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We are in Denver, Colorado at the Autism Society of America's National Conference, and had the absolute pleasure of starting off the day with a breakfast with Dr. Temple Grandin herself! We are so happy to be able to share with you some of the wisdom that we learned and the information she shared at the breakfast.

Breakfast with Temple Grandin learning about autism spectrum disorder"You've got to stretch. We don't throw them in the deep end of the pool, but if you don't stretch they don't develop."

Temple talked a lot about different ways to stretch people and gradually challenge them to help learn social skills and become employable. It's so important to let them be in control. She gave the example of teaching them to shop on their own: go shopping with them, then the next time let them take charge, then wait at the door, then wait in the car. Support, but let them be in charge.

This goes for desensitizing sensory challenges: if the smoke alarm bothers the individual, wrap it in a bunch of towels and have them reach in and set it off. Then take a towel off and have them set it off again. They need to be in charge. Let them decide how long to be in Walmart. Have them pop balloons. This will allow them to adjust to it on their own time and terms. 

"I love people who are interested in planes and trains. You can make anything associated with planes and trains."

It's so important to use what people love to learn. If an individual on the spectrum if obsessed with trains, use it to learn the history of pioneers settling, the circumference of a wheel, write stories with trains. Gradually stretch more and more until the associated link is much looser. Planes and trains can be used to teach physics, math, english, history and many more subjects!

"If he's 6 and can read USA Today, he can do just about any job"

There's a tendency to get locked into a label. However, if an individual is verbal they are employable. They need to start with jobs outside of the home as early as the labour laws allow! How do you get a job? Show off your skills. Whatever you are really good at - coding, photography, or even memory - have a portfolio that can wow anyone in 30 seconds and carry it everywhere. Opportunities (as visualized by doors in Temple's mind) open for a very short period of time, and you have to take every single one!

"It's okay to be different, but you can't be a filthy slob."

There is a scene in Temple Grandin's movie where the boss slams deodorant on his desk and tells Temple to use it. She said "I actually showed the director of the movie exactly how to slam that deodorant down." And she thanks him now. It's important to learn basic social skills. Learn to shake someone's hand (As Temple says: "too many kids come up to the book table and can't shake hands, their mom asks questions for them - NO!). Learn to look them in the eye as much as possible. Work washing dishes, or walking the neighbours dog or setting up chairs at church. Anything to gain experience working jobs that need to satisfy others requirements. It's important to learn basic skills early so that they can lead to more experience. And if you are like Temple and really want the job, you will do anything - including wearing deodorant - to keep the job!

"Half of America is on the Spectrum. 25% of these kids need to go into skilled trades - but they need to try it to see if they like it."

It's so important to expose children to a variety of experiences early. Try out theatre and mechanics and art. Temple never would have discovered her love for cattle if she hadn't gone to her Aunt's farm when she was 15. Try everything and see what works!

"It's important for non-verbal people to rule out the hidden painful medical problems."

It's easy to diagnose someone with autism and then assume all behaviour is because of that label. With those who are non-verbal, it is very important to rule out painful medical problems such as constipation, urinary tract problems, and many more. 

"Learn to drive with a tank of gas and a safe place."

It's so important to learn to drive, but it is hard to learn the mechanics of the vehicle while also dealing with traffic. The solution: a full tank of gas in a safe place. Fill the car up and drive in a field, a country road, somewhere with no traffic. Burn the entire tank of gas figuring out how to drive the vehicle. Them venture into smaller side roads, start dealing with traffic, and go into drivers ed. It took Temple about a year of side roads before she went into the city.  And remember, Temple was so nervous she failed her first drivers test. She hadn't been able to practice in the area the exam was, and she was nervous. But she went back a passed, and it was totally worth it.

"I never would have started in the cattle industry if I couldn't drive"

And finally, some good advice for all of us:

"Do some serious exercise every day where you sweat. I wouldn't sleep at night if I didn't do pushups every night."

We hope you learned as much as we did from Temple. Stay tuned to hear about the gift we gave her!


Written by Monica McMahen — July 08, 2015

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