both Anita and Abraham will tell you that they didn’t think that they would find their someone, their soul mate. But they had wanted a best friend, a partner, a love for many years. They were friends first for about a year. One evening, they found themselves in an embrace in Anita’s driveway. She asked him if he’d ever thought about kissing her. He said, “All the time.” And the rest is history.
Will there be any surprises during the ceremony?
Just this week, Mike Korins, a New York musician with autism, contacted us and offered to serenade the bride and groom. A few months back, Michael Tolleson, a savant painter, called me to paint live for our event. Together, we came up with the idea of Anita and Abraham getting married in front of the one-of-a-kind painting that he will paint on Saturday the 26th.
Why will this celebration of their relationship be a memorable occasion?
Thomas Fuller says, “Seeing is believing but feeling is the truth.” So with this wedding, we’ve invited the world to feel the love as a way to change the dominant discourse related to autism.
The second annual Love & Autism conference will be held September 26-27, 2015, at Liberty Station Conference Center. Those interested can register for the event online. Conference registration is $289; wedding tickets are $89 each. Click here to donate to Anita and Abraham’s all-autism wedding.