“AUTISM A PART OF WHO I AM”
BY TEMPLE GRANDIN
One of the most interesting presentations at the Geneva Center For Autism International Symposium, was: “Autism A Part of Who I Am” by Temple Grandin.
A large crowd of people attended her presentation, yet there were very little distractions sitting at the very front. In fact, the crowd was unusually quiet, which seemed to indicate that they were all very intrigued.
Temple spoke of her life as a child and growing up, and her mother was there to offer her own perspective and feelings during those times.
Temple is a speaker that captivated the attention because had seen some interesting books written by her previously at the book tables. Most specifically, wanted to learn more about her “thinking in pictures” ideas, since believe that the way this brain is organized, is like a filing system of various pictures to represent words. Did not get books though, and she didn’t really speak about that topic.
Another reason for the interest in her presentation was that she was the only autistic speaker (identified as autistic) there, outside of the luncheon presentation for autistic people. Temple’s speech was more informative because she spoke not only of her life experiences, but also about things that worked well for her, and things that didn’t work well for her. That kind of a presentation is useful for those of us on autism spectrum because we actually can learn something, unlike the presentation in which a person merely speaks of their life, and how they grew up, what “autistic” things they did as a child… those presentations already live within us.
What was great about her presentation was the audience participation. After speaking about her life, she opened up the discussion to revolve around questions in the audience. So, most of what will report on here, are topics that she addressed as a result of audience questions. Will not write about her reflections on her childhood (unless she refers to it, in her responses) because that information apparently is well available in books elsewhere.
Anxiety and medications:
Someone asked about her 6yr old boy, for which a psychiatric. doctor recommends a drug because he has screaming sessions where he screams for about 20 seconds.
Temple’s response was:
One thing to do about sound sensitivity is to put the sound that is bothersome on a tape recorder. And let the autistic individual play it, according to their preferred volume. This might help to desensitize them.
Earphones, or plugs are sometimes used in situations where a person is unable to get away from excessive sounds they are sensitive to. But the earphones have to be off for at least half of the day, otherwise you might become more sensitive because you get used to the quieter sound.
Some autistics are afraid of dogs and cats. Temple said the problem with dogs and cats is they make a noise that might hurt the ears, and you never know when it might go off. Yet, some might be especially attracted to animals. If your thinking is basically visual, auditory, touch, smell oriented, you can understand animals better then verbally oriented people. An autistic person can relate to an animal that also doesn’t talk quite well. Unlike a verbal person who might be unable to understand an animal because they are caught up in whether it can think, feel etc. an autistic person can just accept the animal as it is.
A parent discussed his son who is sensitive to trucks going by, but he plays the drums. Temple indicated that the sound sensitivity tends to be in certain frequencies, and not in others. It is inside the brain and not in the ear. A suggestion was to put the tucks on a tape recorder and let him control it. It is easier for the kid to tolerate it if he initiates the sounds. After all they are not sensitive to their own screams.
A parent spoke of her 4th grader who was reading at JK level. They wonder if they should take emphasis out of reading. Temple indicated that it is important to figure out why is he having trouble with reading. She had problem at age 8. Some learn whole language-memorize by sight, some with phonics. Maybe the thing to do is get a child’s book on his special interest, to motivate him.
It is also important to look into his visual processing. It might be that the eyeball is fine, but the visual processing is not. The print may be wiggling on the page. If he hates escalators, squinting out of the corner of his eyes, problems with fluorescent lights, splitting of visual field, he probably has visual processing difficulties. Get rid of white paper. Use gray, or light blue, to reduce the contrast. Coloured glasses might help also; get tested for Irlen glasses.
She did offer praise for the SIMS computer games. This game moves slowly, it is intellectually engaging, and it could be a tool because it involves so much more planning and it can be used to engage dialogue, and talk about why you make certain choices in it. It also simulates real life. In that game, if you don’t go to work you get fired.
Stimming also has a purpose. For example, when an autistic person comes home from a long day away, they have “held it together” throughout the day. When they arrive home they might want to stim out on rocks, reflection of water or other pleasant stimuli. It is ok to let a period of an hour a day to calm down. When she did the sand thing, she studied each little particle like a scientist through a microscope. It is ok to have a little bit of down time when you just do your stims. From a brain development standpoint, the brain is not doing anything during stimming, so this is not beneficial for long term.
Mainstream classroom placements:
She was asked, if someone can snap his fingers and she would not be autistic, what would she do. Temple said she can't imagine not having very detailed thinking, and wouldn’t want to give that up. One of the things that happen with autism is that different departments of the brain tend to work separately. They are not well interconnected. What tends to happen is that one part of the brain specializes and sort of shines, and the rest gets a reduced workload.
There are some autistics that are deeply depressed in puberty. This is why you need to put emphasis in developing a skill. She said autistics have a tendency to think, “I am what I do” and so they need to have something to do, this will help them feel better about themselves.
Temple spoke of there being a need for specialized art programs, for visual learners. She doesn’t see them getting the recognition that they deserve because of their social problems. They need someone to market their ideas. Apparently the person who came up with the palm pilot has aspergers. A lady helped him market it. You need to get things out into the market someone has to go out there and “pound the pavement”. You can sell it outside of the autism world. And someone has to be the marketing agent. Because there are lots of autistics that have fantastic talent, but need someone to make appointments and someone to make sure that others don’t rip them off. Someone has to go in there and do the final sale. The autistic person needs someone to handle all the business part of it. You need to start finding the people who can open the doors, because we are inside the special ed. box. What someone has to do is be the business head to sell their stuff. The autistic person can’t do the selling. You got to find the people who can open the door, and you don’t ever know where you can find them. Make a print of your work and carry it around. Show it to people show it to people in an airplane as you are traveling. Carry around a portfolio of your pictures, even if it is small to fit your purse. Sell the talent, not the personality.
Independence: What made you
ready for it?
Temple Grandin spoke of the importance of a mentor. A mentor might be a good teacher. She learned social survival rules, like you cant tell your boss he is stupid, from having a mentor. She had a science teacher, and her aunt who were like mentors for her. Temple’s aunt was her “getting along in life” mentor. They would just talk about why people do things they do. But for a skills mentor you got to have someone interested in helping, and a person who can recognize talent.
What is your biggest advantage
Those were basically the topics that
Temple Grandin addressed in her session at the Geneva Center for Autism