Feature: “The Natural Kind”
Lubbock Avalanche-Journal - 2/28/2020
In recent years, Temple Grandin has risen to become perhaps America's most famous authority on autism (and livestock, for that matter). Herself autistic, Grandin is a highly regarded professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University. A film based on her life, entitled simply "Temple Grandin" and starring Claire Danes as Grandin, was released in 2010. Grandin has dedicated her life to educating the public on autism, and on the humane treatment of livestock.
Lubbock Magazine: Have you been pleased with how autism treatment has developed over the past decade?
Temple Grandin: Well, I think what's happening in autism treatment, is we're doing a really good job with the little kids. But where we're falling down is with the older kids. Because autism, when the kids get older, kind of goes into three groups. You've got a high-end, fully verbal group that ought to get a job out at Silicon Valley or get a truck mechanics job, something like that. Then you've got a mid-level group. And then you have a very severe group that might have trouble with dressing themselves. And it all has the same label. Now, when kids are little, the autistic ones all look the same. When I was 3 I had no speech, I had terrible behavior. And early education, that's where we're doing a really good job. But I've seen too many older kids that are just sort of the quirky, nerdy, different kind of kid, and they're not learning enough basic skills like shopping and learning how to work. We need to start teaching these kids how to work, starting with church volunteer jobs at around ages 8 to 11. So they'll learn how to work on a schedule outside the family. Really important thing for them to learn.
LM: Where would you like to see autism treatment? I'm thinking, for example, of the weighted blankets you developed.
TG: Well, there's a place for them. For some people it helps them to sleep. Good, use it. It helps some kids, other kids it doesn't. It depends upon the kid. You take things like weighted blankets, some of these sensory problems, you get sound sensitivity problems. So, again, a child is terrified of the hairdryer, now let the child turn that hairdryer on and off where they control it. And that will help reduce the problem with sound sensitivity if they can control the thing that they don't like, like the hairdryer or the vacuum cleaner.
LM: Are you happy with Applied Behavior Analysis? Do you feel like that is the way forward?
TG: It all depends upon how you do it. There's lots of different kinds of Applied Behavior Analysis. I like the natural kind. I do not like the old-fashioned kind. Saying do you like Applied Behavior Analysis is sort of like, do you like different kinds of dogs. There's a whole lot of different ones.
LM: When you say you don't like the old-fashioned kind, what do you mean?
TG: I don't like the old rigid stuff. I like it in a much more natural environment. And the thing is, the way people do it is so different. You've got to be careful not to drive a kid into sensory overload. If you drive a kid into sensory overload, you might as well be hitting a brick wall because you're not going to get anywhere. And there's two ways they can respond to that: screaming or they just totally withdraw and they're silent. So you have to be careful about that. And autistic kids are very different on their problems with sensory overload. Very, very variable.
LM: That's so interesting.
TG: You might be interested in my book, "The Autistic Brain." In my book, I talk about the different ways people think, the picture thinkers like me. The thing is, we need our visual thinkers. And one of the things that's become a problem is the visual thinking kids can't do algebra and that's screening them out of a skilled trade. And that's totally wrong, doing that. That's totally wrong because I can do my old- fashioned, regular arithmetic math. I can do that. But we need our visual thinkers. We need them to build stuff. We need them to fix trucks. I have found in my work building a food processing plant that the visual thinkers design all the clever equipment. They lay out the plant. And then the mathematical minds, they'll do the boilers, they'll do the refrigeration system, electric power. And then you have the word thinkers, they keep everybody from getting all mixed up. They make a whole team.
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