|Exclusive interview: Temple Grandin to Revista Autismo (Autism Magazine, from Brazil)|
|Issues - Edição 3|
|Written by Carolina Rafols|
|Friday, 21 December 2012 13:17|
By Carolina Rafols
Temple Grandin is an inspiration to innumerable families and professionals around the world. She is now the most accomplished and well-known American woman with autism and a highly respected designer of livestock handling facilities. Dr. Grandin has become a prominent author and speaker on the subject of autism because she is a living proof that the characteristics of autism can be modified and controlled (from Emergence: Labeled Autistic).
She obtained her B.A. at Franklin Pierce College and her M.S. in Animal Science at Arizona State University. Dr. Grandin received her Ph.D. in Animal Science from the University of Illinois in 1989. Today she teaches courses on livestock behaviour and facility design at Colorado State Univeristy and consults with the livestock industry on facility design, livestock handling, and animal welfare. She has appeared on television shows such as 20/20, 48 Hours, CNN Larry King Live, PrimeTime Live, the Today Show, and many shows in other countries. She has been featured in People Magazine, the New York Times, Forbes, U.S. News and World Report, Time Magazine, the New York Times book review, and Discover magazine. In 2010, Time Magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people. Interviews with Dr. Grandin have been broadcast on National Public Radio. She has also authored over 400 articles in both scientific journals and livestock periodicals on animal handling, welfare and facility design. She is the author of "Thinking in Pictures", "Livestock Handling and Transport," "Genetics and the Behavior of Domestic Animals" and "Humane Livestock Handling." Her books "Animals in Translation" and "Animals Make Us Human" were both on the New York Times best seller list. "Animals Make Us Human" was also on the Canadian best seller list. Dr. Grandin's current bestselling book on autism is The Way I See It: A Personal Look at Autism and Asperger's. She also authored Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships, Emergence: Labeled Autistic (see her books).
Her life story has also been made into an HBO movie titled "Temple Grandin, staring Claire Danes." The movie shows her life as a teenager and how she started her career.
Below is an exclusive interview for the Brazilian magazine- Revista Autismo, which Dr. Temple answers questions on importance of early intervention, good mentors, aggression, and more.
Revista Autismo: In many interviews you mentioned the importance of “good mentors” and “building on children’s strengths.” Can you clarify these two ideas?
Temple Grandin: When I was in high school, I was constantly teased and my life was miserable. The only refuge away from teasing were the hands-on activities such as horseback riding and electronics lab. The children who liked these activities did not attack me with teasing. These activities were refuges from teasing. Mother was able to teach me to be on time and to have good manners, but she was not able to force me to study. I was not motivated to study until I had a reason to study. When I was in high school, I saw no point in studying. There were a few subjects where I got A’s such as biology, and other subjects such as English, and history where I had no interest.
My science teacher, Mr. Carlock, was instrumental in motivating me to study. After I had returned from my aunt’s ranch, I had become fascinated with cattle squeeze chutes. A squeeze chute is a device for holding cattle still for their vaccinations. It consists of a metal stall with panels that squeeze the animal on both sides of the body. When I watched cattle going through the squeeze chute, I observed that they sometimes relaxed when pressure from the side panels were applied to their body.
Since I was suffering from constant panic attacks, I tried getting in the squeeze chute. I discovered that pressure from the squeeze chute calmed my anxiety and nervousness. Unfortunately, many of my counselors and doctors thought that getting in a cattle chute was weird. After I built a squeeze machine that was similar to a cattle chute to calm myself, everybody wanted to take it away from me. I immediately became fixated on it and was motivated to prove that the relaxing effect was real.
Mr. Carlock saw this as an opportunity to motivate me to study. He told me that to find out why the pressure effect was relaxing, I had to study science. In my senior year in high school, I quickly improved my bad grades in English and history because I realized I had to pass these courses if I wanted to go to college and become a scientist. Mr. Carlock harnessed the tremendous drive of autistic fixation and used it to motivate academic study.
I will never forget the trip to the academic library with Mr. Carlock. During the trip I learned that real scientists read journal articles written in scientific journals. I did not know what a scientific journal was. In the early 1960’s, looking up scientific journals was hard. The psychology journals were indexed in large books of abstracts (article summaries). Since copiers were not available, each abstract that you wanted to keep had to be hand copied onto an index card and I kept all the cards in a recipe file box. In the late 1960’s, when copiers became readily available, I was ecstatic when I could copy entire articles, which I carefully filed in loose-leaf ring binders. Scientific scholarship was hard, but my autistic tendency to fixate kept me going. My experience clearly shows how a creative teacher can really get a student turned around.
