Temple Grandin sees the autism spectrum in some of the world’s most successful people.
“I’ve been to Microsoft, Google, Facebook, NASA – there’s a lot of people with autism there,” the Colorado State University professor said. “The same genes that make people have big brains make people have autism.”
Grandin, an outspoken woman with autism best known for her revolutionary work in the field of animal husbandry, drew more than 1,000 people to a Friday night speech at North Idaho College. Hosted by the Panhandle Autism Society, the event was both speech and seminar, with Grandin using humor to drive home her points.
Grandin aimed much of her speech at parents dealing with children who have autism. Not only can those children live normal lives, she said, but they can excel.
She said teaching skills to a child with autism “is like trying to teach someone how to behave in a foreign country.”
“Give the kids time to respond. They’re like a phone with one bar of service,” she said. “It takes more time to download the webpage.”
She said there are two paths for those with autism: sit on a couch, collect Social Security checks and play video games, or gain skills and work on a career. She wants to see more of the latter, she said.
It starts with not overprotecting children.
“They need to get out and work,” she said. “Stretch the kids just outside their comfort zone. Give them choices.”
“We need to pick jobs that aren’t too hectic,” she added. “McDonald’s during the lunch rush – no.” Sales positions at autoparts stores and car dealerships are better “because they’re appreciated for their knowledge about the cars,” she said.
Grandin was critical of modern diagnoses of autism, which many believe to be on the rise. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls autism the fastest-growing developmental disability, and today 1 in 59 kids are diagnosed with some version of the disorder, according to a recent report.
“The problem with autism diagnoses is they’re all called the same thing. The diagnosis is only half science, and the other half is conference room squabbles,” she said.
“Don’t get hung up on the labels,” she told the kids in the crowd. “Figure out what you’re good at and do it.”
Grandin, the author of many books on autism who also has a doctorate in animal science from the University of Illinois, frequently gives speeches about her experience in designing better, more humane systems for animals in the meat industry. She was the subject of the biopic “Temple Grandin” starring Claire Danes in 2010.
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