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What We Can Learn from Temple Grandin

Author Patrick Paul
Date March 25, 2019

Whether or not you’ve worked with those who have a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder, you’ve likely heard of the world-renowned Temple Grandin. A tireless advocate for people who share her diagnosis, a highly respected businesswoman and author, an animal rights activist, and a true visionary, the lessons of her journey can revolutionize the way we all experience the world. Here are a few examples of what we’ve all gained so far from this leader:

We all learn in unique ways. By calling attention to the fact that most on the spectrum think in pictures, Temple Grandin has inspired critically important changes to the way we educate. For teachers, therapists, and family members, the awareness that some are ‘visual learners’ has resulted in much deeper connections both in and out of the classroom for people with autism. The revelation has also helped every one of us recognize that there is a broad spectrum of learning styles represented in our circles of family, friends, and colleagues. While some think in pictures as Temple Grandin does, others respond better to auditory information and others prefer the written word; some need a combination to comprehend and retain. Grandin’s work reminds us to be cognizant of how others process information, helping us let go of long-held, limiting assumptions – thus opening up worlds for everyone.

We all think in unique ways. Temple Grandin has solidified the importance of valuing neurodiversity. In lieu of working to ‘fix’ people with autism, she’s encouraged us to honor and embrace unique perspectives. She’s helped us see that because brains of those with autism are wired differently, those brains are also able to give birth to innovative ideas that can change the world. Imagine what life would look like for all of us had our society squelched people like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates just because of a possible autism diagnosis. What it would have looked like had they not been celebrated for their genius minds? Temple Grandin reminds us to celebrate, not scrutinize – a lesson we must carry forth to future generations.

We all have unique needs. Temple Grandin has sparked discussion about how to best serve this population, a topic that has become increasingly more relevant as autism incidence rates rise exponentially. Most of us in the field know the adage, ‘when you’ve met someone with autism, you’ve met ONE PERSON with autism.’ The truth is, however, it’s not just about Autism. We must heed this message for ‘neurotypicals’ as well. We’re ALL unique. Every one of us requires a specific set of circumstances to thrive. Temple Grandin’s passion for animal welfare has allowed her to tap into parts of herself that have helped her come to life. We all need to periodically reflect on what interests, skills, and talents we have that bring us true purpose – and then build a life around those areas.

Perhaps most importantly, Temple Grandin’s story reminds us that we all soar when others believe in us. Despite the fact that her father and doctor felt a very young Temple Grandin should be institutionalized, her mom got to work helping her daughter build social skills and coordinating speech therapy sessions. The message Temple’s mom sent was clear: she believed in the potential of her little girl, and she’d work relentlessly to give her the best life she could. That message must have taken root, as it would for any young person; there’s no doubt that Temple’s confidence comes from a deep place, and that it has provided her with the foundation needed to make an immeasurable impact on our world.

Regardless of Autism or other labels, we must focus on talents instead of deficits. We must look for opportunities to be more inclusive. We must give the people around us everything they need to experience the highest quality of life possible, just as Temple Grandin’s mom did for her.

Patrick Paul is the CEO/Executive Director of Anderson Center for Autism, located in Staatsburg, whose organizational mission is to “optimize the quality of life for people with autism.” Visit andersoncenterforautism.org to learn more or visit our YouTube channel to meet some of our staff and families: https://www.youtube.com/user/AndersonCenterAutism/videos.