Other People's Words

Temple Grandin talks the HBO movie

Posted in Uncategorized by Tera on February 11, 2010

This is a transcript of Temple Grandin’s first interview with the Autism Women’s Network after the premiere of HBO Films’s biopic Temple Grandin. She also talks about augmentative communication and education.

Sharon daVanport: Greetings, everyone, and welcome to AWN radio. My name is Sharon daVanport. Our special guest today is Temple Grandin. Temple will be sharing with us today and discussing her views on education, visual thinking, and the recent HBO movie about her life story, which was portrayed by actress Claire Danes. How are you doing today, Temple?

Temple Grandin: I’m doing just fine.

Sharon daVanport: Well, good. You’re out on the West Coast, I hear.

Temple Grandin: Yes. I’m out at a conference called a TED conference. It stands for “Technology, Entertainment and Design.” They have a whole big mixture of different, interesting speakers. In fact, on Friday, the day I talk, Bill Gates is gonna be in the morning session and I’m in the afternoon session.

Sharon daVanport: What exactly are you going to be addressing at this conference?

Temple Grandin: They’re very short little 18 minute talks, and I’ll be talking about visual thinking; I’m gonna be talking about developing strengths. I’m gonna be discussing some things that really concern me: taking the hands-on classes out of the schools, there’s a real shortage of good science teachers and sometimes these are the teachers that can motivate some of these kids that could end up being our next innovators and entrepreneurs.

Sharon daVanport: Right. When it comes to education, Temple, what advice would you give to educators on becoming that special teacher like [your] science teacher was in the movie that we saw? The one that was so special, and you felt was really the one that inspired you?

Temple Grandin: Well, that’s right, and in fact, Mr. Carlock got his honorary doctorate for the movie, and I get very choked up when I call him “Dr. Carlock,” because he was always “Mr. Carlock.” He was a NASA space scientist, but he also was not an accredited teacher, either.

I think to teach a high school biology class or chemistry class, they need to have a degree in biology or a degree in chemistry. I can understand taking educational courses for the younger grades, but you don’t need to have it for high school. A lot of these teachers that are really good, they’re over at the community colleges. I know a number of kids on the autism spectrum where they found their special teacher at the community college. The Dr. Carlocks are there rather than in the high school.

Just the other day, in the New York Times I read an article about high school seniors are just kind of messing around in school and they’re putting them in the community colleges and really getting them to work hard. Kids who would’ve gotten into trouble and things like that are excelling. But you’ve gotta give them interesting stuff to study. I’ve always talked about: “You’ve gotta build on the strengths.”

Sharon daVanport: I wanted to also ask you: When it comes to the educational part of what you feel is important as an autistic individual?

Temple Grandin: Well, first of all, we’ve gotta look at age. The recommendations I’d have for a three-year-old are totally different than the recommendations I’d have for a geeky, nerdy, smart Asperger kid that’s getting bullied in school, or recommendations would be different for someone that’s nonverbal. To say what would I do about education, that’s too general.

Sharon daVanport: Right. So your advice to educators is to teach to our children’s strengths?

Temple Grandin: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. You’ve gotta build up on the strengths. I’m not saying we don’t work on deficits at all, but people that are on the autism spectrum tend to have uneven skills. I was very good at anything to do with visual thinking, and that was shown absolutely beautifully in the movie. There’s a scene in there where the word “shoe” is said, and all these different shoes pop into my mind. That’s exactly how my mind works. And Mick Jackson, the director, just did a fabulous job showing how my mind works.

The weak areas—algebra. When I talk about this in conferences, I’m finding a lot of people that jump right to algebra and trigonometry, and they’re doing just fine. I never got a chance to try geometry, because I kept pounding away on algebra. And I think that was a mistake. Then another kind of kid who’s a pattern thinker—kind of a music and mathematics mind. They’re more abstract.

Sharon daVanport: Now, for those who may not know what that means, can you explain to our listeners what is a pattern thinker?

Temple Grandin: A pattern thinker would see things like mathematical patterns. And there’s a lot of patterns in nature. If you look in the middle of a daffodil, you can see how the yellow part in the middle goes in a spiral. That is a pattern, and there’s mathematics to those patterns. Think origami; think chess. That is patterns. Think music. Music is patterns of sound.

[Pattern-thinking is] a kind of a visual thinking that’s more abstract. You may see great computer programmers and musicians and engineers. Those are the kinds of jobs that they’re good at, and these kids oftentimes have trouble with reading. So they’re gonna need special ed in reading, but they might need to be five grades ahead in math. And they shouldn’t be made to do baby math, ’cause they’re gonna get bored and become a behavior problem if you do that.

Sharon daVanport: I see. Do you believe that some of the struggles that you had in high school—the incident where you got very upset at another student and ended up being expelled from that school–do you believe that was a situation just like you described? Becoming frustrated?

Temple Grandin: Well, she called me a retard, and I retaliated by throwing a book at her. High school was absolutely the worst part of my life, because of all the teasing. And there are some smart, geeky kids that actually need to be taken out of high school and maybe do it online, and go straight from being a child to being a grown-up. That happens to a lot of people in the technical field. The kids learn programming at age 10 and they just go right to being a grown-up.

I wanna say, in all seriousness, socializing with teenagers is not a life skill that I need. I think it’s very important for elementary school kids to socialize with each other. I think that’s very, very important. But even today, I go to a gas station and there’s a bunch of teenagers loitering around the door of the convenience store, I just get flashbacks to high school when I walk by. And I really like the credit card pumps, ’cause I don’t have to go in the store.

Sharon daVanport: Right. You also mentioned the other day to Katie Miller, when Katie called in on the episode that we’re attempting to get edited, you mentioned that you’re very interested in incorporating some new slides into your presentations. Can you talk a little bit about the augmentative communication?

Temple Grandin: Well, I think that’s an area where we need to be doing research. For years I’ve talked about the importance of doing research on sensory [problems]. I’ve talked about that for 25 years. Why is it taking scientists so long to start doing research on sensory? I think it’s difficult for people to imagine an alternate reality where when a fire alarm goes off, it hurts the ears.

Now, with the augmentative communication, let’s go across fields. Lots of times, breakthroughs and things happen when you go outside your field. Let’s look at the augmentative devices that are being made now for people that are paralyzed. Not people with autism—just people that are paralyzed. Like a headband that you can put on that enables you to move a cursor around on a computer to different letters.

I was just reading research the other day about people that they thought were comatose and in a vegetative state, and it turned out when they put these people in a functional MRI scanner and they asked the person to imagine playing tennis, the brain just lit right up like it was playing tennis. Or if you asked them to walk through their house, the brain lit up to match that. Then they started saying: “Okay, tennis is a ‘yes’ and walking through your house is a ‘no.’ So think of those things for ‘yes,’ ‘no.'” They could then ask the person that they thought was in a vegetative state: “Is Frank your brother’s correct name? Yes or no.” Or “You have three sisters—yes or no? Answer those kind of questions,” and they found out that they can.

Sharon daVanport: Wow.

Temple Grandin: Let’s get way in the future for augmentative communication devices. It’d be really nice to have just a band you could strap around the person’s head that would pick up brain waves and put it through a computer and they could operate the computer cursor with it. That would be getting way beyond the things you type on, and stuff like that.

