When Temple Grandin spoke at the SXSWedu Conference & Festival opening keynote presentation in Austin, Texas, on Monday, the famed author and autism advocate made a number of points about reforms our education system needs to make to benefit children of all abilities.
“We want to help students be everything that they can be,” she began. Grandin explained how she’s a visual learner, and it was only after being exposed to different areas of study that she was able to discover what she was truly passionate about.
Grandin urged educators to find their students’ strengths and interests, rather than focusing on labels and what they cannot do, proposing that students be given access to as many subjects as possible in school.
“We’ve got to start working more on building up the kids’ strengths,” she stated. “Kids are getting labels, “mild autism,” “Asperger’s,” “dyslexia,” “learning problems,” this and that. Whatever you want to put on them, often have uneven skills. Good at one thing, bad at something else. We need to get a lot more emphasis on building up the things they’re good at — the things they can turn into a career.”
Grandin also explained that getting in the habit of labeling early on may cause conflicts later, noting the gap between “field people” and “academics” in a number of professions.
Grandin is best known for developing a more humane system for cows being led to slaughter, which is used in facilities housing half the cattle in the United States. She currently works as a professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University.
Please don’t assume parenting a kid with autism is the hardest part of my life. He’s not, but other people can be. I can’t imagine a child who does what I ask without asking for a reason and offering a five-point argument in return. I can’t imagine watching my child eat salad. Or anything green. I have no desire to change my son, or those parts of my husband and myself that are reflected in him.
If you have a kid who is any way out of the “ordinary,” then you will likely be handed advice from other people. These people may mean well, but I think they’re jerks.
There are people with a list of what it means to have autism, and what it means to parent a child with autism. This list is generally negative. I know it is; I’ve heard it many times: Violent. Aggressive. Lacking empathy. Needs discipline. Can’t let them get away with anything. Only way they’ll learn.
These people are often strangers, but sometimes they’re our friends and our family, and they whisper to our fear that we are bad parents. Bad parents parenting bad kids, and doing it badly.
Sometimes we walk away. We grab our beloved children and we hightail it the hell out of there. We rant. We scream. We hold our children close and whisper, “You are loved.” But how do you shake off the condemnation of others in something that is so close to your heart, especially if your kid totally did push the toddler down the slide?
I have my own list detailing the courage of my 5-year-old son — the way he takes a deep breath, bottom lip thrust out and eyes wide as he walks, haltingly, knowing it’s going to hurt, but not knowing how much and in what particular way — as he moves his body and senses into a new space. This is f*cking bravery. A list detailing his acts of empathy and compassion to those who don’t or choose not to see it: his focus, determination and his delight at making his little sister laugh. This boy who loves so fiercely and quickly and whose heart can be broken so easily.
When I’ve pointed out this list to others, what I’ve found is that my list is not often wanted. Or it’s ignored with a sweep of a hand, an “Of course he does good things, but he does bad things too, right? Bad things?”
Worse still is when I give the list and instead of feeling empowered, I feel dirty. I shouldn’t need my list. It panders to the idea that his existence requires a balance — as long as my list is bigger than theirs, he is valuable. I should not have to defend my child’s existence by weighing up lists. No one should. Then there’s my son.
Is he balancing his worth based on lists? Does he feel like only bits of him are worthwhile? Loveable?
Maybe it’s not other people that are the hardest part. Perhaps it’s the attention I pay them, the parts of them I let into my relationship with my child. I don’t know how to navigate this, to teach my kid that all of him is worthwhile when he’s in a world that presents challenges for him. I can control the world he and I build together.
The world we build will be gentle, and it will explain (repeatedly, probably, and with visuals) and slowly, we will add more people — people who love him and people who understand. These are the people I will listen to, the people who will speak to my heart and the people who, I hope, will eventually become the world for everyone else like him, too.
The Mighty is asking the following: Tell us one thing your loved ones might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness. What would you say to teach them?If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.
A short video recently released by Autism Speaks takes an intimate look at the relationship between two brothers, and one’s experience in an adult assisted care facility.
Author Eli Gottlieb, best known for his book “Best Boy,” became the guardian of his older brother Josh, now 60, when their parents passed away. Josh, who’s on the autism spectrum, has a “profound anxiety disorder, perseverates constantly” and requires direct care staff.
Aging with autism: A brother’s storyA look inside the relationship between two adult brothers, one on the autism spectrum, who grew up at a time when very little was know about autism…
While Josh and his family are content with the care he’s receiving, Eli points out a number of problems with the system designed to help adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
“The world of the adult individual with autism is sorely underrepresented, both at the policy level, federally and state, and most of all, in general,” Eli, who’s written on this topic in the New York Times, says in the video above. “It’s just not talked about. My brother is lucky. He’s in a beautiful place with a great fit and he’s happy.”
Eli cites turnover as an issue, which he believes is a direct result low salaries of direct care staff. He also notes that the waiting lists are a problem, along with the shift of family funding from federal to state once people with special needs are over the age of 21.
