Select Page
Dr. Temple Grandin, author and renowned role model with autism, brings inspiring messages, stories, to the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in Edinburg

Featured: Dr. Temple Grandin signed her books for fans on Monday, October 26, 2015, at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Performing Arts Complex on the Edinburg Campus. Photograph By PAUL CHOY

Clad in her trademark authentic Western wear, Dr. Temple Grandin spent the day at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley telling a rapt audience to “look at what people can do, not at what they can’t.” Celebrated in the world of autism and a renowned expert on cattle handling, Grandin signed her many books for a long line of admirers, before and after a 90-minute talk about her life with autism and how to encourage the skills of those on the autism disorder spectrum (ASD) to achieve a productive life. “I want these kids to be successful, I want them to be everything they can be,” said Grandin, who has a Ph.D. and is a professor of animal science at Colorado State University. Diagnosed with autism at age 3, Grandin began her life communicating her frustration with only screams, peeps and hums. Considered “weird” as a youngster, a mentor helped her develop a successful career as a livestock-handling equipment designer. Today, she is one of the world’s most accomplished and well-known adults with autism, and has written a number of best-selling books on that topic, as well as on animal behavior. Her life was featured in the 2010 Emmy award-winning HBO movie Temple Grandin starring Claire Danes. Grandin said her mother encouraged her artistic talents and set her on a path of learning important work and social skills. Grandin had a sewing job at age 13 and at 15 was cleaning out eight horse stalls and a horse barn daily. In college, she did career-relevant internships. And a trip to her aunt’s ranch, when she didn’t want to go, changed her life, she said. “You’ve got to stretch these kids. I’m seeing kids getting babied, they are not doing everything they can do. You’ve got to learn how to work … it creates discipline,” she said. “One geeky kid is going to Silicon Valley to work for Google and another geeky kid is playing video games while on social security, and they are the same geek.” According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a federal agency, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a federal agency. There is often nothing about how people with ASD look that sets them apart from other people, but people with ASD may communicate, interact, behave, and learn in ways that are different from most other people. The learning, thinking, and problem-solving abilities of people with ASD can range from gifted to severely challenged. Some people with ASD need a lot of help in their daily lives; others need less. ASD occurs in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups, but is almost five times more common among boys than among girls. CDC estimates that about 1 in 68 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

••••••

Dr. Temple Grandin, author and renowned role model with autism, brings inspiring messages, stories, to the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in Edinburg

By GAIL FAGAN

Clad in her trademark authentic Western wear, Dr. Temple Grandin spent the day at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley telling a rapt audience to “look at what people can do, not at what they can’t.”

Celebrated in the world of autism and a renowned expert on cattle handling, Grandin signed her many books for a long line of admirers, before and after a 90-minute talk about her life with autism and how to encourage the skills of those on the autism disorder spectrum (ASD) to achieve a productive life.

“I want these kids to be successful, I want them to be everything they can be,” said Grandin, who has a Ph.D. and is a professor of animal science at Colorado State University.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a federal agency, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a federal agency. There is often nothing about how people with ASD look that sets them apart from other people, but people with ASD may communicate, interact, behave, and learn in ways that are different from most other people. The learning, thinking, and problem-solving abilities of people with ASD can range from gifted to severely challenged. Some people with ASD need a lot of help in their daily lives; others need less.

ASD occurs in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups, but is almost five times more common among boys than among girls. CDC estimates that about 1 in 68 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Diagnosed with autism at age 3, Grandin began her life communicating her frustration with only screams, peeps and hums. Considered “weird” as a youngster, a mentor helped her develop a successful career as a livestock-handling equipment designer.

Today, she is one of the world’s most accomplished and well-known adults with autism, and has written a number of best-selling books on that topic, as well as on animal behavior. Her life was featured in the 2010 Emmy award-winning HBO movie Temple Grandin starring Claire Danes.

Grandin said her mother encouraged her artistic talents and set her on a path of learning important work and social skills. Grandin had a sewing job at age 13 and at 15 was cleaning out eight horse stalls and a horse barn daily. In college, she did career-relevant internships. And a trip to her aunt’s ranch, when she didn’t want to go, changed her life, she said.

“You’ve got to stretch these kids. I’m seeing kids getting babied, they are not doing everything they can do. You’ve got to learn how to work … it creates discipline,” she said. “One geeky kid is going to Silicon Valley to work for Google and another geeky kid is playing video games while on social security, and they are the same geek.”

She described the autism spectrum as huge and stressed the importance of early intervention, exposing children to many different experiences and broadening as much as possible the interests autistic children do have, especially as they enter high school.

Grandin said there are opportunities for people with autism at places like NASA and Google, but also in positions as welders, mechanics and other skilled trade jobs.

“There are a ton of good jobs out there. Kids who are good at LEGOS and like to build things, take things apart – those kids are those who would be good at fixing engines,” she said.

Using her own brain scans as illustrations, Grandin described how her brain operates differently from a non-autistic person. She discourages overmedication, but says that, in her case, a daily dose of Zoloft helps her cope with anxiety. During her talk, which included a question and answer session, and gave tips on helping more socially awkward and lower functioning autistic children, including the use of checklists to replace a long list of verbal instructions.

“Even pilots use check lists,” she said.

During two book signings, Grandin took time to talk with each person in line, asking about their interest in autism and who the book was for.

Rebecca Muniga, a second-grade teacher at Bryan Elementary in Mission and mother of an 8-year-old on the autism spectrum, walked away with several of Grandin’s books.

“When my son was first diagnosed, I read her books to understand what he is going through, how he sees things. And it has helped me out tremendously,” said Muniga, who said her son has come a long way using information she gained from Grandin’s book, The Way I See It.

