The message of the featured speaker for a mini-conference on autism in Southaven recently was that, even in the seemingly darkest times with a child that has autism, it’s important to find a smile through it all.
Frank Campagna is well known in the autism community as the man behind the blog, “The Autism Daddy.” Campagna also works with the television program “Sesame Street” and was instrumental in the creation and production of their Autism Initiative.
He was among the speakers who presented for the conference called “Operation Opportunity,” put on by The Arc Northwest Mississippi and held at Cornerstone Church in Southaven. The conference was geared toward parents and caregivers of those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Campagna said it was through finding smiles and laughter through the stresses of daily life with an autistic child that has gotten him and his now ex-wife moving forward.
“Humor is what got me and my son’s mom through some of the darker times in our lives with him, autism and then epilepsy with it,” Campagna said after his presentation. “I think it was just having a great sense of humor and being able to sort of roll with the punches and going into things with a more realistic expectation. You don’t fight for the little things, you fight for the bigger things.”
The title of Campagna’s talk was, “Things No One Ever Told Me After My Son Was Diagnosed with Autism.” He said it was his search for information about the spectrum that led to his starting to blog about it.
“I couldn’t find a place that showed a realistic depiction of what being an autistic parent was all about, so I started daily to write about our experiences and my reality,” Campagna said. “Like a snowball rolling down a hill, people came out of the woodwork to find it. I didn’t really promote it or publicize it, but the next thing I knew, it grew to 10,000, then 20,000, and at some point it hit 100,000 followers.”
Most recent figures from the Autism Society indicate that one in 59 eight-year-olds are on some part of what’s called the autism spectrum. Campagna’s 15-year-old son is what is considered lower functioning, meaning he has very little or no communication skills. Campagna said he felt the need for a parent of that type of child to express what were his daily experiences.
“I do think there is a void of people writing about those in the lower functioning end of the spectrum,” he said. “You hear a lot about the Asperger’s and the high-functioning voices, but you don’t hear a lot of people from this end.”
But Campagna’s main message to the conference was to look for the smiles in everything.
“To go with the flow, to find humor in every situation, and to know that things might seem hard, but there’s always light at the end of the tunnel,” Campagna said. “I think humor is a big part of it, just like being able to look at this crazy life that we’re leading and try to see the humor in all of it.”
Bob Bakken is Staff Writer for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.