Anita Lesko is up to something.
“I’ve got a really, really big plan in my head,” she said. “It’s kind of a really big thing.”
When Lesko has a big plan, it’s a good idea to listen. Her latest big plan was a smashing success.
“It exceeded my expectations,” Lesko said. “It was really outstanding.”
In May, Lesko helped pull off the first Flying High with Autism conference at the University of West Florida. It started as an idea in her head. It materialized with speakers like Dr. Temple Grandin and Robert Kennedy Jr.—rock stars in the on-the-spectrum community—making their way to Pensacola for the three-day event.
“Tomorrow, I have a meeting to start planning for next year,” Lesko said, explaining that the conference will likely become an annual event.
Lesko discovered she had Asperger’s syndrome a couple of years ago. Though she was a certified registered nurse anesthetist, Columbia University graduate and competitive equestrienne, she also knew she was somehow different.
“I just never fit in,” Lesko explained.
When a co-worker’s son was diagnosed with Asperger’s, something clicked with the 50-year-old nurse. She suddenly made sense.
Lesko proceeded to become an advocate for people with Asperger’s. She started a support group, and also founded Born With Asperger’s, meant to serve as an educational source for people with Asperger’s and their families.
Lesko also wrote a book about her experiences with Asperger’s. Following the release of her book—entitled “Asperger’s Syndrome: When Life Hands You Lemons, Make Lemonade”—Lesko was also featured in Grandin’s “Different… Not Less.”
The local author has been working on a project with Dr. Tony Attwood, considered to be the world’s leading authority on Asperger’s, and Craig Evens, founder of Autism Hangout. That book—entitled “Been There. Done That. Try This! An Aspie’s Guide to Life on Earth,” and set for global release—will come out early next year.
And then there’s the “big plan.” Lesko isn’t elaborating too much just yet, other than to say she’s hoping to “put Pensacola on the map.”
Prior to the Flying High conference in May, she hinted at similar ambitions, saying she envisioned Pensacola becoming “a Mecca, if you will, for Aperberger’s-related things.” More recently, Lesko talked about how she would like to see speakers at next year’s conference participate in workshops, providing attendees with more intimate venues.
“Parents will be able to be interactive with these people,” she said excitedly.
Dipping briefly into her “big plans,” Lesko talked a bit about the possibility of expanding on the conference concept. What if she could arrange for experts in the on-the-spectrum community to extend their stays—“utilizing all the brain power that I know and bringing it here to Pensacola to be available”—beyond the conference?
It’s just a thought in her head.
“I’ve got big things planned for our community,” Lesko said.