Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Temple Grandin

Originally published at Pancakes Gone Awry


Dr. Temple Grandin has spent her adult life studying animal behavior and working with slaughterhouses to make them more safe, efficient, and most of all, humane. She has designed facilities all over the world and something like 50% of beef is processed in plants she designed.

Temple has won awards from Animal Rights groups, and she was named as one of the top 100 most influential people by Time magazine in 2010. She has written tons of books and she is a professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University.

And she has autism.

I have been an enormous fan of Dr. Grandin ever since I read her story "An Anthropologist on Mars" by Oliver Sacks. When HBO did a special on her life I gained an even better insight into her struggles and triumphs. And it renewed my gratitude to Temple, gratitude for being willing to share her knowledge and experience about autism with the world.

For those of us with loved ones on the autism spectrum, adults with autism are an invaluable resource. They can tell us what it is like for our children--something our kids often have great difficulty articulating for themselves. I am not over exaggerating when I say that Temple Grandin is one of my heroes.

Imagine my glee when I heard she would be speaking at Eastern Illinois University!  We bought our tickets weeks ago and have been giddy with excitement.

And her talk last night was even better than I had anticipated.

What impressed me the most was how down-to-earth and practical her advice was. She advised parents to use kids' strengths and special interests to help them socialize. If a kid loves computer, enroll him in the computer club at school. Kids will have an easier time making friends with people while bonding over shared interests.

She emphasized setting goals for the future and working towards them. When someone asked her about inclusiveness in school, she said that as a young child, it is important for a kid to be included and taught social skills. As they get older, however, more emphasis needs to be placed on preparing for the workforce, and we need to be flexible depending on our child's needs. She mentioned homeschooling and online classes as possible alternatives to mainstream school. Through it all, Temple never prescribed a one-size-fits-all treatment; instead the encouraged parents to figure out what is best for their individual children.

I cannot do justice to Grandin's talk. The two hours she spoke were chock full of valuable insight and advice. I have a renewed sense of what we are doing right and where we need to redouble our efforts.

I appreciate all the practical advice. I value the insight Temple provided. All of that was undeniably helpful.  But the best part of the night was the appreciation I gained for my son Danny. Temple repeatedly said that she would never cure herself; it's the autism that allows her to think in pictures.

She said things like, "Autistic people often focus on objects rather than people, but we need people like that. Otherwise we'd never have computers." Or "someone with autism would have never made the mistake that was made at the Fukushima power plant. Who on earth would put emergency water pumps in a basement?" or "People who come up with new inventions don't need to chit chat with others. They're too busy."

She regularly pointed out that it is the differences in the way our brains work that make us unique, and we need all types of thinkers in this world.

This really resonated with me. It gave me a better appreciation for Danny and the way his mind works. For years now, we have understood that he thinks in a much different way than most. And it has astounded me time and again how his different outlook has helped him find a really unique solution to a problem. Temple's talk inspired me to continue to use Danny's passions to help him socialize and learn.

And she has reminded me that my job is not to make Danny conform to society. Sure, we'll teach him manners and good social skills. We will teach him to follow rules and laws and be considerate to others. But we do not need to change the way he thinks.
If you would like more information about autism and you live in Illinois, please contact Family Matters at 866-436-7842!  We have many books on autism and books written by Temple Grandin herself available in our lending library.
We also have lists of resources for individuals with autism.  And we can help you set goals for your child at school.  Give us a call.  We can help!

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