Sharon daVanport: I know that John Elder Robison has shared on the radio show before that he’s been involved with some research that has to do with some devices and neurological research, and I think that’s very interesting. I think that if we’re talking about a neurological difference, which autism is, and like you said, though, it doesn’t even have to be autism. It could be someone in a vegetative state.

Temple Grandin: Well, some of the most interesting research is being done with people that are paralyzed. That’s where some of the most interesting research is being done, and a lot of money’s getting put into that by the Army because of all the injured veterans. But after I got thinking about augmentative devices, some of that same technology could be used for somebody that’s locked in from an extreme case of autism. Because Tito Mukhopadhyay, who is able to type but just in short bursts, has actually talked about a “thinking self” and a “moving and acting self.” And he can’t control the movements.

Sharon daVanport: You know, I really appreciate looking into the research and development going on in other fields, because it can cross over to people on the spectrum.

Temple Grandin: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely it could.

Sharon daVanport: So it doesn’t have to be an isolated research project. It can end up helping so many people and go across so many different lines.

**Temple Grandin: Well, if you look at this thing with the fMRI, obviously you can’t use a brain scanner as an augmentative communication device. But if there could be some way you could figure out how to pick up some of these brain patterns with some kind of an EEG device, that would be doable for something that a person could use.

Sharon daVanport:* Right. You know what I’d really like you to touch on, Temple, for our educators? You do this all the time in the talks that I have watched on YouTube. It has a lot to do with education. I’d like for you to talk directly to educators right now, and give them your input and your advice on how they can reach students.

Temple Grandin: We’re gonna have to break it down by age. That’s getting way too general. Tell me what age students.

Sharon daVanport: Let’s start with elementary school. Let’s start with the youngsters.

Temple Grandin: Okay, elementary. Let’s start with a verbal elementary school kid. Well, you take their fixations and you broaden them out. If the kid likes racing cars, let’s do mathematics with racing cars. Do pictures of them; read about famous race car drivers. If a child likes to draw pictures of racing cars, you can broaden it out. Have them draw the driver’s house; draw different tracks in different parts of the country where they take the car. Draw the trailer that they put the car in when they take it to another track. You broaden it out—make it tie back to that fixation.

One really clever teacher at Google was having kids draw pictures on Google SketchUp, and all this boy wanted to do was draw pictures of Elmo. They put an icon of Elmo on his computer to watch him drawing other stuff that the teachers wanted, and that tied enough into the fixation to get him to do other stuff that the teachers wanted. So maybe you just put a little race car on the desk that can sit there and watch him do the assignments that you want. Use that fixation to motivate.

Another thing is, it’s important for these kids to be…let’s say the kid’s good at drawing, that he not just draw race cars all the time and nothing else. My mother always encouraged me to draw other things, because when I grew up, there’s no way I could use my drawing skill in a career if I just drew the same horse head over and over and over again.

Sharon daVanport: Because we’re talking right now about the youngsters, the little ones in elementary…I’m thinking about a friend of ours in the autism community. Her name is Dana Commandatore, and she is huge on advocating for inclusive education. She’s been on the radio show, and she’s made it quite clear that she believes that it’s an individual choice on whether inclusive education’s right for—

Temple Grandin: Let’s get an age in here now, again.

Sharon daVanport: Let’s stick with the elementary school children. What do you think about inclusive involving them? Streamlining them with their classmates?

Temple Grandin: I think so much of it has to do with the particular school, and the particular teachers. You have a really good inclusion program where the child’s got an aide, it’s just great. If you’ve got a poor school, they just stick him in there, and he sits over in the corner and does nothing, then it’s no services. Let’s say some parents have chosen to homeschool their kids. The only thing I would suggest to them is: “The child needs to have a good amount of hours every week where he could do things with other kids.” I think social interaction with other kids is really important.

The other thing I always ask parents, is I ask them about how much the child is advancing. Whatever you’re doing, is the child making nice progress, like learning more words, he’s learning skills, or are you pounding on a wall?

Sharon daVanport: We as parents need to use that as our gauge, because we know our children. Is that what you’re saying?

Temple Grandin: Yeah, well I’m saying: Is the child making nice progress? He’s learning his lessons; his behavior’s improving; his language is improving; his social skills are improving—making progress. If he’s in a particular situation where he’s not making progress, then maybe you need to change it.

I just talked to a mom just an hour ago that they had their child in an intensive program with one-to-one teaching, and they weren’t making any progress. I think what was happening is the teachers were a bit too intrusive and they were putting him into sensory overload. You’ve gotta push some and you’ve gotta be gently insistent, but if you’re not careful, you can drive a kid into sensory overload and you’re not gonna get anywhere. Then they went to a different school and the child was making nice progress and learning more and more language. So much depends upon the particular teachers and the particular situation.

Sharon daVanport: You know what? I’m looking at the switchboard here. I called Dana before the show and was hoping that she’d be able to call in and speak a little bit about education, since I knew that you were going to be addressing this topic.

Dana Commandatore: It is Dana. Hello.

Sharon daVanport: Hi, Dana. How are you?

Dana Commandatore: I am well; I’m psychic. [Laughter]

Sharon daVanport: You’re psychic, right? [Laughter] How is that, Dana?

Dana Commandatore: I heard you talking, and then I called, and you mentioned my name. So it was just meant to be, I guess.

Sharon daVanport: I just love that. It’s so guru-ish in a way, but I think that is just awesome when things like that happen and fall into place.[Did you hear?] what Temple was talking about?

Dana Commandatore: I did. A couple things I wanted to say: Number one, I enjoyed the movie thoroughly. My husband and I watched it and were silent the entire time. Parts of it were extremely emotional for us, and parts of it we just burst out laughing. It was an excellent movie from beginning to end, so I’m glad that you played such a huge part in making sure that it was done accurately.

Temple Grandin: Claire Danes, she didn’t just act it. She became me in the ’60s and the ’70s, and she put a tremendous amount of work into this. I spent half a day with her. She videotaped our whole meeting. Then I sent her all these old VHS tapes and she put all this stuff on her iPod and spent hours listening to it. Then she worked with a movement coach and a speech coach, just practicing, practicing, practicing being me.

Dana Commandatore: She was fantastic. I hope she gets some recognition for this.

Temple Grandin: I hope she gets an Emmy for it.

Dana Commandatore: Yeah; I [hope?] she will.

Temple Grandin: And Mick Jackson, the director, he’s the one responsible for all the scenes in there that show how my visual thinking mind works. That was marvelous.

Dana Commandatore: There was one scene in particular where they mentioned animal husbandry, and you had the picture in your head. That reminds me of my son, completely. Somebody would say something similar to that, and you know he would giggle to himself, and I know exactly what he’s doing. He’s picturing something in his head that probably isn’t what it is in reality. There were things like that that reminded me very much of my son, so it was wonderful to watch and I thought it was excellent the way he directed it. And he did bring it to life in a way that people could possibly get a glimpse into what it’s like to be you.

Temple Grandin: Yep. That’s right.

Dana Commandatore: And I also wanted to thank you, because a few weeks ago you helped me out with some homework problems that my son was having.

Temple Grandin: Oh, okay.

Dana Commandatore: And he’s doing much better. We’ve decided, with having a very difficult time with homework, he couldn’t concentrate, he was bored to death, it would take hours for him to just add 21 plus 2, which we all know he knows the answer. So my husband, who does most of the homework with him, [my son’s] favorite thing right now is to go to the supermarket and use the self-checkout. So [my husband] takes him to the supermarket to do his homework. If he has to measure something, they measure it in the supermarket. The teacher is very receptive to him doing homework differently, and my husband’ll break down the concepts and work with him either outside of the home or…you know, to try to generalize them.

