Celebrities and important people populate New York City in the same way Starbucks does, in other words, look hard enough and you’ll find one on every street corner. But Sunday I had an encounter that was more impressive than running into a dozen A list celebs. Sunday I met Ibby Grace.
Ibby, also known by her professional name, Dr. Elizabeth J. Grace, Assistant Professor at National Louis University, is a terrific public speaker, wonderfully sarcastic, understands irony and rhetoric, has a sense of humor and is an extremely kind and compassionate human being, in a long standing relationship, a new mom to twins, and is Autistic. If you believe the common assumptions about Autistics, Ibby is an anomaly. According to the current “statistics” citing 1 in 4 Autistics diagnosed are girls, Ibby is even more unusual. That she also displays qualities thought to be nonexistent in all Autists makes her, as she suggested with a certain degree of sarcasm, “a unicorn” or as a participant volunteered, “pegasus.”
Ibby spoke Sunday at the 12th Annual International Conference on Disability Studies in Education on Autistic and Female: They say that’s rare, and so many other things. She proceeded to dispel the many myths surrounding the little known and misunderstood segment of the human population – The Autistic Female. In her talk she mentioned various theories including Simon Baron-Cohen, the creator of possibly the single most destructive theories regarding autism, The Theory of Mind and Mindblindness, which postulates that Autists are unable to empathize and his latest theory – The Extreme Male Brain. I will not do Ibby’s talk justice by trying to represent it here. Suffice it to say, you should have been there.
After the talk I stayed and chatted with a number of people. As Ibby and I walked together I told her how thrilled I was to meet her and other Autistic women who were beating a path, a path my own daughter may choose to one day walk down. “You’ve found her people,” Ibby laughed. I have and a formidable group of women it is. Then she put her hand out and said, “Welcome to the tribe.” The gloom and doom and horror I have grown used to feeling whenever I have attended any group discussion regarding anything to do with autism was in stark contrast to the joy I felt attending Ibby’s talk. I think I may even try to go to other Autism conferences as long as most of the speakers are Autistic.
Ibby makes me happy. She is interesting, smart, articulate, funny, doing what she loves and is one of those people who lights up the room. It’s just the way she is. Were it not for deeply ingrained societal restraints I would have physically jumped up and down upon meeting her I was so excited. I think I did bounce a little on my toes when I went up to her after the talk had ended.
But I don’t think anyone noticed.
*An addendum to Sleepovers, Staycations, Sixteen Hours and Other Words Beginning With the Letter S – it turns out Oliver and Trouble are the names of Angelica and Joe’s two cats. Mystery solved! I should never question Emma. She is always right. I have to learn how to listen to what she’s saying better.
My latest piece My Fear Toolkit published in the Huffington Post