Autism advocate: Students with autism should break out of comfort zone


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Temple Grandin thinks in detailed pictures.

In high school, she said, most of those pictures revolved around animals.

"I noticed that animals noticed a lot of things we don't notice," she said.

Grandin's unique perspective led to her success designing cattle facilities. Today, more than half of the cattle facilities in the world follow her guidelines for humane livestock handling.

And, as a professional with autism, she serves as a motivator for others.

Grandin, a world-renowned author, animal-science professor, and autism advocate spoke to hundreds gathered Wednesday night in the IMU, challenging those in the audience to "think about different ways of thinking" when educating those with autism.

Autistic children tend to fixate on certain objects or ideas, the advocate said. And often they fixate on their own autism.

"When I was a kid, all I did was make pictures of horses," the animal science professor said. "Hook into whatever that fixation may be, broaden it out, and it might turn into a career."

Grandin encouraged parents of autistic children to stretch their students' limits and place them outside of their comfort zone. Early intervention is the key to success, she added.

"I don't like when 9-year-olds walk up to me and tell me about their autism," she said. "I'd rather they tell me about their science project or a poem they wrote."

Catherine Medovich, an information and referral specialist for the Autistic Society of America, said people who have autism look to Grandin for inspiration.

"She helps parents set the bar higher for their own kids," Medovich said.

Medovich also said Grandin is equally recognized as an expert in livestock handling as she is in the field of autism advocacy.

"She happens to be the foremost expert in the world about designing cattle equipment," Medovich said.

And Grandin, named one of the Time's 100 Most Influential People in 2010, used her love for animals to fuel her career as a facilities designer.

Mark Deesing, animal behavior and facility design consultant for Grandin Livestock Handling System, Inc. said he and Grandin first met to complete a research project in 1993 and have been working together ever since.

"Our facilities are all geared toward using animal behavior principles," Deesing said. "They ensure low-stress handling."

For example, Deesing said all fences are designed solid instead of see-through so cattle cannot be startled by movement outside the facility.

"Sometimes the most obvious thing is the least obvious," said Grandin about the company's attention to detail in caring for livestock.

Deesing said Grandin is a "wealth of information" — one could ask her anything, and she'll know a little bit about it.

"She's a very unique human being," the consultant said. "She looks at things different than other people."

A film based on Grandin's life was released in 2010. Grandin said she was happy with the way HBO depicted the pictures she sees in her mind.

"Situations are very important when working with people with autism," Grandin said. "To understand something in the future, I have to relate it back to the past."

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