Temple Grandin: Yeah. That’s right.

Dana Commandatore: And it works really well, so I really wanted to thank you for that.

Temple Grandin: Well, good. I’m glad that’s working.

Dana Commandatore: Yeah. I also did want to comment about inclusive education, because I think for my son, inclusive education is definitely the way to go. When it comes to improvement, academically, he’s improving all the time, but socially he isn’t necessarily improving.

Sharon daVanport: Why do you think that is, Dana? Why is that?

Dana Commandatore: I don’t know. And I can’t figure out—maybe, Temple, you have some insight into this. He does not have a lot of interest in any other children. Obviously [he? you?] won’t know the answer to this, but I’m finding it hard to find it if it’s because he feels he can’t compete on a social level, therefore has no interest, or really just has no interest.

Temple Grandin: Well, I had most of my interactions with other children where something was a shared interest. Of course, in the ’50s, most of the games that were fun, like playing table hockey, you had to do with somebody else. You can’t play table hockey by yourself. So there were all kinds of board games that we played that you did with somebody else.

Then we had shared interests in all the projects that we did. I think, for me, social interaction came through shared interests. In the movie, you saw the model rockets and they were bigger in the movie. The ones we had were like a third the size of it. But you get together and you work on that. Or riding horses, that’s a shared interest, and getting ready for the horse shows. I’d work with other kids on getting ready for horse shows. That’s a shared interest, and that’s where most of the social interaction comes from.

Dana Commandatore: We still see on the playground or in—

Temple Grandin: The playground wasn’t where I socialized. I remember a fourth grade project where my good friend and I, we had an assignment to make caveman tools. I went out with my good friend and we were trying to chip rocks and tie them to sticks to make spears out of them. That was really fun. That was something I did with another child.

Out on the playground, things weren’t so good out there. But I want to encourage the activities like making crafts together. I know one time, another kid, we built a gas station out of cardboard, you know, and we did it together. And teach him how to do projects where one child might make the cars, and another child makes the garage.

Dana Commandatore: Um-hm. [Yes.] I think that’s a good idea.

Temple Grandin: You know, that gets into the shared interests.

Dana Commandatore: Well, I think, unfortunately we found out…Sharon, nobody’s gonna like this, but we found out two weeks ago that he’s also being bullied by one kid, in particular at school.

Sharon daVanport: Yeah, that’s gonna tug at me, really big, yes. I have a child that’s gone through that as well.

Dana Commandatore: And what’s happening is this child is, obviously, he’s calling him a “baby” and other names like that, because even though he’s seven, developmentally, he’s probably more at a four-year-old level. But what is really disturbing is the fact that he…as you were talking about sensory issues before, Temple, this child knows how afraid he is of loud noises or sudden noises, so he’s clapping his hands really loudly in front of his face and his ears.Hopefully this has come to a stop now, because I made a huge fuss over it.

Temple Grandin: Well, one of the things that the teachers did with me when I was seven was, on the days that I wasn’t in school, the teacher explained to the other kids how they had to help me and not be tormenting me. The elementary school wasn’t too bad for me. High school was absolutely awful. They called me “bones” and “tape-recorder” and “workhorse,” and the worst places were the cafeteria and, like, walking between classes.

Dana Commandatore: And in bathrooms, too, I would imagine. See, that’s my biggest fear. Part of me doesn’t wanna send him, or put him in those situations. But I don’t know. Sometimes I think about homeschooling and then figuring out a different social component.

Sharon daVanport: I’ve thought about that too, as well, Dana. You know, I [thought?] about that a lot.

Dana Commandatore: Yeah. Financially, it’s difficult for me to do that.

Temple Grandin: Well, I think that one of the things the teachers need to do is take this boy aside and explain to him why he shouldn’t be doing that. Sometimes that works.

Sharon daVanport: But sometimes that doesn’t work, though.

Dana Commandatore: This is a child, I think, who has his own emotional problems and isn’t necessarily treated well himself. So he shows no remorse whenever he is punished for what he’s doing. So it’s a difficult situation.

Temple Grandin: That is a difficult situation, and I don’t think that, at least in my little elementary school that had twelve kids in the classroom and an older, experienced teacher, there wasn’t any kid in my class that did that kind of stuff when I was in elementary school. High school, there was a lot more kids, and there were kids that did that kind of stuff to me.

But the thing that was interesting is, the kids that were interested in horseback riding and things like that were not the kids that teased. The kids that teased were not particularly interested in any of the special interests.

Sharon daVanport: Now, Dana, I would like for you to share with Temple and our other listneres the special interest that little Michelangelo’s interest and where he goes every weekend.

Dana Commandatore: If you ask him what he wants to be when he grows up, he says: “A scuba diver.” So every weekend, we go to the aquarium in Long Beach, in California where we live. And he spends every Saturday morning face-to-face with sharks and scuba divers between a piece of glass and just stimming off of it. He absolutely loves it. It’s our kind of moment of Zen every week. He’s obsessed with sea creatures, especially sharks.

Temple Grandin: Well, why don’t you get him reading about sharks, and do math with sharks?

Dana Commandatore: That’s how I think we’re gonna start doing with his homework, is just turn everything into sea creatures or different animals for him to work with. He’s so into everything with scuba diving and sea creatures, that I always think that when he grows up he’s gonna invent a way for people to swim underwater just by taking some sort of tablet, or do something. [Laughter]

Sharon daVanport: Well, if he has time. He is gonna be, you know, vice-president with Ari. Or maybe even president. But for sure vice-president, right, when we get Ari Ne’eman to run. [Laughter]

Dana Commandatore: Exactly. But he absolutely loves sea creatures. It motivates him more than anything, to the point where he was calling me “Mama Killer Whale” and our dog, which is a Great Dane, “Sister Killer Whale” today.

Sharon daVanport: Well, that’s what you’re saying, Temple, isn’t it? You’re saying to make for sure that we tap into those special interests that our children have.

Temple Grandin: Well, tap into that. He can read all kinds of books about whales and about sea creatures. You can calculate the speed of how fast…If a killer whale goes how many miles per hour, how long would it take for him to go 20 miles?

Dana Commandatore: You’re right. ‘Cause word problems, he does have some issues with, so maybe if we did them all in sharks—

Temple Grandin: Word problems all in sharks and whales.

Dana Commandatore: Yeah. That’s an excellent idea.

Sharon daVanport: Dana, you said that you were very silent, you and your husband, during the movie. What did you walk away with? If you had to name one thing that you walked away with from the movie, what was that?

Dana Commandatore: I think what it was to me is that, in this day and age when it comes to autism, so much of it is about the parents and how difficult it is for families to deal with autism. And what I came away with from that film was not that it doesn’t have anything to do with the families, but it reminded me that it’s all about the individual person.

Watching Temple overcome everything, her mother was way ahead of her time when it came to so many aspects of helping her and pushing her through, but Temple did it all herself. And it just reminded me, and that’s what I want people to see. It’s not these sad parents that have to go through all this stuff—it’s these wonderful children that work harder than anybody I know to thrive, and they do it all on their own. It’s amazing.

