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I'm Tracie Kelly.

Author, The IEP Advantage Blog & The IEP Advantage Course & IEPadvantage.com

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IEP Experiences Blog/A Speakers Journey To The US Autism World Autism Conference Day

A Speakers Journey to the World!

Read About My Journey to Speak at The World Autism Conference in Loveland, Co 2023

Hey IEP Parents!  Have you ever wondered WHO are the people that get invited to speak at The World Autism Conference?  I know that I have!  It was almost 7 years ago, in fact, when I first came across The World Autism Conference on USAutism.org's website.  I saw the speakers, and in awe, I wondered, WHO are these people and HOW did they get to speak at The World Autism Conference?  That was such an incredible, mind-blowing idea for me! 

Hey IEP Parents!  Have you ever wondered WHO are the people that get invited to speak at The World Autism Conference?  I know that I have!  It was almost 7 years ago, in fact, when I first came across The World Autism Conference on USAutism.org's website.  I saw the speakers, and in awe, I wondered, WHO are these people and HOW did they get to speak at The World Autism Conference?  That was such an incredible, mind-blowing idea for me! 

Spencer Kelly & his mom, Tracie Kelly. World Autism Conference Guest Panelists 2018.

See, my son Spencer [has Asperger's syndrome] started a new skincare business called ExpeditionSoaps.com.  He was 15 then, and his brother Grant was 12.  They decided to give back to support Autism programs, so we were on our computers looking for organizations, when we came across The World Autism Conference by USAutism.org.  So, we decided they were going to donate to them.  And so, we did.  End of story... or so we thought!  

Lawrence Kaplan, then President of US Autism reached out to learn what Spencer's story was and why he chose to donate to them! Then, the ultimate thing happened. Dr. Kaplan, PhD, invited Spencer and me out to speak at The World Autism Conference 2017 in Portland, OR. And again the following year in Las Vegas 2018. Spencer spoke about life as an entrepreneur with Autism and I spoke about being a parent with a child on the spectrum and IEP meeting prep!

This time around, it was a little different, as I now have created The IEP Advantage business, sharing the course I created to teach parents IEP meeting prep. I thought it'd be fun to share with you, my perspective & story about my journey to speak at The World Autism Conference in Loveland, CO. I flew from Detroit, MI to Denver, CO on Thursday Nov 30th, to speak at The World Autism Conference this weekend. A very exciting day for me, I landed in the Denver airport in the afternoon.

Photo Credit: Tracie Kelly with Jeep Selfie Out At The Rocky Mountains

I rode the bus to the car rental, and it turned out, they gave me a Jeep! It was funny because I walked up to my assigned car in the lot and there was a silver Jeep with the windows down! The day was close to 50 degrees, so not freezing, but still odd the windows were down! After 3 minutes of panic and contemplating if Jeeps maybe didn't have active windows, I finally found the window control buttons! It was so silly, but I just couldn't find the buttons! Turns out, they're under the radio in the center console, should you ever find yourself in a Jeep! Oh, and the reason why my windows were down? Well, the Jeep had a slightly stinky smell, like they attempted to clean something but didn't do it all that well. Welp... windows up, slight stink in the air, and I was off to Loveland!

The drive to Loveland was different than I expected!  I thought I'd see lots of grass and buildings, like I see here in Michigan.  However, the land surrounding me was nothing but miles of desolate farm land and dirt, all shaded an tan/orange dirt color - no greenery. In the distance, I could see The Rocky Mountains stretch across the earth. They were larger that I could have ever imagined, so majestic and snowcapped. The drive was sunny & smooth! A far cry from the images I conjured in my mind of me for these months leading up, trying to drive a rental car through snowy December weather on an icy mountain pass! Phew- I'm grateful for the dry roads, sunshine, and no need to drive on a mountain pass!

I eventually arrived at The Embassy Suites and it was a beautiful modern hotel, a perfect venue for the conference! I was also grateful for an awesome hotel and the beautiful Christmas decorations abound inside the hotel. After getting settled, I went out to dinner to PF Chang's nearby and upon returning to the room, I retired for the night. I awoke Friday and I had the daytime to explore Loveland before the evening's events were to begin at 5:30. I jumped into my Jeep and headed towards the shopping stores in Loveland. I had to stop at a few stores to get some items I needed, such as some items from Home Depot to set up my Exhibitor booth the next morning, and some fuzzy Cuddle Dud Socks from Sam's Club... yes, I NEEDED those!

