ANCA World Autism Festival 2017: My Experience

Friday, October 20th, 2017
Receiving my INAP Award for Literary Arts, representing the United States of America at the ANCA World Autism Festival 2017, October 1, 2017

Receiving my INAP Award for Literary Arts, representing the United States of America at the ANCA World Autism Festival 2017, October 1, 2017

My Award

My Award

My Award

My Award

As I write this, it has been a little over two weeks since I returned from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, and from participating in the 2017 edition of the ANCA World Autism Festival.  Participants from thirty-two countries gathered for the International Naturally Autistic People Awards and convention where we all learned more about the global autism community and the amazing things everyone was doing.  I was only able to stay for four days, but it was an eye-opening, hectic, surprising, inspiring, and overall positive weekend of interesting events, new friends, and many opportunities for personal growth.  It was one of the most optimistic times I have ever experienced.

Granted, I did not know any of this at the start, certainly not when I was first flying out of Syracuse, NY, with my former one-on-one teaching assistant and very good friend, Raylene Spriggs.  This was my first time ever on a plane, so I was a little nervous going through all the security and boarding the plane, but once our first hour-long “puddle-jumping” flight to Toronto was underway, I relaxed considerably.  The next four-hour leg to Vancouver was even better; when I learned we were able to watch in-flight movies, TV shows, and other entertainment options from screens built into the seats, I hardly even noticed time passing by!  I felt comfortable the whole way, and the return journey was just as pleasant (with the movie “Sing” and a few episodes of a long-running Canadian TV staple, the hidden camera prank show “Just for Laughs Gags.” It was supremely hilarious!).

I only have one slight regret from my time in Vancouver: we didn’t really have opportunities for sightseeing.  My schedule was packed with festival events right from the moment we got to the hotel.  Raylene and I quickly changed into somewhat formal attire in our hotel room, then headed down to participate in the ANCA Festival’s opening ceremonies.  The theme of this year’s show, and the Festival as a whole, was “Cultural Convergence.”  Representatives from each country demonstrated their talents, including many of the award nominees.  In keeping with the theme, several acts performed together.  For instance, I read one of my poems with musical accompaniment from the Indonesian blues band, “The Chord,” who performed “Indonesian Blues” (they, sadly, could not make the physical trip to Canada, but they did provide a video of themselves playing their original composition; I think it is a lovely piece).  I was, in turn, deeply moved by all of the other performances, especially some incredible piano players and delightful dancers.  I felt it was a great start to the weekend and an early indication of how amazing the rest of the Festival would be.

After breakfast the next day in the hotel’s restaurant area (Rice Krispies, a buttery crossiant, and a cinnamon roll), it was time for the trade show.  On the convention floor, each country’s contingent had a table space to showcase the products of their work/talent to everyone.  Some had art to display for the event, while others shared information on autism benefit programs, therapies, and efforts toward autism awareness in their home countries.  I shared my “Noah and Logan Children’s Book Series” stories, which seemed to please all who saw them.  In addition, some representatives had an opportunity to speak with the assemblage and further share their skills on “open mike,” which I happily joined in with, reading two of my poems.

Later in the day, Raylene and I were interviewed by Mr. Paul-Constantin Cojocaru, a therapist from Romania.  He told us there are few services for people with autism in Romania, so he was interviewing many of the Festival participants for a later broadcast on his country’s television in order to show that people with autism are capable of doing anything they set their minds to.  I enjoyed speaking with Paul as I described my children’s books and why I have written them.

This day moved surprisingly fast, capped off with an evening of spectacular musical performances from Indonesia (a native plate dance and a fun cover of the Beatles’ “Lady Madonna”), Slovenia (a succession of instrumental versions of “Phantom of the Opera” songs on piano, which I was surprised to learn they have been performing for over eleven years and counting; no wonder they sounded like virtuosos!), and Japan (far too many highlights to mention, but the wonderful piano rendition of “Sukiyaki” was a delight to me; I’m a big fan of Kyu Sakamoto’s version from 1961).  It was a great end to a very good day.

My final full day at the Festival played host to the 2017 International Naturally Autistic People’s Awards, in which  individuals and groups were recognized for their talent or dedication to helping the autism community.  In between each category, there were more cultural performances, as well as live rock-and-roll tunes from legendary blues artist Jimmy D. Lane and his band.  I was nominated in the Literary Arts category, representing the United States of America, for three of my poems concerning my life with autism.  I was greatly honored to have been even considered in the first place.  I was even more astonished to learn that I had actually won second place in my category!  I stepped up to the podium and accepted my INAP Award from Leonora Gregory-Collura, the Festival’s founder, principal organizer, and general guiding light.  I gave a short speech then shared with the audience two of my poems; I noticed during my second poem reading (and according to my mom it was even more evident from the event’s Internet video stream) that Jimmy was playing some improvised guitar licks in between each line of my poem, a very fun surprise!

On the award itself is a glass replica of a traditional Inuit inukchuk, meaning “in the image of man.”  They are traditionally made out of rocks and resemble human figures, and are placed in long lines along the shoreline to help Inuit hunters find their way back home to their village.  I think my tiny inukchuk looks very strong and sturdy…and cute!

Raylene and I left the Festival, the hotel, and Vancouver the next morning.  Ten hours later, we were back in Syracuse, eating a quick dinner at Wendy’s with my parents.  Then it was back home, where I soon settled down for the night (and yes, jet lag hit me hard).  After four days of constant travel and activity, the sight of a new live episode of “WWE Raw” on television was a welcome respite.

The 2017 ANCA World Autism Festival is a whirlwind of memories in my mind.  I made some new friends, learned a lot about the global autism community, travel, and myself, and was amazed by just about everything that happened.

I am happy to be able to share this experience with everyone who participated in the Festival, those who watched the various Internet video streams for different events from that weekend, everyone who has supported me, and everyone who worked to make the Festival the great success I feel it was.  I would like to especially thank Leonora Gregory-Collura and her husband Charlie for making this entire Festival possible and for being such warm, inviting, and incredibly kind hosts; both of you are simply too wonderful for words.  Thank you for this fantastic experience!

If you visit my website,, you can find videos of my acceptance speech for my INAP Award and poem readings along with my interview with Mr. Paul-Constantin Cojocaru during my time at the Festival.  I hope you enjoy them all.