News Article Details

WW girl visits with noted speaker in Seattle

Walla Walla Union-Bulletin - 8/7/2018

Aug. 06--Third row from the stage, Zoe Leonhard, an eighth-grader from Walla Walla, was on tenterhooks as she, parents Brent and Carolyn and sister Evie Leonhard waited to hear Temple Grandin speak.

The renowned, multifaceted scientist spoke about animal behavior, autism, her research and her life experiences as a person with autism before a packed assembly on Thursday at Benaroya Hall in downtown Seattle.

The ground floor was full at the site, which is home to Seattle Symphony performances. Temple's appearance in Seattle in fall 2017, a book tour, sold out, Carolyn said.

The Leonhard family took an interest in the author and Colorado State University professor of animal science after Zoe was diagnosed with high functioning autism.

The Leonhards watched the HBO film "Temple Grandin" with Claire Danes in the title role and were very impressed by her life story.

"She has contributed so much to the public's understanding of autism. She is also an amazing role model for people, and especially girls, with autism," Carolyn said.

"We learned from the movie about how important animals -- Temple says her favorite animals are beef cows -- are to Temple."

The film inspired Zoe to volunteer at the Blue Mountain Humane Society where for the last year she has consistently worked with animals.

After Temple's talk, "Zoe was super nervous and excited to meet her." After Temple autographed her book, Zoe asked Temple how to deal with getting bullied by peers, Carolyn said.

"Zoe is in middle school, which is tough for everybody, but especially tough for someone with autism. Temple emphatically spoke to her. She told her to get involved with the things that interest her, make friends through participating in activities where she could find those with shared interests."

Temple recommended taking on new experiences, such as volunteering and jobs, super important for learning social skills.

She also emphasized to Zoe the importance of learning to drive, which can be extremely hard for people with autism because of sensory information overload. Not driving, she said, severely limits what one can do and driving was critical to her career and life.

Temple told Zoe one of the best things that ever happened to her was having to drive every day one summer from her aunt's farm to and from the mailbox two miles away before she first attempted to drive in public.

"Temple said it takes a lot of time for people with autism to learn to drive, but that we absolutely had to give Zoe that extra time to succeed at it, and that Zoe had to do it. She also said 'I want her to get a job and do it every day.'"

"I felt all this advice was really perfect for where Zoe is at in life right now. For me it felt like Temple was encouraging Zoe to take the next steps forward into independence," Carolyn said.

The Leonhard family had a long discussion afterward about what it means to be encouraged to do something.

"Temple is so wise and has a really wonderful mentoring tone -- you can tell she's a professor -- with people. She also comes across as brilliant, full of life experience, and passionate about animal behavior and animal well being," Carolyn said.

Zoe is already looking ahead. She wants to go into computer programming after college. "She loves coming up with solutions to problems, like plastic pollution in the ocean, for example. She also loves to bake and has long talked about having a vegan bakery or cafe. She has an amazing gift with animals. She has a calming presence and I think they are drawn to her," Carolyn said.

Etcetera appears in daily and Sunday editions. Annie Charnley Eveland can be reached at annieeveland@wwub.com or afternoons at 526-8313.

Etcetera appears in daily and Sunday editions. Annie Charnley Eveland can be reached at annieeveland@wwub.com or afternoons at 526-8313.

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(c)2018 Walla Walla Union-Bulletin (Walla Walla, Wash.)

Visit Walla Walla Union-Bulletin (Walla Walla, Wash.) at union-bulletin.com

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