by Jacob DC Ross
I was recently privileged with the chance to interview Dr. Temple Grandin, the world’s foremost autism advocate. She spoke with great insight about the issues facing parents with children on the Autism Spectrum. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
JR: You are one of the more dynamic figures on the spectrum; do you have any new or upcoming projects that you’d like to speak about?
TG: Well, I’m always working on new projects in livestock I find on the autism front I keep on learning more and more. And one of the things that I’m really talking about now is getting kids when they’re like 12 and 13 years old, to learn work skills. We’ve got to find replacements for the paper route so they can learn that discipline of having a job. Maybe they can walk dogs for people, mow lawns, work in a farmers’ market or work in some neighbor’s store. Just figure out some paper route substitutes.
JR: In your 2010 TED Talk, you mentioned that, as a child, you benefitted from being taught manners.
TG: Manners and taking turns. I was taught taking turns with board games and manners were taught at every meal.
JR: Would you have any advice for parents who are concerned or who are having issues with teaching their children manners?
TG: What you do is real simple. Let’s say the child is chewing with his mouth open. Instead of screaming “No!” or something, you just say, “Chew with your mouth closed.” Just calmly give the instruction. If we were in the supermarket and I grabbed candy off the shelf, Mother would say “We’re not gonna buy candy today. Put it back.”
JR: There are several autism awareness initiatives that are run mainly by neurotypical individuals. Their focus is on finding a cure for all types of autism.
TG: I tell folks that if you found a cure for all types of autism, when your computers break you’ll not know how to fix it. When the internet goes down, there’ll be no one to fix it. That’s what I tell them.
JR: For our readers, could you please clarify your specific views on degrees of autism cures?
TG: The thing is, autism is very variable and that goes all the way from the people out in Silicon Valley, famous artists and things like that, to very fairly handicapped people, with maybe epilepsy on top of autism and other medical issues. They probably have three or four different syndromes in the autism label. So how did they all get an autism label? When the kids are three years old they all look the same.
JR: Would you then advocate a greater variety of tests and more parental involvement to make sure that the child gets the exact intervention that they need?
TG: I tell dads that if you’ve got a two-year-old or a three-year-old that’s not talking, the most important thing you can do is 20 or 30 hours a week of one-to-one teaching with an effective teacher. Turn-taking games, ABA—whatever you want to do—you can do literal response, you can do Greenspan you can do Sunrise program, I don’t really care what you do. What’s important is that 20 or 30 hours a week, that one-on-one with an effective teacher that gets progress. What is progress? Eye contact, language, learning how to take turns, learning how to do stuff, learning how to eat. You need to be working on them.
JR: You were asked a question at the end of your TED Talk about what you would tell an autistic child’s parent about, about their child’s love for them.
TG: Well, they’re going to be loyal. In a fire he’s going to save you. He’ll be loyal.
JR: Is there anything that you can say that would perhaps help parents to understand the emotions that their children may be feeling but not necessarily able to vocalize?
TG: Well, they have emotions, but they’re simpler. They are simpler. I can be happy, I can be sad, I can be angry. I’d like to control anger; I’d like to totally turn that off. I cry when I get upset.