Temple Grandin: Well, but I’ve gotta give Mother credit for keeping me out of an institution, and she always pushed me. I originally was afraid to go to my aunt’s ranch and she said: “Two weeks or all summer. You’re gonna go.” She was always pushing me to do things. Ann was another very important mentor, and of course, my science teacher. And there were people out in the industry that were helpful. If I hadn’t had the science teacher, I don’t know what I would have ended up doing, because he motivated me to study.

Dana Commandatore: It is wonderful, and there’s all these people. But a lot of times, I think in the media today, you always have these “warrior”-type mothers who do everything. I think when you’re a mother and you have a child, regardless of whether or not your child has special needs, that’s just the type of mother I think that all mothers should be. You should always be pushing your children and helping them develop.

Temple Grandin: One thing that [unknown] the ’50s and Mother really pushed me on was the manners. I am just horrified. I see some really smart kids on the spectrum, and they go into a store and pull the merchandise off the shelf and mess up a store. You can’t take them shopping. Well, I never messed up a store. There were rules in stores. You don’t go behind the counters; you don’t touch stuff unless you’re actually gonna buy it. Those were the rules.

Dana Commandatore: It’s true. I think it is a different generation, and certain things matter. But there is an amount of respect that you have to teach children—that they can’t go into other people’s homes and destroy things, and…You shouldn’t destroy your own home, obviously. But we’re definitely lax…we teach him to say “please” and “thank you” and to answer somebody’s question, or to acknowledge it.

But I also would teach him to self-advocate for himself: that if somebody’s talking to him and he can’t handle the conversation, or doesn’t feel like talking, I’ve taught him to say: “I’m sorry, but I don’t feel like speaking right now” instead of saying “No!” and running away.

Temple Grandin: He can say that: “I can’t hear with all the background noise. If we wanna talk, we’re gonna have to go somewhere quieter.”

Dana Commandatore: Right. But he’s seven now, and I don’t think he can think that.

Temple Grandin: No, he’s only seven.

Dana Commandatore: So I just try to get him to say: “No, thank you. I don’t feel like talking now.” And hopefully that will evolve into…You know, he’ll tell me things now. I’ll say I want to go to a specific store, and he’ll say: “I don’t wanna go there.” And I’ll say: “Why?” And now he’ll say: “There’s too many people there,” which is huge insight. He never used to be able to say that, and now—

Temple Grandin: That’s the sensory overload.

Dana Commandatore: Yes, and I have to be just as respectful of that as I respect him to be respectful of other people.

Temple Grandin: Well, a thing on the sensory issues is they’re very variable. One kid’s gonna have a problem with flourescent lights and seeing them flicker; another kid’s gonna have problems with smells in the detergent aisle; another kid will have a lot of sound sensitivity, and it’s very variable. One thing on sound sensitivity: a lot of loud noises are a lot easier to tolerate if a child initiates the sound. And one way to help de-sensitize is to maybe put it on a recording device at a real low volume, and then gradually, the child turns it on louder and louder.

Sharon daVanport: Temple, the movie really touched on your visual thinking, and we talked a lot about how AWN has received a lot of e-mails and correspondence just fascinated by how they portrayed the way your visual thinking is expressed. Now, with Dana on the line, I’d like to hear from you, Dana: Is that how your son also thinks? Is he a visual thinker?

Dana Commandatore: Yes, he is a visual thinker. Definitely. That’s why there’s a lot of things in the movie that reminded me…I have no idea what his “genius level” as I call it is. I would never say that he could figure all these things out, but there’s so many things that were similar to you, Temple, in the way that he pictures things. I think everything he does is pictured in images or in patterns that he pictures. I don’t know if he necessarily has pictures, but there’s patterns.

Temple Grandin: Some kids are a pattern thinker. I talked about this earlier. I think in photorealistic pictures, just like the movie showed. But there’s other people that it’s more mathematical. It’s patterns. A lot of these kids are really into math; they’re into music. Now at age seven, you’re still a little bit young to see these thinking patterns emerge. Third or fourth grade, that’s when you really, really will know it for sure.

Dana Commandatore: Well, see, before he was a year old and before he was diagnosed—he was probably about 11 to 12 months old—he picked up a block with the letter lowercase “p” on it, and he held it one way and went “puh.” Held it another way and went: “buh.” Then held it like a “q” and went: “kuh.” And he was able to take this letter and see it in every direction.

Temple Grandin: Did the block have different letters on different sides of it?

Dana Commandatore: Yes.

Temple Grandin: Okay. So he’d look at the “p” as in “Paul” and go: “Puh,” and the “b” as in “boy” and go: “Buh.”

Dana Commandatore: No. He would take the lowercase “p” and turn it so it looked like a “b” and then flip it so it looked like a “q.”

Temple Grandin: Oh, I see.

Dana Commandatore: He couldn’t say words, so he’d just say the pronounciation of it. And I know when my husband and I looked at each other and said: “This kid is so smart, but he can’t say a word.” We just couldn’t figure it out. It took a while, but he’s always been able to think like that.

We sat on an octopus toy, that had different-colored tentacles and it had different notes. My husband sat on it once, and [my son] said: “I hear red.” And then we’d be like: “Oh, it was red.” And then we would do another one behind our back: “I hear purple. I hear blue. I hear orange.” So he has an incredible memory for a sound or smell or an image.

Temple Grandin: Well, that’s sensory-based. You see, the thing is, it’s not word-based. The words for me just describe the pictures that are in my head.

Dana Commandatore: I can understand that, ’cause I don’t think words matter to him.

Sharon daVanport: Well, isn’t he into languages? How many languages is he learning right now? This is amazing, Temple. You’re gonna like this. How many languages?

Dana Commandatore: Yeah. He’ll put on DVDs and change the language in them—like little kid DVDs—so he’s learning seven different languages right now. And he could write out, perfectly, the Russian alphabet, and he could do Hebrew; he could say it perfectly and pronounce it. So he can do the alphabet and cout to 20 and do basic vocabulary words in seven different languages.

But like Temple said, I don’t think the words really…he just has a very good memory. He can see that, and he can—

Temple Grandin: And he likes the patterns.

Dana Commandatore: And it’s easy for him to learn different alphabets.

Temple Grandin: How’s he doing on arithmetic?

Dana Commandatore: Fine. He’s always been able to do basic math. Like I said, word problems in math are difficult for him, but I think that’s a different issue.

Temple Grandin: Well, word problems, the problem I have is figuring out what formula you might use. When I tried to take a physics class, you have force equals mass acceleration. I could do the formulas, but then to try to figure out which formula went with which problem, that’s where I had a problem. And I think I’d have to approach it from a bottom-up method, where like: “Okay, there’s six different ways I can do the formula around,” and then sit down with a tutor and categorize the problems by which formula would go with what types of problems, and then be able to figure out by taking many specific examples: “Okay, problem with the formula done the firat way, this list of problems. And this list of problems over here, you do the formula another different way.”

The bottom-up approach, I think I could finally learn it that way, by taking the “Force equals mass acceleration,” that’s one. Then you can change the formula around a different way. Then that’s another list of problems, and then start looking for patterns in them.

Sharon daVanport: I could be wrong, but it sounds like Michelangelo is quite a pattern-thinker in some ways, but very visual in others. What would you say to Dana on [unknown] those?

