I met my hero
May 6, 2013
by Jenni Sebora

Last week, I felt like a teenager going to a concert to see their favorite star, like Justin Bieber or One Direction. I attended the annual Minnesota Autism Conference in Minneapolis Wednesday evening. The world-renowned keynote speaker was Temple Grandin, Ph.D.

I bought her newest book, “The Autistic Brain, Thinking Across the Spectrum,” by Temple Grandin and Richard Panek. A book signing by Temple occurred immediately after my purchase. She signed my copy. This will remain a treasure of mine.

Temple is a hero. In 2010, she was literally named a hero.

Grandin was listed in the Time list of the 100 most influential people in the world, in the Heroes category.

And I sat right in front of her as she gave her keynote speech.

Dr. Grandin is one of the world’s most accomplished and well-known adults with autism.

She is an American doctor of animal science, and a professor at Colorado State University. She has authored several best-selling books, which have sold more than 1 million copies. The HBO movie based on her life has received seven Emmy awards.

Temple, as we call her, was born in 1947, when autism had just been named. She had no language until she was about 5.

Actually, she had a lot of receptive language, but her expressive language was null. She said, she just could not get it out. She was easily overstimulated, quick to anger and isolated, but her mother worked hard to help Temple emerge with all of her creativity and intelligence.

Her mother sent her to good schools when doctors initially told her Temple should be institutionalized. Her mother knew better.

Through Temple’s journey, she earned a doctorate degree and is a professor of animal science. She is a beloved public speaker. There were people who believed in her.

Temple will say that she obtained her great success, not in spite of autism, but because of autism, and will also say that it is because of the love, support, and gentle insistence of people she had in her life – her mother and some teachers.

Today, about one in 88 children are diagnosed on the autism spectrum. Our thinking of it has also undergone major transformations. We have moved from looking at it in the realm of psychology, to neurology and genetics. There is new, groundbreaking research into causes and treatments.

In Temple’s newest book, she writes from the forefront of autism science in her perspective.

Grandin introduces neuroimaging advances and genetic research that link brain science to behavior. She shares her own brain scans, to show which anomalies might explain common symptoms.

In her book, as well as at the conference, she highlighted sensory issues and the transforming effects that people with autism can have by treating autism symptom-by-symptom, rather than with a general umbrella diagnosis.

Temple shared how her mind works. She has an innate ability to “think in pictures,” which helps her solve problems that neurotypical brains might miss.

She would not want to be without autism. She would not have the strengths she does without it.

Early intervention is essential, as well as loving people to work with children with autism. This is vital, Grandin noted.

Children, as well as adults and teenagers on the autism spectrum, have to be nudged to keep learning new skills. However, pushing too hard can cause sensory overload and no progress. Grandin stressed that a good teacher is gently insistent.

I have read many of Temple’s books and writings, and what will forever stick with me is Temple’s conviction that raising and educating kids on the autism spectrum is not a matter of focusing on weaknesses; rather fostering strengths and unique contributions. I love this. This is what we should do with every child.

I am now on to reading my hero’s newest book. I am sure I will enjoy it, as well as learn something new.

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