A Presentation by Temple Grandin
I recently had the opportunity to see an icon of autism advocacy live and in person, and it was memorable. My mother learned that Temple Grandin was coming to our area to speak, so we went to hear her presentation along with a good friend—my one-time one-on-one TA. To be quite honest, I was not sure what to expect from Grandin. I was familiar with her mostly through what my mother has told me about her and the HBO movie about her life. I knew she invented a “squeeze machine” to cope with her sensory processing disorder and how she worked hard to overcome her fear of public speaking to become an outspoken autism advocate, but I had never heard her speak before. I felt hearing her perspective on matters of autism could be enlightening, so I looked forward to the presentation.
I feel the main topic of her talk was how different kinds of minds make different valuable contributions to society, and I fully agree with this sentiment. She also had many other amazing things to say on a variety of subjects.
Grandin’s presentation impressed me immediately because of the way she delivered it. She held herself well, and with a strong voice, she spoke her mind. She had certain strongly-worded convictions that she voiced throughout her talk, but she delivered them quickly and concisely, emphasizing her most important points in ways that made them stick in my mind. She also had a lively sense of humor; she often punctuated her speech with little jokes or references to current events that kept me focused. She knows how to keep an audience’s attention.
In addition, Grandin repeatedly used examples from her own life and her work in the cattle industry to illustrate many of her observations concerning the state of autism research and strategies for raising autistic children. She discussed which strategies worked well with her and have had positive results with others on the spectrum. She showed scans of her brain compared to scans of a typical brain which indicate she has a larger visual processing section than most people—an abnormality which has greatly influenced the way she thinks and perceives images. Studies of autistic brains indicate that our brains work differently from ‘neurotypical brains,” and this might impact our behaviors and influence our strengths and weaknesses.
Grandin spoke about how she struggled with algebra but had an easier time with art classes which she directly related to her own brain composition. I could relate to this because of my own struggles with algebra. My strengths lie with the written word. My mother has told me that I have always known how to read and that I started demonstrating this ability independently at a very early age. I also have the ability to understand the proper use of grammar, sentence structure, and punctuation with little instruction, and I have always spelled very well.
Many of Grandin’s experiences resonated with me because they were very similar to various aspects of the way my mother and father have raised me. Throughout the presentation, my mother and our friend exchanged glances because they recognized a lot of points she was making as strategies that had worked with me. Grandin related that much of her success is the direct result of the tactics her mother used with her as she was growing up. Some of her suggestions for people who have autism include: getting children and teenagers out of their rooms and away from all the electronic entertainment that consumes their attention and having them interact more with people and places in the real world; utilizing exercise as part of their routines; giving them “jobs” or chores to promote responsibility and independence; focusing and channeling the person’s strengths into constructive employment and giving people opportunities to contribute in a meaningful way to the well-being and enrichment of their communities. Grandin urged school officials to strongly consider keeping a wide variety of classes and extracurricular activities available to children so they may benefit from numerous fields of knowledge. She also stressed that by allowing multiple methods of teaching to be utilized, children who learn in different ways will have the same opportunities to learn as other children.
Grandin came across to me as someone who is very smart, witty, and resourceful. She and her family faced some of the same struggles and battles that my family and other families now face. I feel her ideas are worthwhile ones and a lot of good could come from their implementation. She was simply a joy to listen to and quite inspiring to me. I would like to continue to provide inspiration to the autism community and to the world the way Grandin does through my writing as well as public speaking platforms, and I hope others are inspired to do the same. With more positive voices out there, I feel that many people could be spurred on to do great things in the autism field.