Temple Grandin: You can have kids that are mixtures of pattern and visual thinking. Just keep building up on his strengths. Just build up on the things that he’s good at. He’s still pretty young at seven. When I was five, my art ability definitely didn’t…I can remember some Valentines that I painted when I was five, and there was nothing good about them at all. They were just typical little kid’s scribbly poster-paint pictures. But fourth grade, that’s when I sculpted a beautiful horse that Mother was really proud of.

So he’s still pretty young. I read an article in the New York magazine about IQ testing in four-year-olds, and I would agree that’s just ridiculous. That’s just too young to see where the strengths are gonna be.

Dana Commandatore: Well, he’s been tested every which way possible on a million different areas, ’cause my school district was telling me that cognitively, he has issues, and I said: “No, I don’t believe he does. I think it’s behavioral.” And they were trying to put him in special ed, and I said: “If you really believe he has cognitive issues, then you should test him.”

Temple Grandin: Well, first of all, “cognitive issues” is way too general.

Dana Commandatore: Exactly.

Temple Grandin: Where does he have a problem? Like, for me, one of my problems is sequencing. I cannot handle long strings of verbal instruction. I simply don’t remember that. I cannot multitask. But there’s a lot of high-level professional jobs that absolutely do not require multitasking. If somebody is doing graphic arts or they’re doing computer programming, they’re sitting there alone doing that work and they’re not multitasking.

Dana Commandatore: He actually loves to multitask. If he can get his hands on four computers, which, in our house, we have that, he will get all of them, put different things on, and pay attention to all of them.

Temple Grandin: Well, that’s something I wouldn’t be doing. [Laughter]

Dana Commandatore: It’s pretty funny to watch. I actually have a video; I should send it to you, Sharon. I think you’d get a kick out of it.

Sharon daVanport: Is he doing that?

Dana Commandatore: Yeah, yeah. We gave him a disc set of four different DVDs of sharks, different episodes of different things, and he put them all on and he was monitoring them. It’s pretty funny. He’ll sync up two computers to start at the same time, so it’s pretty funny to watch.

Temple Grandin: Well, the thing is, if they’re all photographic, movie-type DVDS, putting all those computers on would be like all the aquariums at the aquarium, and he’s just looking at all these different pictures of many different things. He’s trying to replicate the experience at the aquarium, I think is what he’s doing there, because they’re all movie DVDs. He’s not putting up four computers worth of reading DVDs or math DVDs.

Dana Commandatore: No. You’re exactly right; he’s creating a 360 view, almost like he would at the aquarium. You’re completely right.

Temple Grandin: He’s recreating the aquarium, is what he’s doing. I don’t think that really is multitasking, unless he was doing arithmetic videos on four different computers at once.

Dana Commandatore: You know what? You’re 100 percent right on that. That is true. The one question I’ve always wanted to ask you, Temple, too, is: How do you feel about the concept of the neurodiversity movement?

Temple Grandin: Well, I think there’s definitely some value to recognizing different kinds of minds. If they made everybody the same, there’d be a lot of creative people we’d be losing. I’m really concerned about a lot of these smart, geeky kids that are getting into crime and drugs and things like that ’cause they don’t have a Mr. Carlock to get them motivated. They’ve taken the shop classes and the welding classes and the art classes out of a lot of schools. Those were the classes that would really get some of these kids turned on.

There’s different kinds of minds. I’m gonna be talking about this at the TED conference on Friday. Different kinds of minds are good at doing different kinds of things, and we need to be nurturing different kinds of minds.

Dana Commandatore: What TED conference?

Temple Grandin: The TED conference in Long Beach that’s going on right now, and it’ll run through Saturday.

Dana Commandatore: I didn’t realize you were gonna be there. I live right near there; I need to go. [Laughter]

Temple Grandin: Well, I’ll be on Friday afternoon. Bill Gates is gonna be on in the morning, so why don’t you show up Friday? It’s the TED confeence in Long Beach. I’m at the Long Beach Hyatt, and it’s in the theater complex, right near the hotel.

Dana Commandatore: Yeah. I know exactly where it is.

Sharon daVanport: Are they allowing people to videotape? Dana, you so have to—

Temple Grandin: No. They won’t allow people to videotape, but they are gonna put all of the lectures up on their website for people to look at for free.

Sharon daVanport: Dana, you’re gonna have to blog about this.

Dana Commandatore: I am, yeah. I’m definitely going. I knew that the TED confeence was going on, but I had no idea you were speaking there, so that makes me really happy.

Temple Grandin: Yes, I am speaking there, yes. That’s why I’m here in LA right now.

Dana Commandatore: Oh! I’m in LA! [Laughter]

Sharon daVanport: RethinkingAutism.com.

Dana Commandatore: Yeah, I have a controversial website. [Laughter]

Sharon daVanport: Hey, you now what? ‘Cause they consider it that, but you know, Dana, it serves a great purpose because to be rethinking autism is what it’s all about. It’s taking that first step. Just like Temple said, there is a need to include all these different kinds of thinkers and people who have these neurodifferences. That’s what I take away from RethinkingAutism.com.

Temple Grandin: Well, I’m very concerned. One of my big concerns is, I’m seeing too many smart, quirky, geeky kids that get a label of Asperger’s or high-functioning autism, and I’m seeing them get too much of a handicap mentality. One time, I was at an autism conference, and a 16-year-old comes up to the book table with his mom, and the mom wants to put him on Social Security Disability payments ’cause he’s not social. The kid had a super-high IQ and he was in the Midwest, and they didn’t know what to do with this geeky kid. And they said: “Well, there’s nothing to do with him in the Midwest.” And I said: “Well, yeah, there’s feed yards. There’s all kinds of farming stuff. There’s all kinds of interesting things.”

And that really concerned me. If that kid had been out on the West Coast, they’d pull him into the computer industry or if he’s out in Kansas or someplace like that, there might be some farmer who’d get him interested in fixing tractors, and he’d have a career, a good life doing that.

But I get concerned about they’re not doing anything to develop them. Yes, they’ve gotta have social skills. The thing is, you can teach social skills. But there’s a social-emotional relatedness that they’re probably never gonna have. You can’t de-geek the geek, and don’t even try. The happy geek is the one that’s got lots of interesting things to do, and that’s me. I’m geeky as they come.

Sharon daVanport: [Laughter] Dana, do you consider little Michelangelo a geek at this point?

Dana Commandatore: Yeeeah. I think his father is a little bit more of a geek than he is, at this point.

Temple Grandin: What does your husband do for a career?

Dana Commandatore: My husband is a voiceover artist and an actor. It’s kind of funny, if you really know him.

Sharon daVanport: Go ahead. Everyone should hear this; this is great.

Dana Commandatore: About my husband?

Sharon daVanport: Right. Because the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. Michelangelo is his son. [Laughter]

Dana Commandatore: No. He is. They’re very, very similar people. They can relate to each other very interestingly. My husband works in an industry where he’s given lines, and he memorizes them really well. They’re so similar.

But my husband is much more social and, obviously, he’s not diagnosed with anything. But he’s able to explain things to my son better than I would, because he knows how to break them down, to teach him how to tie his shoe or to do things like that.

Temple Grandin: He gets into the sensory detail. One of the things I find talking to a lot of parents, and even talking to people in animal behavior programs, they’re too general. Like the first question you asked: “What would you tell educators?” Well, I’d tell educators something different about four-year-olds or elementary school kids or high school kids. I’ve got a slightly different message for each group.

