As the 250 seats of Monsanto Auditorium on the MU campus became filled, people continued to pile into the auditorium, sitting on the floor and standing against the wall in hopes of hearing Dr. Temple Grandin as she spoke last Wednesday evening about “Careers for Persons with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)”.
Grandin, a professor of animal science at Colorado State University, knows first hand the struggles faced by individuals with ASD when trying to enter the work force. Diagnosed with autism at two years of age she had no language skills and no eye contact. While professionals recommended that she be placed into an institution, Grandin’s mother chose another route for her daughter, one that ultimately changed Temple’s life. She enrolled her daughter in a speech therapy class run by two teachers in their home. There Temple received instruction and began to develop the language skills that would allow her to become the speaker that she is today. Her mother also hired a live-in nanny for Temple, and her two younger siblings. The nanny spent a lot of time with Temple, engaging her in turn taking games.
“My mother had normal expectations for me.” Grandin said, during her talk at Monsanto. “She expected me to have manners at the dinner table, and to be polite and go to school. She also made me do stuff.”
Grandin explained that that children with autism today are missing experiences that will help them find and build upon their strengths.
“We need more hands on classes at school.” She said, “Like woodshop, home economics and art. Art saved me in school.”
Grandin is a visual thinker and sees the world in specific pictures. As a child and young teen she assumed that everyone saw the world in the same way that she does.
“I thought the other kids were stronger than me and that’s why they could wear clothes that I couldn’t stand due to my sensitivity to textures.” Grandin said.
As she entered high school and college, Grandin suffered a great deal of teasing from her classmates. Many called her “workhorse” because of her love of working with horses. She stated it was her work with the horses and other interests that provided her an “out” when the teasing became too much.
“I could go be with the horses and I’d feel better.” She explained.
Today, she sees kids that don’t have the same outs that she did. Bullying is hard to avoid, especially with cyber bullying on the rise. This is why Grandin advocates for children with autism to spend more time in activities than on-line, so that they can learn skills and develop social interactions with others who share their interests. Temple attributes her success in the field of animal science to her high school science teacher and her aunt who lived on a ranch in Arizona. They motivated Temple to study and pursue a career as a scientist and livestock equipment designer.
While Grandin knew what she wanted to do for a living, getting her foot in the door to do it was not an easy task. Her advice to young adults seeking to enter the work force is to, “Sell your work, not yourself.” Find a way to share what you are good at with the people in an organization that need the skills you have to offer, bypassing the red tape of human resources. She indicated that it was her own ability to do this that helped her break into the animal science industry.
Once an individual lands a job doing what they love, Grandin’s advice on keeping that job is this, “Learn to keep your mouth closed.” Too many talented and intelligent young adults with autism have lost jobs because they were a little too open about sharing criticism and reacting to situations that they didn’t like.
Says Grandin of these individuals, “You can’t de-geek the geek, but you can make him a polite geek.”
Offering advice on ways to help individuals with ASD overcome some of the sensory issues that hinder their ability to function, Grandin suggested the use of pale colored sunglasses for those with sensitivity to light, the use of pastel paper to make things easier to read and the use of incandescent lights. She also encouraged families and individuals to be creative in finding jobs, repeating that exposing individuals to a variety of experiences is the best way to help them find their strengths, grow those strengths and meet the people who need those strengths in the work place.
Named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People, Grandin is a living example of the advice she gives and one that shows that early intervention and support can make a world of difference in the life of a child with autism.
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