What’s your take on the video above? Let us know in the comments below.
My son Tommy has autism. He’s 14. I’ve noticed that he’s “different” from a lot of other kids his age, but there are also plenty of similarities as well.
1. Teenagers have a smell about them. Whether it’s body odor or too much cologne, some sort of scent is usually wafting from their bodies.
2. I don’t have to worry about my son sneaking out at night. He’s really big on rules. If I told him to be in by 10 p.m., he’ll be back by 10 p.m.
3. His moods can be all over the place like any teen. One minute he’ll be smiling. The next he’ll be glaring at me.
4. He won’t risk smoking. Or getting drunk. He cannot believe anyone would do these things. “Don’t they know their lungs will turn black? Why would anyone want to get drunk?” He’s just as appalled over drugs.
5. He spends hours on video games like many teenagers. When he emerges from his room, we sometimes start clapping. “You exist!” I’ll sometimes shout.
6. He might not be driving when he’s 16. He can panic when he gets overwhelmed, so he might need more time to cope with these feelings before he gets behind the wheel.
7. I’m not sure when he’ll have a girlfriend. He still struggles with understanding different emotions. I have faith there is a girl out there for him, though.
8. He’s not interested in sports. He never has been. He tried track in fifth grade and wasn’t a fan. He tries hard, but playing catch with him is tricky as he can have difficulty catching the ball or throwing it. He’ll try to be polite if someone in the family offers, but you can tell he’s not really enjoying himself. Football has always bored him.
9. He probably won’t be going to any school dances. There’s one coming up and I asked if he wanted to go. He was like, “No, thank you.”
10. He doesn’t walk around with earbuds in his ears all the time. He cannot stand things in his ears and he doesn’t care to listen to music at all hours of the day.
11. He eats like most teenagers. He never seems to be full. I once watched as he ate a footlong sub from Subway in five minutes. And he was still hungry. However, his diet isn’t like a lot of teenagers’: He doesn’t like soda. It’s too “spicy” for him. He doesn’t like chewy candy. He doesn’t like if you put cheese on his burger. He’d live on rolls if I allowed it.
12. He hates wearing shorts. He’s noticed that a lot of boys his age wear shorts, even if it’s freezing. He doesn’t comprehend this. If it’s below 72 degrees, he must be in a long-sleeved shirt. He also hates wearing flip-flops. Even if we’re going to the pool, he prefers to be in socks and shoes. When we go to the beach I can get him in flip-flops but only because he can’t stand the sand stuck in the socks.
The Mighty is asking the following: Create a list-style story of your choice in regards to disability, disease or illness. It can be lighthearted and funny or more serious — whatever inspires you. Be sure to include at least one intro paragraph for your list.If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.
Professional golfer Rickie Fowler attended the Els for Autism Foundation’s charity tournament in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, on Monday, and his hole-in-one shot raised $1 million for autism research.
Fellow pro Ernie Els and his wife Liezl have a son with autism, and they started the foundation in 2009. The $1 million Hole-In-One Challenge was sponsored by SAP and Ketel One Vodka, and the payout will come from an insurance policy, reported the Washington Post. Notables like Jack Nicklaus, Adam Scott, Keegan Bradley, Louis Oosthuizen, Luke Donald, Nick Price and Els himself previously attempted the shot, and Fowler was the 17th pro to take a swing at it.
The money will go to the Els for Autism Foundation and the Els Center of Excellence, according to SB Nation. After Fowler made the shot, Els picked him up and hugged him and later tweeted, “Will always remember this moment. Great support once again from pros. #humbled still can’t believe it!”
Thomas Morrow’s friends always wanted to know about the toys on his desk and why he sat on a different type of chair. The third-grader realized his classmates didn’t quite understand autism — how he used the toys for sensory play and the chair felt more comfortable, and why sometimes, he seems to view things in a “different” way.
Instead of answering question after question, the 8-year-old set out to do something not many adults have done: write a book.
In the book, an autistic turtle named Henry explains the ins and outs of autism to his friends. Thomas used the real names of his classmates, which he says thrilled them. He wants other autistic children who read the book to “know how different and cool we are.”
To write the book, Thomas would articulate how he saw the story and his grandmother would type it out. This all occurred while his grandmother received chemotherapy for stage 3 breast cancer.
“It was a complete blessing to watch the two of them work through the process,” Thomas’ mother, Tiffany Morrow, told The Mighty. “He would stand on his head, flip on the floor, pace and run all over the house and swing on her four poster bed, and she would sit in the middle on her laptop, and they would hash out the chapters one by one.”
Thomas received his autism diagnosis when he was 2 and a half years old. His mom says, at the time, she’d never have imagined him doing something like this. He proved preconceived notions wrong. Morrow says she’s a better person from raising a neurodiverse son. She hopes parents new to this journey will ultimately accept the diagnosis.
“Embrace the diagnosis, don’t fight it,” Morrow said. “I know that’s hard to hear that your child is not ‘typical,’ but dive in deep and take off running.”