Or someone’ll say: “Oh, well my kid just goes berserk!” I’m like: “Well, what do you mean, ‘he goes berserk’? I’ve got to keep asking enough questions, until I can make a videotape in my mind of what this child’s doing, and then I can give you a suggestion. Like, when you were talking about all these computers that your son was turning on. Then when I found out that he was loading these computers up with movies showing sharks and all kinds of sea life, I then saw him with all the computers around him, and I go: “Oh! He’s recreating the aquarium!” That’s not multitasking.

Dana Commandatore: Yeah, and it would take somebody that thinks the way that you do to figure it out, than somebody like me who just sees…I just think he’s multitasking and doing it.

Temple Grandin: If he was doing four math programs all at once, perfectly, that’d be multitasking. He’s not doing that.

Dana Commandatore: That would be different. But he’s excellent at doing that. My son doesn’t melt down or freak out. He definitely has things that are overwhelming, sensory-wise, and sometimes he’ll either pinch me or do something if he’s in a situation that he’s very uncomfortable with, and we’re obviously working on that and trying to stop that. He doesn’t do anything to really hurt himself, but sometimes he’ll do it to me or my husband, or he’ll come over if he’s, like, super-excited and smack us really hard on the back or do things like that.

But he doesn’t freak out or melt down, especially in public. He knows very well…like, we give him headphones, that he could just cover his ears and walk away or do something along those lines.

Temple Grandin: When I was a really young child, I could be taken out to really nice restaurants [unknown] because I liked going to nice restaurants. I knew that was a grown-up privilege, and fortunately, back then in the ’50s, most of the restaurants were quiet. There’s a lot of urban, modern restaurants now that are loud, and a lot of hard surfaces. The restaurants we went to were fairly quiet. And then I’d ask for lime sherbert with strawberries on it for dessert. I’d always ask them if they had that, and they would oblige me to that.

Sharon daVanport: [Laughter]

Dana Commandatore: “Oblige”—I like that.

Temple Grandin: I realized that was a grown-up privilege, to do that, and I behaved.

Dana Commandatore: Yeah, he loves restaurants, especially sushi restaurants, of all places. He doesn’t actually like sushi.

Temple Grandin: Oh, yeah. Expensive adult tastes, there.

Dana Commandatore: Exactly. But he’ll sit there, and he’ll sit in restaurants with us, as long as he…He doesn’t eat a huge variety of foods. He likes what he eats, and he’s good with it. He doesn’t have any stomach issues or digestive problems. I don’t know; I could be way off base with this, but I think my son, my husband and I are very accepting of who he is, and we’re not really trying to change the core of who he is. We let him stim when he likes to stim. If he jumps up and down and tightens his fists, you can tell he’s happy. I think that’s something he needs to do.

Temple Grandin: I was allowed to have an hour after lunch, where I could stim. And then, there’s some places you really can’t do it. I was doing a talk last night, and I was very, very tired, and this lady was in the front row rocking. I have a problem with screening out rapid movement. So what I got to do was I jiggled my leg up and down, and it shows that in the movie. Well, jiggling the leg up and down’s underneath the table. It doesn’t distract other people.

Dana Commandatore: Right.

Temple Grandin: Or you can have some little ball you can have in your hand. I have a friend that’s got Tourette’s, and he has a tic, but he moves his tic to where it’s just wiggling his eye, and nobody even knows. It doesn’t bother anybody. He moved his tic around to where it was a tic that wasn’t annoying. It wasn’t a vocal sound; it wasn’t saying something rude. It’s very hard to get rid of tics, but you can move them to something that’s, most people wouldn’t even notice it.

Dana Commandatore: Yeah, he’ll stim off a bunch of different things. Like, sometimes, he’ll do it off…I can’t tell if it’s…With his speech, you’ll get a lot of “uh, uh, uh, uh, ” and you don’t know if he’s stuttering because he’s nervous, or he likes it.

Sharon daVanport: So maybe he likes that sound. Maybe he likes to hear what he’s saying.

Dana Commandatore: Yes, he likes the repetitiveness.

Temple Grandin: I used to tell stories to myself at night in bed, and just laugh, and laugh and laugh. I was allowed to do that because I was alone in my room. I was not allowed to do it at the restaurant.

Dana Commandatore: Exactly. When he’s by himself, when he’s in his room, we let him…he can do whatever he wants.

Temple Grandin: That’s the same way it was with me. When I had my time off in my room, I could do all these stimming things, and twirl this brass thing that was on the bedpost. But when we’re at a restaurant or at Granny’s for Sunday dinner, I wasn’t allowed to do that. After the dinner was over, I was allowed to run up and down the fire stairs once. That was something I liked to do.

Dana Commandatore: Right. And he loves to swing; we have a swing set in the back yard. And he goes back there, and he’ll spend a good half-hour swinging super high and closing his eyes and tilting his head back.

Temple Grandin: Well, I did that too. And there’s a place for doing that stuff, and there’s a place for not doing it.

Dana Commandatore: Right. The best thing that we’ve done recently is, we got a dog, and it’s become one of his best friends.

Temple Grandin: That’s wonderful. That’s just wonderful. The thing I have found on animals is that for some kids, it’s absolutely the best thing. And then for other kids, it doesn’t work, because the kid’s afraid of the dog because of its bark. It hurts their ears, and you never know when it might bark. Or the child might not tolerate the smell of the dog. So for some kids on the spectrum, a dog is absolutely the best thing you can get, and for another kid, it’s not.

Dana Commandatore: Yeah. And my son just, he drives the dog crazy, and the dog’s really good with him.

Temple Grandin: What is he doing to the dog to drive him crazy?

Dana Commandatore: She’s a Great Dane, so she has short hair. He’ll pull out a few pieces of her hair. He loves that feeling on his skin, and then he’ll press it agaist his skin. But then he’ll get right up to the dog’s face and—

Sharon daVanport: Are you talking about the little conehead dog? That picture you have when she had surgery?

Dana Commandatore: Yes. She just had emergency surgery.

Temple Grandin: So he pulls hair out of the Great Dane.

Dana Commandatore: He pulls hair out of the Great Dane, and then pushes it against his skin, because he loves the feeling of…

Temple Grandin: But the Great Dane doesn’t like having the hair pulled out.

Dana Commandatore: Well, the Great Dane doesn’t necessarily care.

Temple Grandin: Oh, okay. Maybe it’s just loose hair that’s coming off. If he brushes her and gets loose hair, that’s fine, but to just yank it out, that’s…

Dana Commandatore: No. It’s like he figured out how to do it. He slowly puts pressure on his grip, until he could pull three or four hairs out at a time. And then he’ll get up to her face really close and stick his hand in her mouth. Thank goodness she doesn’t do anything about it. But there will be times when she’s not feeling well, or if she’s tired…

Temple Grandin: I think he ought to be learning not to put his hands in the dog’s mouth. I think that he’s gotta learn the right behaviors for around a dog.

Dana Commandatore: Yeah. She’s very tolerant, and we’re lucky, as we’re trying to teach him not to do that.

Temple Grandin: Yeah, because if some other dog is not tolerant, it would be bad.

Dana Commandatore: It would be disastrous, yes. He doesn’t really have a fear, and he talks to me: “What if I went in a shark’s mouth? What if I did this?”

Temple Grandin: Well, a shark would eat him if he went in a shark’s mouth.