Anyway... It was a really nice day exploring town!   Afterwards, I headed back to the hotel.  Although the rooms here are beautiful, when you're a party of one, it's quiet.  So, I headed down to the lobby area to "work" while enjoying the social scene.  The Des Moines Buccaneers Hockey team was staying at our hotel for a game against Denver that evening, and two companies had rented out ballrooms for their company Christmas parties.  So, there were a lot of people arriving into the hotel, as the Autism Conference guests started to arrive.  The time was nearing 5:30, so I headed over to the conference registration desk.  While in line, I met a woman standing behind me named Ramona.  Ramona Puget is the Executive Director of the Kern Autism Network in central California.  She is also the mother of two adult sons on the spectrum, having 4 adult children in total. We got along great, so we figured we'd sit together at the evening's events. So, we headed over to the room where Temple Grandin's movie premier was to be held.

Our group of about 100+ people gathered with excitement to be amongst some of the first people to view Temple Grandin's new movie coming out in 2024, called Temple Grandin: An Open Door.  It was a special viewing, as the movies director & crew were there to speak with the audience about filming this movie.  An Open Door is the forthcoming documentary that reflects on the influential life and work of Dr. Temple Grandin as a champion of the humane treatment of livestock, autism rights, and inclusive neurodiversity by employing her gifted insights from her personal experience with autism and visual thinking. 

Following the movie, Temple Grandin answered audience questions.  I asked her 1st question.  Following that, she remained standing in front of me, speaking directly to me as she answered a few audience questions.  That was a very cool experience!  I wondered if she remembered speaking with me a few years prior at The World Autism Conference 2017, as she spoke with me.  After about 10 minutes of her Q & A session, the fire alarm sounded, and we all had to exit the building into the freezing cold outdoors.  Thankfully, that only lasted 2 minutes and we were allowed back into the building, under a "false alarm".

That basically put an end to the evenings events.  Ramona and I had planned to go out to dinner following the movie premier.  Before that, I had told her I needed to stop at The Dollar Tree to get a poster board for my exhibit display.  However, it was around 8:30pm and I stopped in the main lobby to have a conversation with my friend, Lawrence Kaplan & his adult son David.  Lawrence Kaplan, PhD, is the Founder and Chairman, Emeritus of the US Autism Association (formerly known as the US Autism & Asperger Association). He is the Author of Diagnosis Autism Now What? 10 Steps to Improve Treatment Outcomes, A Parent-Physician Team Approach, a wonderful guide book for people caring for people with autism. We were having a wonderful conversation with the Kaplans catching up, and much time had passed, so when Ramona and I set out, Dollar Tree was closed so we went to Target instead!  By now, Ramona and I already felt like we've known each other much longer!  We were in and out of Target within 10 minutes.  I got the supplies I needed for my display, and we headed to a place called The Boot Grill, a country music bar and grill.  We had delicious meals and we headed back to our rooms for the night.  It was already near 11:00 pm and I had to wake at 5:15. 

The next morning came fast!  I showered up and headed down to the exhibitor hall area!  Wow!  I was a little bummed!  My table spot was WAY down at the end, away from the robust traffic!  I learned a lesson that it's worth to pay more for a prime spot!  However, I paid the same $500 as all other exhibitors, but I had the bum spot!  Anyway, in the end, it didn't turn out to be so bum after all!  I made so  many wonderful connections in my back spot!  For example, I had many awesome parents, educators and therapists stop by to hear my story and check out The IEP Advantage course. I held back a few tears when speaking to some parents about their current IEP situation.  It sometimes can be heartbreaking to hear the struggles we parents go through, just to get our child special education services with an IEP.

