I write about country music. Mostly.

An inspiring, reflective moment with renowned Dr. Temple Grandin

Today I got to see the famous Dr. Temple Grandin who was in Davenport as keynote speaker for the Future Horizons Autism & Asperger Conference. I’m a little off topic from music but eager to share my experience.

Diagnosed with autism as a young child during the 1950s, Dr. Grandin didn’t speak until age four and had great difficulties early on in school. But with encouragement from her mother, an aunt and a teacher-mentor, she pursued interests and talents in hands-on things like design, construction, animal care, sewing and painting. Eventually, she earned a doctorate in animal science and is now a professor at Colorado State University. She’s also an expert in the design of livestock handling systems and has consulted with companies like Burger King, McDonald’s, Swift, Cargill and others.

In her 30s, Dr. Grandin started speaking about her personal challenges and techniques that helped her overcome characteristics of autism. She has become a prominent author and speaker on the subject, even dubbed the world’s most famous and accomplished adult with autism. A 2010 HBO biopic starring Claire Danes (who received Emmy, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards for her role) told Dr. Grandin’s fascinating life story.

During a morning coffee break, I waited in a line to greet Dr. Grandin. My mind raced back through our earlier encounters.

We once had been students at the ag college at the University of Illinois; she got her PhD there and I earned my undergrad. I recall seeing her on campus, and seem to remember her as a guest lecturer in one of my animal science classes. Later, when I was working at a PR firm, I arranged for her to speak at a press conference in Kansas City. We spent several enjoyable hours together at the downtown conference center. We talked about her ability to think in pictures, visualizing and categorizing exact images of objects in order to draw conclusions about subjects. After spending time together, she even suggested I was a fellow visual thinker. We talked about the Kansas City Hyatt Regency walkway collapse n 1981; she was fascinated by the engineering aspects of the tragedy. During the late 1990s or early 2000s, I interviewed Dr. Grandin for a company newsletter about pig facilities. By that time I was married and had a daughter who had been diagnosed with cerebral palsy and other developmental problems. We chatted briefly about her progress. dsc00886

So naturally when I read the promo about today’s meeting, I was intrigued. I’d never heard Dr. Grandin’s presentations about autism, only about livestock. I’m so glad I was able to attend. I saw a few people I knew from the special needs community, including my close friend Kathy who snapped the picture of me with Dr. Grandin. Here are a few nuggets from Dr. Grandin’s talk:

  • Encourage speech and turn-taking at an early age.
  • Kids, including those with autism, need to learn to work. Dr. Grandin held many jobs from early childhood, including dog walker, roofer, seamstress, sign painter and stable hand. Volunteer jobs are a good way to start. For her, having a good career has been a key to having a good life. Remember, kids get interested in things they are exposed to. And friendships are made over shared interests.
  • Learning social skills in the 1950s helped her. She learned to shake hands as a hostess when her mom invited guests over. She learned precise table manners at the family dinner table. When a child makes a mistake, calmly give instruction instead of yelling, “NO!”
  • Emphasize bottom-up learning. Think of the brain, especially for a visual thinker like Dr. Grandin, as an empty internet. Fill it with great web pages to build knowledge. In order to understand something new, you have to compare it with something from the past.
  • Create a checklist like a pilot would have with step-by-step directions to help an autistic brain learn and remember what to do in various situations.
  • Show talents and skills by developing a professional quality portfolio. Sell the “wow” in what you or your child can do. “People respect ability,” she said.dsc00885Learn more about Karen Bernick here.  Please feel free to share this article!  But please use photos with permission only – just email me with any requests. If you like this post, please consider following me here, liking my Facebook page Karen Loves Country or following me at Twitter. Thanks for reading! #TempleGrandin #Autism #Aspergers #Davenport #Iowa

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