Temple Grandin is a remarkable woman, an individual who has autism that has done more with her life than most typically developing people. Viewing her vast list of accomplishments, it is hard to believe that at the age of two she was diagnosed as brain damaged, which ultimately led to a diagnosis of autism. Her life has transitioned from being unable to speak until the age of four, to holding a doctoral degree in animal science, being a renowned author and a pillar in her field. Her life gives hope to the many families that fear their child with autism may never reach their full potential. Her life is a lesson of how determination, structure, and early intervention can yield great opportunity for any individual. Dr. Grandin is remarkable in another way: she is noted as being one of the few individuals with autism who can describe what it is like to live with autism. Here are some things we can learn from her:
Autism’s affect on language development and communication: Dr. Grandin describes the way she thinks as being in pictures, and having more nonverbal thoughts, as well as viewing language as a way of getting information rather than for socialization. She has mentioned the differences in the way individuals with autism process information, that some have difficulty hearing consonants and may need time to identify that words are communication, rather than the tone of voice that is used. She also recommends that, for language delayed individuals, there needs to be some form of communication available, i.e. picture boards, since the individual can easily get frustrated if they are not able to express themselves.
The importance of early intervention: Dr. Grandin often credits her progress to the early interventions used to integrate language and social skills at a very early age. Her family had a nanny that would spend time playing turn taking games with Dr. Grandin and her sister, and eventually she attended a very structured nursery school. Activities such interactive games, singing nursery rhymes and practicing turn taking will be helpful in teaching and modeling appropriate skills and social behavior. Hands-on learning is also very beneficial for individuals with autism, especially when begun at an early age.
The proper use of rewards and consequences: A consistent use of rewards and consequences should be implemented both at home and school. Dr. Grandin has spoken about how negative behavior caused by sensory overload should not be disciplined, and that it is important for parents and caretakers to be able to identify when sensitivity to such stimuli has caused a behavioral problem. She also recommends that expected behavior should not be reward; this can include good table manners, or saying please and thank you. Consequences should take away something of interest, but never something that could become a career interest. Things like TV time, or computer games are best removed temporarily as a consequence. Creating boundaries for what is expected is very important, as well as explaining why the behavior is inappropriate. This system should be unique to each individual, and should be consistent at home and at school.
If you have an individual in your family that is autistic, then the above information should give you great insight into their mind, and the most beneficial ways of integrating various life skills. Language development and communication, the importance of early intervention and the proper use of rewards and consequences all have a great impact on the individual’s development. Proper integration of Dr. Grandin’s suggestions and a concrete understanding of the individual needs of each person will be optimal in reaching that person’s full potential.