“He was nonverbal, now he is starting to speak in sentences,” she said. “It is wonderful to see how much he has grown.”

Dr. Patricia McHatton, Dean of UTRGV’s College of Education and P-16 Integration, said Grandin disrupts traditional thinking about individuals who learn differently.

“Often, we view children from a deficit perspective or from things they can’t do, instead of the things they can do. Dr. Grandin epitomizes what it is that can happen when you view individuals from the strengths they possess,” she said.

McHatton said students and faculty from both the Edinburg and Brownsville campuses attended the presentation and would visit with Grandin in a special trip to the college later in the day. Students in UTRGV’s Student Council for Exceptional Children, a student organization with 100 members, served as ushers at the presentation. UTRGV’s Department of Human Development and School Services helped arrange Grandin’s first visit to the campus.

“Her appearance here gives our students the opportunity to meet the person they have read about. That is exciting for students,” McHatton said.

Grandin’s message brought hope to many community members, especially parents, said Lisa Becerra, a speech pathologist and alumna of UT Pan American (a UTRGV legacy institution), as well as program director for Team Mario, a local nonprofit autism awareness organization that supported Grandin’s appearance.

“Parents were amazed and in tears and extremely excited that she was here,” Becerra said. “Her message of including that child, stretching that child, having expectations of that child, goes hand in hand with Team Mario’s message.”

On Tuesday, October 27, Grandin was scheduled to speak to members of the Valley’s cattle industry and to hundreds of members of the Future Farmers of America and 4-H students, said Carlos Guerra, owner of La Muñeca Cattle Co., who with the RGV Brahman and F1 Association helped support and organize her visit.

Grandin’s visual thinking – “thinking in pictures” – led to her more humane designs of slaughterhouses.

“She has rewritten the book on how cattle are handled. Over half of the major feedlots in America today have changed their working facilities to adhere to her principles, which are working very well,” Guerra said.

For more information on Grandin’s appearances, contact Lowdermilk at john.loudermilk@utrgv.edu.

FACTS ABOUT AUTISM

A diagnosis of ASD now includes several conditions that used to be diagnosed separately: autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), and Asperger syndrome. These conditions are now all called autism spectrum disorder.

People with ASD often have problems with social, emotional, and communication skills. They might repeat certain behaviors and might not want change in their daily activities. Many people with ASD also have different ways of learning, paying attention, or reacting to things. Signs of ASD begin during early childhood and typically last throughout a person’s life.

Children or adults with ASD might:

• Not point at objects to show interest (for example, not point at an airplane flying over)
• Not look at objects when another person points at them;
• Have trouble relating to others or not have an interest in other people at all;
• Avoid eye contact and want to be alone;
• Have trouble understanding other people’s feelings or talking about their own feelings;
• Prefer not to be held or cuddled, or might cuddle only when they want to;
• Appear to be unaware when people talk to them, but respond to other sounds;
• Be very interested in people, but not know how to talk, play, or relate to them;
• Repeat or echo words or phrases said to them, or repeat words or phrases in place of normal language;
• Have trouble expressing their needs using typical words or motions;
• Not play “pretend” games (for example, not pretend to “feed” a doll);
• Repeat actions over and over again;
• Have trouble adapting when a routine changes;
• Have unusual reactions to the way things smell, taste, look, feel, or sound; or
• Lose skills they once had (for example, stop saying words they were using).

DIAGNOSIS
Diagnosing ASD can be difficult since there is no medical test, like a blood test, to diagnose the disorders. Doctors look at the child’s behavior and development to make a diagnosis.

ASD can sometimes be detected at 18 months or younger. By age 2, a diagnosis by an experienced professional can be considered very reliable.1 However, many children do not receive a final diagnosis until much older. This delay means that children with ASD might not get the early help they need.

TREATMENT

There is currently no cure for ASD. However, research shows that early intervention treatment services can improve a child’s development. Early intervention services help children from birth to 3 years old (36 months) learn important skills. Services can include therapy to help the child talk, walk, and interact with others. Therefore, it is important to talk to a child’s doctor as soon as possible if you think your child has ASD or other developmental problem.

Even if a child has not been diagnosed with an ASD, he or she may be eligible for early intervention treatment services. The Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) says that children under the age of 3 years (36 months) who are at risk of having developmental delays may be eligible for services. These services are provided through an early intervention system in your state. Through this system, you can ask for an evaluation.

In addition, treatment for particular symptoms, such as speech therapy for language delays, often does not need to wait for a formal ASD diagnosis.

CAUSES AND RISK FACTORS

Not all of the causes of ASD are known. However, there are likely many causes for multiple types of ASD. There may be many different factors that make a child more likely to have an ASD, including environmental, biologic and genetic factors.

Most scientists agree that genes are one of the risk factors that can make a person more likely to develop ASD. Children who have a sibling with ASD are at a higher risk of also having ASD.

ASD tends to occur more often in people who have certain genetic or chromosomal conditions, such as fragile X syndrome or tuberous sclerosis. When taken during pregnancy, the prescription drugs valproic acid and thalidomide have been linked with a higher risk of ASD. There is some evidence that the critical period for developing ASD occurs before, during, and immediately after birth.

Children born to older parents are at greater risk for having ASD.

ASD continues to be an important public health concern. Understanding the factors that make a person more likely to develop ASD will help medical professionals learn more about the causes. The federal government is currently working on one of the largest U.S. studies to date, called Study to Explore Early Development (SEED). SEED is looking at many possible risk factors for ASD, including genetic, environmental, pregnancy, and behavioral factors.

David A. Díaz contributed to this article.

Share This

Share this post with your friends!