July 13- 17, I was an attendee of the Autism Society National Conference held in the beautiful city of New Orleans, Louisiana. I am a Social Worker who specializes in working with the Intellectually Disabled and Autistic Community. When the opportunity arose for me to not only go to New Orleans, a city I have admired for many years, but also attend a conference I am professionally attached too; I became Super Man, “Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound”!Here, I was bright – eyed and bushy tailed, being exposed to this community of people, who like myself ,associate themselves either professionally or personally to the world of Autism. I was able to network with those individuals who work in Behavioral Health, such as http://www.fit.edu/aba who specializes in Applied Behavioral Analysis, and other organizations such as http://www.ibcces.org, who established the industry standards for the Certified Autism Specialist and Autism Certificate. These credentials ensure that professionals remain current and up to date in the field of autism.
So how does one survive their first Conference?
- Volunteer– Conferences are expensive. If you can volunteer for the conference which peaks your interest both professionally and personally, DO IT. It allows one to see the ins and outs of how a conference operates, and volunteering looks good on any resume. However, volunteers are responsible for their own accommodations. Organizations such as http://www.autismsociety.com, fill up fast with people who want to volunteer, so sign up as soon as knowledge of conference becomes available. Do not forget to inquire about the wardrobe.
- Check surrounding areas for inexpensive hotels. Most conferences have a host hotel. Usually, the hotel offers discounts to those who are attending the conference. One may have to venture into other hotels closer to the conference if money is an issue. This is another item that needs to be researched prior to going to volunteer especially if the conference is out of state. Using sites such as http://www.kayak.com or http://www.hotels.com for exclusive deals.
- Network, Network, Network. I cannot stress this enough, especially if this a conference where one belongs to professionally, It is important to position oneself with those in the industry. Bring your business cards. Sites like http://www.vistaprint.com and http://www.moo.com help create business cards and other business advertisements.
- Find Things to do in the visiting City– Usually, a conference is a few days to a week and between the hours of 9-5. So,what does one do after they have a break? Find something to do. I was in New Orleans, so places like Bourbon Street offer many things to do It is helpful if one researches things to do before the conference http://www.thingstodo.com,http://www.groupon.com and http://www.livingsocial.com
- After, it’s all said and done. Recap the experience, take it all in and sign up to do another conference.