Sharon daVanport: My child does that, Dana. He says that–he’s like: “Can I try that?”

Dana Commandatore: It worries me, though, sometimes.

Sharon daVanport: And then he tels me things now that he’s older that he did when he was Michelangelo’s age that I’m so glad I didn’t know at the time. I would’ve had heart failure. I’m in my heart attack years now. It’s like: “Please don’t tell me, okay? It’s in the past.” I cannot believe some of the things he did, because if there had been a shark that he could have put his head in, he would have.

Temple Grandin: Well, you know how I learned about those danger sort of things? Mother hired a nanny when I was three that taught me a lot of things like turn-taking games and things like that. One day, we were out for a walk, and there was this squirrel squished on the road. Absolutely flat. And she said to me: “That’s what would happen to you if you got hit by a car.” Then that made me understand. I know that sounds kind of gruesome, but it made me understand why traffic safety was so important, and why you had to look both ways before you cross the street—because I didn’t wanna look like a squashed squirrel. Obviously, it was never gonna come back alive again.

Dana Commandatore: Well, that’s one thing that worries me a lot about him. My husband right now is trying to teach him action and reaction. Like with a dog: his action of getting in the dog’s face, the dog nips or barks or says something. We’re trying to teach him that sometimes for every action, there’s a reaction. Parking lots, we always have to hold his hand to keep him close to us. He’s not a runner, but—

Temple Grandin: Well, I understood the danger of cars after I saw the dead squirrel, and it was a flat and dead squirrel. It was very obvious that it could never come back to life again.

Dana Commandatore: So then, maybe we need to show him something in those terms.

Temple Grandin: I know that sounds really disgusting, but that is how I understood, when I was his age. I was about seven when we just happened to see it. We were out walking and it was used as a teachable moment, that if a car runs over you, you’re gonna be like that squirrel.

Sharon daVanport: So it was a visual moment for you, a visual reality. Is that what you’re saying?

Temple Grandin: That’s right. You’re obviously not gonna be alive if you’re made flat.

Dana Commandatore: Interesting.

Sharon daVanport: Well, Dana, we could just go on forever.

Dana Commandatore: Yeah, I could talk to you forever and ever. But, Temple, I’m going to come see you on Friday afternoon. I work and live in Los Angeles, and I’m going to speak at the Pac Rim Disability Conference with Ari and Jim Sinclair.

Temple Grandin: Okay, I hope I see you at the TED conference.

Dana Commandatore: Yes. I will be there, and I will try to make a point to come and say hello. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate all of your insight, and you sharing with everybody.

Temple Grandin: Then I’m gonna have to leave right after the session ends in the afternoon to make an 8:00 flight.

Sharon daVanport: Dana, before you go off the air with us, can you tell everyone when that speaking engagement with Ari is going to be?

Dana Commandatore: It is going to be at the Pac Rim Disability Conference, but it’s in Hawaii. I believe it’s on April 12—Monday, April 12. But you can go to the website.

Sharon daVanport: Oh, wow! Hawaii?

Dana Commandatore: Yeah. Very excited.

Sharon daVanport: Okay, well, I might have to strap myself to the tail-end of the plane. [Laughter]

Dana Commandatore: I think that would be a fabulous idea. But I’m gonna talk about how basically accepting your child’s autism is the first step towards helping improve their quality of life.

Sharon daVanport: Wow.

Dana Commandatore: Well, thank you so much.

Sharon daVanport: Well, thank you, Dana, for calling in, and for being a part of the show. I really appreciate the questions that you had.

Dana Commandatore: It was great, and thank you so much, Temple.

Temple Grandin: Okay. Good to talk to you.

Dana Commandatore: You, too. Bye.

Sharon daVanport: Bye-bye, Dana. Okay. Well, Temple, that was some really good information there. Dana has had a lot of challenges with the school system for her son.

Temple Grandin: Lots of people do. Lots of people do. The thing I find as I travel around the country, people ask me: “Should it be public or private?” What I’m finding is, so much depends upon the particular school, the particular teacher, the particular principals. That’s more important than whether or not it’s public or private. And I’ve found that in these rural communities, that some of the small rural schools actually do a really good job. They’re smaller and they’re less beaurocratic, and sometimes they work out really well.

Sharon daVanport: Temple, you know, I’m a parent of a child on the spectrum. What can we as parents do to advocate for our children in an effective way? Oftentimes we get so emotional during IEP meetings, because of the frustrations. What is your advice to us?

Temple Grandin: Well, I think one of the things to do is, you don’t wanna get into a shouting match, a screaming match, where you’re calling each other names, and then you say well, you’re gonna start suing and things like that. I think one of the things, before you go in there, you need to figure out what exactly do you want to ask them to do, and write it down. If it’s some problem at the school you wanna state very clearly exactly what you think the problem is.

Now, sometimes, you can just get into personality clashes, and that can happen anywhere. It can happen at work; it can happen with the next door neighbors. You can sometimes get just a personality clash that’s just sort of horrible. But other situations, if people could just calm down and discuss calmly what the problem is.

I think one of these things, before you go into these meetings, is calmly, very calmly. You want your cortex, the upper part of your brain, to be in control. And to think very calmly and non-emotionally and very logically about what you wanna ask them to do.

And then, unfortunately, I saw a really bad situation with a good friend of mine. This happened, actually, it was at a private school. And there was this teacher that didn’t like her son, and she was very mean to the boy and they ended up having to go to a different school, because this teacher and this kid, they hated each other. It’s a horrible thing to say.

One other thing you’ve gotta figure out. Sometimes it’s horrible personality clashes, and then sometimes, it’s just misunderstandings, and if people would just calm down. Then you’ve got some schools that are really horrible—so much of it gets back to the principal and to particular teachers.

Sharon daVanport: Right. I’m thinking of a friend of mine—her son was voted out of his kindergarten class.

Temple Grandin: Oh, I know of a kid that that happened to, and he was punching other kids and stuff. He went to another school where they had a much more structured discipline, and then he was fine.

Sharon daVanport: [My friend’s son,] it was not his fault. And from my perspective, what I see, it’s the lack of understanding on some educators. It’s just not where maybe it needs to be. And so that’s where I’m hoping that we as parents can realize that we’re such a vital, important part of the educational plan for our children.

Temple Grandin: Well, the other problem is, some educators are very rigid, and they just can’t understand the sensory issues. There are some kids that absolutely cannot tolerate 60-cycle flourescent lights. In fact, that’s one of the single worst environemntal things in the schools. Now, gradually, there’s getting to be electronic ones that have a higher cycle rate, which should solve the problem.

But if you’ve got a school with the old-fashioned flourescents, for some kids with autism, dyslexia and some other learning disorders, the whole room is flashing on and off like a discothèque. How are you gonna expect a kid to study? It’s just not gonna happen. I’ve got a dyslexic student that just spaced out when she got into that kind of situation.

Sharon daVanport: How was she able to overcome that?

Temple Grandin: Well, she would wear a hat. You see, in college, the classes weren’t all in the same room. So she didn’t have to tolerate the worst room for the entire day. She had to tolerate it for one 50-minute lecture. If she would’ve had to tolerate it for the whole day, she would’ve been in trouble.

