Autism advocate Temple Grandin speaks in Portland

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PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN 6) — Children with autism should be exposed to different things and learn “working skills.”

That’s what Temple Grandin said — the autism advocate spoke in Portland Wednesday night at the Tiffany Center as part of the Voices Lectures.

Grandin was the subject of an HBO movie, “Temple Grandin.” She was diagnosed with autism in the 1950’s and went on to develop a humane system for handing cattle. Grandin says her “Center Track Restrainer System” is now used by half of the large meat packing plants in the U.S. She is now a professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University.

“I got asked how I got interested in cattle. I got interested in them because I was exposed to cattle as a teenager.  I think the problem we have today…is they’re getting hung up in academics.  Kids are not getting exposed to enough different things,” Grandin told KOIN 6 News.

KOIN 6 News anchor Anne State speaks with Temple Grandin at the Voices Lectures in Portland. February 4, 2015 (KC Cowan)

Grandin recalled her work on past construction projects. “I saw a lot of guys in skilled trades. They were dyslexic, ADHD, maybe mild autism—and they were saved by the welding class. Or maybe they took a drafting class in high school,” she said. Grandin believes it’s a mistake to take “hands on classes” out of schools.

Grandin said autism has a wide spectrum. She said it can range from the “mild, geeky and nerdy to somebody who’s really handicapped.” Grandin said she believes children who are mildly on the spectrum should be stretched “just outside their comfort zone.” She believes cooking, music and art classes, for example, can be beneficial.

“The emphasis needs to be on what they can do,” Grandin told KOIN 6 News. “Also, I’m a college professor first, and autistic second. I’m seeing too many kids get hung up on their label and that becomes their whole identity,” she said.

School activities can also provide a haven from bullies, Grandin argued. As a former victim of bullying, Grandin said she found relief in activities such as horseback riding and electronics lab. “The kids that did those specialized things were not doing the bullying and teasing,” she said.

On the subject of autism, Grandin said she cannot emphasize enough: “If you have a 3-year-old or 2-year-old who’s not talking, the worst thing you can do, is to do nothing.”

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