Learning useful skills that can turn into a career requires direction from a teacher. Today I have observed that individuals who go on into successful careers, such as computer programming had a mentor teacher to train them. There is a discipline to learning a skill. In the technical fields, I have observed that very few kids learn high-level computer programming on their own. When left to their own devices, they tend to get addicted to video games and muck about on computers. They need assignments and guidance from a good teacher to learn career relevant skills. In some families, the parents “apprentice” their kids into their profession. This has worked for many kids on the spectrum.
Revista Autismo: Can you tell us about the importance of early diagnosis in the public health system?
And early intervention in the public health system?
Temple Grandin: Young children who are 2 to 5 years old who have no speech or repetitive behaviors should have 20 or more hours a week of individual instruction from a teacher who teaches them words, teaches turn taking, and keeps them engaged in play. Early educational teaching will help a child develop to a high level.
Revista Autismo: What is your piece of advice to parents of young adults at the low end of the spectrum who did not have early intervention by good mentors?
Temple Grandin: Many lower functioning individuals have severe sensory over sensitivity. They may not be able to tolerate a noisy restaurant or store. Some individuals are sound sensitive and others can see the flicker of florescent lights. Over stimulation hurts and it may cause crises.
Revista Autismo: What is your piece of advice to parents helping their teenagers transitioning to adulthood who are in the middle of the spectrum?
Temple Grandin: All individuals with autism at high, low, and middle on the spectrum need to learn work skills. When teenagers are still in school, they need to learn how to do jobs such as selling newspapers, picking up the trash, or gardening. Individuals on the high end of the spectrum should start doing jobs that fit their skill area, such as art, photography, graphic design, computer programming, journalism, auto mechanic, or retail sales.
Revista Autismo: What should teachers and professionals keep in mind when treating two to eight year old children?
Temple Grandin: Children aged two to eight will need lots of individual instruction. Develop the child’s strengths. If he/she likes art, encourage drawing and painting. If he/she likes math or writing, you should encourage it. If the child likes airplanes or trains, use them to teach reading and math. A child’s area of strength will usually show up at age 7 to 9.
Revista Autismo: How can the school system better support high school students at the high end of the spectrum?
Temple Grandin: High school students on the high end of the spectrum need to learn work skills before they graduate. Some of the smartest people in the world have autism. Some examples are Steve Jobs at Apple, Einstein, and Mozart. Children who are good at math can learn computer programming, physics or statistics. The students need to learn how to do tasks other people want. Develop innate abilities in art, math, writing or music.
Revista Autismo: What is your reflection on the importance of autism awareness around the globe?
Temple Grandin: It is important for people to be aware of autism.
Revista Autismo: How can parents and professionals best deal with aggressive behavior in adults with autism?
Temple Grandin: It is crucial to consider biological vs. behavioral factors. Biological factors may include sensory issues or hidden painful medical problems such as acid refluxes or tooth aches. When considering behavioral factors parents and professionals should be looking at what is causing the behavior: attention seeking; task avoidance/ escape; or self-stimulatory behaviors.
When I was aggressive, TV was taken away for one day. I also learned to control aggression by switching from anger to crying. Teasing, bullying, and being called names made me miserable when I was in high school.
Revista Autismo: You are an inspiration to innumerable Brazilian families. What message would you give to families who are still suffering from lack of treatment and early intervention due to the absence of policies that protect people with autism in our country?
Temple Grandin: This is a hard question to answer. To help pubic acceptance, we need to show the things that people with autism are really good at. One ability is amazing memory. Many individuals on the autism spectrum would be good in retail stores or in warehouses because they can remember and have information on all the products. In one town, an autistic man memorized where all the pipes were located under the streets. He would show construction crews the correct location to dig to avoid breaking the pipes.
Revista Autismo: Lastly, how are people with autism contributing to a better world?
Temple Grandin: People with autism contribute to a better world because people on the high end of the autism spectrum have invented large amounts of technology ad art. I estimate that half the people in the computer industry have mild autism. They are less social, but they gain more ability to think. Autism is a continuous trait that ranges from Einstein to low functioning, Genetics is a major factor in the cause of autism.
Carolina Rafols is Kayumi's mom. Since 2004, she works as a behavioral therapist serving children and adolescents with autism in California, USA. She has a Master in Education with specialization in Applied Behavior Analysis from National University and a Bachelor in Psychology from Cal State University Northridge. Her academic areas of interest are Pivotal Response Training (PRT) and parental training during individual in-home therapy. She also volunteers in raising awareness about autism in Brazil and the United States.