Colored glasses can sometimes help—the Irlen colored lenses, where you try on different pale colored glasses. That sometimes helps quite a bit. I know a lot of people have been helped by that. If there’s windows in the room, get over by the window. Another simple thing you can do is get a lamp with a 100-watt old-fashioned incandecent bulb in it, and put that next to your desk, and then wear a hat. That can sometimes solve the problem.

Sharon daVanport: Well, Temple, I wanna give you a chance to mention who you would like for our listeners to thank. I believe that you were indicating that the best way to get a hold of Mick Jackson is probably through the HBO website.

Temple Grandin: Yes. That’s what they’d have to do. Mick Jackson picked out Claire Danes. The reason why he picked her out was he’d seen her do a reenactment of the Andrew Wyeth painting “Christina’s World,” which is a painting of a lady that’s crippled. Claire Danes dragged herself across the street in New York like she was Christina, and then Mick decided that she’d be the one. Then, of course, Claire Danes, she became me. She didn’t just act me and learn the lines—she became me.

Sharon daVanport: Wow. Every time you say that, I really hear it in your voice that it is so sincere. And I don’t oftentimes hear that whenever I’m flipping through the channels or reading a magazine about someone doing a review of a movie and they’re disappointed. It’s nice to hear that you are able to say: “Listen, this is my story.” And that’s what you’re saying—am I right, Temple?

Temple Grandin: Well, that’s right. Now, obviously, of course, it’s a two-hour movie. They have to switch some events around and do some time compression of events. But the movie was absolutely true to character, and the major events that happened in it happened.

Sharon daVanport: Right. Wow. So, okay, we’re gonna send a shoutout now. Now, when we were on Twitter the other morning, I just wanna let some of our listeners know who may not be aware, that Temple is going to be coming on to Twitter via me giving the messages or whomever else that she knows that is on Twitter. We’re going to send messages out and Twitter. And I had a really good time the other morning, and I’m going to be sending you and forwarding you all of the messages from everyone, okay?

Temple Grandin: Oh, well thank you very much.

Sharon daVanport: Yes, and everyone enjoyed the time that you spent on Twitter the other morning. They really did.

Temple Grandin: Well, good. I just wanna help people out there, and one thing I’m really pleased about the movie is I think it’s gonna be very educational for a lot of people.

Sharon daVanport: Right. And those of us on Twitter and a lot of other people, if it’s a day that you wanna go on, I’ll send your way a lot of different names of people who are on Twitter. A lot more than even me.

Temple Grandin: Well, I’m probably just so darn busy. One of the reasons I could talk to you today is I had an afternoon off in the hotel room. [Laughter]

Sharon daVanport: We’ll get you back on Twitter again, and the Twitter community, the autism community really appreciated that, and get some other people to Twitter for you as well, and just try to get your message out there, Temple. You have a lot to share with everyone, and I know—and I’m speaking as an autistic female—that I want to sincerely thank you, Temple, for sharing your story.

Temple Grandin: Well, thank you very, very much.

Sharon daVanport: So many of us, especially in our generation, were hesitant to really…I’m not so much anymore, but I know so mnay of my friends are, who are close to our age, hesitant to share our stories for many different reasons. In fear that it will be held against them, whether it’s employment or custody issues.

Temple Grandin: Another big issue with me is employment. I’m seeing too many smart, high Asperger, high-functioning autistic individuals not getting jobs. And I have another little book called Developing Talents, which is just about careers and jobs.

The thing is, I go out in the technical world, I see all these people that are 40 and up that are definitely undiagnosed Asperger’s, and they have jobs. And then I’m seeing too many kids today that aren’t getting jobs, and one of the reasons they’re not getting them is they never learned any job skills. When I was 13 years old, I was working for a seamstress. I worked in a research lab; I went out to my aunt’s ranch; I was building things, and I was learning job skills.

And I’m seeing smart guys, and they’re graduating from college. They’ve never delivered a paper; they’ve never walked a dog; they’ve never done any job thing. And that’s a gigantic mistake. And they’re having problems with basic stuff like showing up for work on time. I was taught when I was eight years old how to use an alarm clock.

Sharon daVanport: Right. Well, I believe that there’s so much to do, isn’t there, Temple? So much to do.

Temple Grandin: Yeah.

Sharon daVanport: I again wanna thank you for taking this time out of your schedule to do this last minute interview while you’re out there on the West Coast. I wanna thank Dana for calling in and being able to chat with you about some ongoing situations with her little guy. If you can let everyone know: Have you found out when the movie might come out on DVD? You had mentioned the other day that it might be the spring.

Temple Grandin: It might be the spring. I don’t know. They have it split up into different departments. There’s something on the HBO website, where you can sign up so they’ll send you an e-mail when it comes out on DVD, but the soonest would be spring—the absolute soonest.

Sharon daVanport: Okay. Well, Temple, again: thank you for sharing your story. Thank you for continuing to share your story. I sincerely mean it. You are a voice for so many of us, because we don’t have that platform to to be able to show and share with the world what our world is really like. It was a beautiful movie. You know me well enough to know that I’m not a flatter queen. I truly mean that, and I know that other people, when I forward you the Twitter stuff, especially, you’re gonna be so happy. So many people were so sincerely grateful to hear you over on Twitter, and to hear the comments that I was able to and felt very honored to Twitter for you.

Temple Grandin: Well, I certainly appreciate that.

Sharon daVanport: Yes, and we’ll do it again. And I know you’ve got to get to your dinner engagement coming up soon. You’ve gotta get ready for that.

Temple Grandin: That’s right.

Sharon daVanport: We’re almost done with the show here, but we’re gonna do this again soon, okay?

Temple Grandin: Oh, okay. Well, thank you so much for having me.

Sharon daVanport: Okay. Thank you, Temple. Have a good night. Goodbye.

Temple Grandin: Goodbye.

Sharon daVanport: Okay, everyone. That was Temple Grandin, and another shoutout to Dana Commandatore. And a special thanks to Temple again for sharing her story, especially on the educational issues that so many of our children and so many of our families and parents…just everyone involved in the autism community truly struggles with. It’s something that we need to find solutions for. Let’s work together, everyone, let’s find some solutions, let’s come together.

I know there’s one person on Twitter I want to send a special shout-out to, and that is TannersDad. I tell you what. Everyone on Twitter knows TannersDad. And even though a lot of us have differents points of view, there’s one thing that TannersDad does. He truly advocates for trying to bring the autism community together. I’m hoping that everyone will really understand that we will never really get anywhere unless we come together and work on solutions.

So with that, I’m gonna say a happy good night, good day, good morning, good evening, wherever you are in the world. It’s been a pleasure. This is AWN radio, and we will be coming to you again very soon; I’ll be posting our next show, which will be tomorrow, actually, so I’ll have to get busy later tonight on posting it. It will be with Mark and Heather from The Examiner, and they will be our special guests. We had some technical difficulties with them just the other day, and we’re gonna make it up to them. They’ve been just very gracious about the technical difficulties. Thank you again, everyone, and hope everyone has a lovely, lovely rest of your week. Good night.

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2 Responses

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  1. Adelaide Dupont said, on February 15, 2010 at 7:32 am

    First of all, I’m really glad there’s a new transcribery site.

    Second, I like what Grandin said about community colleges/vocational education.

    Third, great points about some of the differences between personality clashes and misunderstandings.

  2. […] daVanport: She explained that well on the last-minute show that we had to do. She did speak about pattern thinking. So when you say “pattern thinking,” […]


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