Speaking to a crowd of 6,000 at the Bank United Center last January, acclaimed author and autism activist Temple Grandin talked about the success that people with autism have had in their lives.
“Half of Silicon Valley could be placed on the autism spectrum,” said Grandin. “They just haven’t been tested for it.”
She clarified her statements and stated the reality of autism: it is hard to define in specific terms. The mindset of attempting to label types of autism, Grandin said, was detrimental to understanding the disorder.
“The autism scale is very wide,” Grandin said. “At one end of the spectrum you have a guy like Steve Jobs, who was nerdy as a child and would bring snakes into his classrooms and set them loose, but who turned out to be incredibly influential. On the other end of the spectrum is someone who is completely non-verbal, but who can still function in society if given training.”
Grandin spoke about the importance of hands-on parenting and of physical activity for youths. Grandin said that in today’s society children as well as parents have become too sedentary and warned of the detrimental effects of substituting human interaction with hours in front of a television.
“In my opinion, no child should watch more than an hour of television a day,” she said. “The rest of a child’s day, especially those who have been placed on the autism scale, should be filled interacting with others. That’s how they will learn to interact with others in society.”
Grandin stressed the need for a better understanding of the autistic mind. She said that autistic children often excel in one area or skill set and that these children must be allowed to work on and develop in these areas so they can one day use them to get a job. Certain autistic children, she said, are visual learners and others are auditory learners, and each is adept at certain tasks.
“The world needs all kinds of minds,” Grandin said. “I was lucky enough to have found my place.”
She warned that children today are too sheltered and often get to adulthood without ever having a job. For all children, especially those with autism, she warned that this style of upbringing is incredibly detrimental.
“For me, I was a very visual learner,” she said. “I loved drawing horses all day. So I was lucky enough to get moved out of a regular education high school and sent to a farm where I spent my days shingling and painting signs for businesses in the local area. Those experiences allowed me to become who I am today.”
The experience was intellectually stimulating for some students like junior Megan Motley.
“I was blown away by her knowledge,” Motley said. “After hearing her, I think that I might try to go to grad school for psychology.”
For others in the crowd, many of whom suffered from autism, hearing Grandin’s speech was a source of inspiration.
“It was amazing,” said local resident Ariene Negron, whose son is autistic.“But Temple has given us hope. She’s given us a reason to believe. I brought my son with me today so he could see her and realize that regardless of what he has, he can be her. I need him to be her.”