Linda Clark-Borre

"The World Needs All Kinds of Minds"

02/16/2012 21:50

Noted author and speaker Temple Grandin spoke earlier today to an audience gathered at California State University, Chico. Unfortunately timing was a bit off for me. I am currently in Ukiah, CA, where more than half my agency’s mission/work is located, and so missed her lecture, which dovetails neatly with my work as advocate for individuals with autism and other developmental variances.

Here’s the local news report on details of the talk, which I found interesting on several levels, including her references to cattle behavior (she's an agricultural expert as well as authority on autism).  I’ve mentioned the cattle in the field in front of my house, and I swear, they appear to be getting more relational to me by the day. Example: this friendly cow who was my sole greeter the other morning, who’d inexplicably let the herd press on without her that day.  


If you have time after looking at the details of the event today, listen to Temple Grandin's inspiring presentation on on another crucial topic -


In the meantime, via reporter Jeffrey Mitchell, here are details of today's talk:



When a young child is diagnosed as autistic, parents must move into high gear, Temple Grandin said in Chico Wednesday.

"The worst thing you can do is nothing," she said.

Grandin, who is autistic herself, is famous as an animal-behavior expert and as an advocate for people with autism.

An author and professor of animal science at Colorado State University, Grandin spoke twice, to large audiences, in Chico State University's Bell Memorial Union Auditorium Wednesday morning. She also was to be the keynote speaker at the Butte County Farm Bureau's annual banquet Wednesday evening.

In her talk on autism, Grandin said young autistic children who are non-verbal should have a teacher working with them intensely from an early age.

They need "at least 20 hours weekly of one-to-one teaching," she said. "Get them engaged. Build on their strengths."

Autism is "a range of complex neurodevelopment disorders, characterized by social impairments, communication difficulties, and restricted, repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior," according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Grandin said autistic people have major abnormalities "in the circuits that connect different parts of the brain."

She talked about some of the ways autistic people experience the world differently from how most people do.

In part, autism is "a sensory processing disorder," she said. "Kids block their ears because certain sounds hurt."

They may hear sounds fading in and out "like a bad mobile phone connection," she said. "They may not hear the first half of what you said. Some kids repeat whole YouTube videos, but don't know what they mean."

Many hate fluorescent lights because they experience their flickering like the flashing of a strobe light, she said.

When she was in high school, she said she was taunted with names like "tape recorder" because she would repeat the same phrases over and over.

"I realized my thinking was different when I asked people to visualize church steeples," she said. "Most people get a vague picture of a steeple. I would see many pictures of lots of steeples."

Thinking visually and noticing things in great detail give her certain advantages, she said. "The autistic mind is into details. I see what the cattle see." She explained that cattle are sensitive to (and sometimes frightened by) small elements in their environment which most people wouldn't even notice.

Grandin said her way of thinking also leaves her with certain deficits. For example, she can't remember more than three steps, and so she had trouble with word problems in math.

She said she has to learn all concepts from specific examples. For instance, when she had to learn the Lord's Prayer, it was hard for her to understand the last part about "power and glory." She understood by picturing an electric tower and a rainbow, she said.

Grandin said she's pained by the fate of some autistic people who may be "geeks" but are bright and talented.

"While one goes to work for Google and another works for Disney, a third is in the basement on disability," she said.