Autism from the inside

Temple Grandin has made a career out of demystifying this mysterious condition.
Temple Grandin
photo credit: 
Matt Slaby
Photographed last year at Colorado State University’s ARDEC (Agricultural Research, Development, and Education Center) facility near Ft. Collins, Colorado.

 

Temple Grandin is a respected educator and best-selling author. She’s a groundbreaking animal scientist and industrial designer. In 2010, she was the subject of the HBO film, “Temple Grandin,” starring Claire Danes, and was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people.

She is all of those things because – not in spite – of the fact that she has autism.

Grandin, 64, will be a keynote speaker on Saturday, April 14, at Promising Pathways: The Road to Best Practices in Autism, an annual conference held at Florida Gulf Coast University. (See story on page 21.) She will speak about her experiences with autism.

Formally known as autism spectrum disorder, this complex set of neurodevelopment disorders causes social awkwardness, difficulty communicating and, often, repetitive behavior. (See accompanying box.)

Like many children with the disorder, Grandin was unable to talk at age 3 and exhibited multiple behavioral problems. Rejecting doctors’ advice to institutionalize her, her parents sent her to private schools, where her skills were nurtured and she thrived.

She went on to earn bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees, studying psychology and animal science. She has taught animal science at Colorado State University in Fort Collins since 1990.

Her realization that hypersensitivity to sound and touch can cause fear in people with autism as well as animals motivated her to devote much of her life to reducing that anxiety. She has worked extensively to develop humane livestock facilities that eliminate fear and pain from the slaughtering process and written extensively about humane treatment of animals. She has also designed a device that helps those with autism ease tension and has published books about the condition, recommending ways to improve the lives of those who have it.

Grandin’s work is particularly useful because she is able to explain autism from a uniquely personal perspective.

She recently spoke with Pinnacle magazine by telephone. Here are some of her comments.

Q: What will your talk at FGCU entail?

A: I’ll talk about the importance of early intervention and the sensory problems of people with autism, that they can be sensitive to sound or fluorescent lighting.

I’ll talk about careers and jobs. Autism is a big spectrum. There are people who are extremely handicapped who are not going to be able to live independently. But many people who have it can be successful. I believe half of Silicon Valley has some degree of autism. I think Steve Jobs had it. (Albert) Einstein had no language until age 3. Mozart probably had some form of the disorder, too.

Q: What are some of the mistakes made when working with people with autism?

DEFINING AUTISM

WHAT: Autism spectrum disorder encompasses a range of neurodevelopment disorders, ranging from mild forms, such as Asperger syndrome, to severe cases in which people are unable to care for themselves.

SYMPTOMS: Those with autism may fail to respond to their names, avoid eye contact, have difficulty interpreting social cues and lack empathy. Some engage in rocking and twirling, biting or head-banging, have difficulty playing interactively with others, may speak in a sing-song voice about a narrow range of favorite topics and exhibit inflexible adherence to specific routines or rituals. They are often hypersensitive to sound, touch or light.

CAUSES: Scientists don’t know for sure what causes it but genetics and environment appear to play roles.

Pinnacle Issue Info
Autism from the inside
Issue Date: 
March 2012
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