Another amazing  person I met was a lady named Lauren.  Lauren owns (in partnership) a business that helps kids with an IEP transition into higher education.  Her company is called College Steps and currently mainly serves in the Northern East Coast States, USA.  Their mission is to empower students living with learning and social challenges through structured post-secondary support. Working closely with high schools, colleges and families, they emphasize peer-to-peer services that build confidence and success.  She has a team of approx. 250 employees that help carry out her vision and mission.  What a wonderful job Lauren does to make a difference in the lives of others. I love her energy and what she does to help so many families live an enhanced life!  She was a great person to have as an exhibitor booth across from me!

I also met so many others, like Bob from iSocialSkills.com.  His company is really positive and cool in that it has an adult version of the social skills programs that were developed, as well as workshops centered on Professional Communications and Leadership Skills (PCLS) and Life Skills. Also, they have a job search to match neurodiverse individuals with companies that prefer to hire them.  This company is a great resource for individuals to have support in their adult lives and be well matched with like-minded individuals.

Then there were the big stars of the show, including speakers Stephen Shore,  professor at Adelphi University where his research focuses on matching best practice to the needs of people with autism.  Dr. Phillip DeMio's, whose practice focuses on the medical testing and treatment for you and/or your loved one with Autism Spectrum Disorder.  Dan McManmon, the President of CIP - College Internship Program residing in MA. and Marlo Payne Thurman, PhD, newly leading US Autism. Holding doctoral level degrees in both School Psychology and Special Education, Dr. Marlo Payne Thurman currently sits on numerous advisory boards and is the President and Chairwoman of the US Autism Association. And Antonio B. who has a son on the spectrum, and plans to soon create mindfulness courses for those on the spectrum.

There are so many more wonderful people I got to meet and spend time with over this weekend.  I am truly blessed for this opportunity!  

Saturday Lunch was provided (always a great idea for conference attendees) and it was good!  I was invited to attend the Speaker's Dinner.  That was a fun event!  Although Temple Grandin had left a few hours prior, I sat at a table with some remarkable people and enjoyed sharing stories of our lives that lead us to coming to this event. It was truly a heartwarming enjoyable dinner.  Speaker's dinner concluded at 7 pm, and I headed to my room, as I was tired and needed to work.  I did squeeze in time to catch up with my family and have a great phone conversation with my mom!  I stayed inside and got to bed at a reasonable time.  The night prior I had only slept 4 hours, so I needed the rest!

Sunday I awoke at 6 am to ready and head back to my exhibitor table.  I was very excited for my display, by the way, which looked great (see pic).  I provided a laptop with my IEP meeting prep course live on it, then another laptop had my course in a flipbook version.  Last I had printed my entire course and had it in a binder, available for anyone to flip through.  It was a perfect display.  I was quite proud.  The only bad was I had ordered custom designed shirts from Zazzle, and they never arrived in time, despite the company shipping the order twice!  

I got to hang out with Ramona some more, when she was in between her conference sessions, which was awesome!  By now, we felt like we knew each other so well, that it felt like we were friends that planned to meet at this conference!  So funny, as we seem to be very similar people... except that I post on TikTok and she does not! She also was kind enough to bring me some food from the breakfast bar, because she knew I was at the exhibitor hall early each morning and skipped breakfast!  

When 10 am rolled around, it was time for me to speak!  I would sometimes start to think nervous thoughts, but then I would remember that [1] I was only to speak about what I know and [2] I was not to "pretend" to be anyone I wasn't [3] I can only offer up from my life experiences, [4] I can offer value to make sure the audience walked away with actionable steps;  and with these 4 key things in mind, I realized that there was no need to be nervous. I was there to serve and share about IEP meeting prep. This was in no way about me or who I am.  So, with that, I really enjoyed speaking from stage.  In fact, it was super cool to look out and see so many faces hanging on to my every word.  I was in my element.  I was talking IEP Meeting Prep.  We had a moderator to lead the way and he was excellent!  He made the experience really enjoyable as he had quality questions that he asked of me!  Also, I think I did quite well, being in the hot seat!  I didn't know what questions would be asked.  It was a great and fun experience.  I can't wait to do future speaking events.  There's just something special that happens, like magic in the air, when you speak live with an audience. 

I won't have access to the recordings until April.  So, I'll make sure to share my session with you then!

