The HBO movie Temple Grandin won big at the 62nd Emmy Awards this Sunday, taking home five awards, including best made-for-TV movie. In the film, Claire Danes plays Grandin, the world-renowned animal scientist and perhaps the most well-known and vocal person on the autism spectrum.
What I love about Grandin’s story (she’s a best-selling author and one of TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people of 2010) is that she’s not successful in spite of her diagnosis of autism, she’s made brilliant contributions as a scientist and advocate precisely because she sees the world in a unique way.
In an interview earlier this year, Grandin had some advice for parents of children on the autism spectrum, as well as some insights about the rising number of autism cases.
She talked about her fear as a child of being in groups and the constant over-stimulation she experienced because of her sensory processing difficulties (characteristic of people with an autism diagnosis). But one summer, her mom pushed her to take a field trip to visit a cattle ranch–she was terrified, but with her mom’s encouragement she went.
The trip changed her life–she fell in love with animals, and she’s spent her life exploring this passion. She said that kids with autism need to “get out and be exposed to new things,” even though it may be uncomfortable. The key is finding what makes a child tick and then letting him run with it.
Kids on the autism spectrum can go on to do great things, says Grandin, but she sees too many of them not getting any work experience. Grandin herself is considered on the mild end of the spectrum (with a diagnosis of Asperger’s–a label that will soon disappear and be folded into Autism Spectrum Disorder).
Her insight on the rise of autism diagnosis? She think that a lot of kids on the mild end of the spectrum are being recognized as having the disorder because our society is not as structured as it used to be. In other words, we’re not spending as much time stressing proper etiquite and telling kids exactly what to say in social situations. With a more loose, child-centered approach (which she doesn’t say is bad), she says it’s now more apparent when a child doesn’t have a good grasp on subtle social rules.
Food for thought–it doesn’t explain the rise in more severe cases of autism, but Grandin says that whereas we used to think of certain kids as “nerds,” we now understand they may live on the mild end of the spectrum. She’s an inspiring woman with a lot to say. Check out one of her many books, including Thinking in Pictures: My Life with Autism.
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