Once I finished speaking, the conference was near ending, with just 1.5 hours to go!  So, after the last sessions completed, and the final customers left the building, I tore down my booth.  I actually had tears in my eyes.  Nobody knew this.  But this whole weekend was quite magical and enjoyable.  To be serving parents in a way that can literally change their and their children's lives... it's worth every moment and penny spent!  I know the struggle is real with the IEP!   I'm so glad that I am the person that can give back to the special needs community by supporting parents!  If you're a parent and need a system for IEP Prep, check out the IEPadvantage.com.  You can even find links to purchase the course for just $97 right now!

After the conference wrapped up and most all have left the building, I had a beautiful, sunny Sunday left to enjoy.  I headed out in my Jeep to explore the Rocky Mountains!  Woah!  Best decision ever!  Have you ever been there?  It was so huge, majestic and the most beautiful outdoor scenery... with very windy roads!  Most everyone I passed driving out of the mountains had a Christmas Tree strapped on top of their cars!  This was the perfect ending to an amazing trip.  Early the next morning, I was headed back to return my Jeep and fly back to Michigan.  I was grateful for this weekend, and I was grateful to be back home with my family!  Thanks for reading about my journey to speak at the World Autism Conference.  Let me know if you have any questions or comments!    -Tracie 

Out exploring The Rocky Mountains, in Colorado! What an amazing experience!

What the land outside of Denver, Colorado looks like!  See the Mountains in the distance?

The Embassy Suites & Conference Center in Loveland, CO. 

The main lobby decorated for Christmas, Embassy Suites, Loveland ,CO.

My Cuddle Duds Socks... perfect for Denver, CO

Yes, I took a picture of my Cuddle Dud Socks from Sam's Club!  They're so soft & cozy! 

Ramona Pugot & Tracie Kelly

(left) Ramona Puget, my new friend and Tracie Kelly (right)

This is Where Ramona's Lives Out Her Passion To Make A Difference In The Lives Of Autistic People & Their Families In Her Community, in Kern County.  Ramona Puget is the Executive Director of the Kern Autism Network in central California!

Temple Grandin, at the evenings viewing of Temple Grandin: An Open Door.  It was really an enjoyable experience to be at this private screening with her live at the event!

Temple Grandin, running Q & A after her movie premier, right in front of Ramona and me!

This is US Autism, the organization the hosts The World Autism Conference Annually.

Dr. Lawrence P. Kaplan Diagnosis Autism: Now What?

Lawrence Kaplan, PhD's book is a wonderful resource & guide for parents.

Looks like a wild, fun place... however Ramona and I chose to eat on the quite side!

Tracie Kelly at The IEP Advantage Booth, World Autism Conference 2023 CO

My exhibitor booth set up!  It was perfect, except the custom shirts I had designed never got delivered in time.  But The IEP Advantage did well this weekend!

Laruen, of College Steps

Laurens' business, called College Steps!  Be sure you click & check out what a great idea this is!

iSocialSkills.com !  Wonderful social connections & job connections for those on the spectrum.

Keynote Speaker Dr. Stephen Shore in a pic with me!

Dr. Marlo Payne-Thurman in a pic with me!  She runs US Autism & This Conference!

Dan McManmon in a pic with me!  He is the President of the College Internship Program, CIP, located throughout the USA, based in MA.

Here I am, speaking on the IEP panel. 

When I arrived home in Michigan, my youngest son Grant had the entire house decorated for Christmas to surprise me!  It certainly was the best surprise ever!

I was very happy to be back home with my family: husband Steve, and my boys Spencer (oldest) & Grant (youngest - in black).  A perfect ending to an amazing weekend!

And of course, my 3 little dogs were so happy to get all snuggled in for the evening, now that i was back home!

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About Author: Tracie Kelly

Tracie Kelly is the course creator of The IEP Advantage course and the creator of The IEP Advantage Community. With this course, she is single-handedly revolutionizing the way parents of school-aged special needs children in the USA prepare for their IEP meetings. She is working to make her course THE new standard for IEP prep for parents in America. Tracie recently spoke at The World Autism Conference in Loveland, CO about IEP meeting prep and continues to reach out to let parents know there is help for them with IEP meeting prep!  Learn more today by looking around The IEP Advantage community and join me on social media (TikTok & Facebook)!

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