Temple Grandin at the Autism Society of America 2014 Meeting

I had the opportunity to catch up with Temple at the Autism Society of America (ASA) 2014 Meeting celebrated at Indianapolis. We had planned to discuss sensory and mood related issues in autism, the focus being on a potential clinical trial using the squeeze machine as an intervention and electrophysiological indices (e.g., heart rate, galvanic skin response) as outcome measures. Our meeting was arranged by Steve Edelson (http://bit.ly/1nFKj9B) and joining us was Margaret Creedon (http://bit.ly/1A5jy7c). Both Steve and Margaret have a special interest in further developing the use of the squeeze machine as a potential therapeutic intervention for anxiety in autism and have written some of the earliest scientific articles on the subject.

While at the ASA meeting I attended Temple’s plenary lecture and a panel discussion. Most of what Temple had to say has already been published in several of her books. The following paragraphs summarize the main point of her presentation. I could not attend to all of it, as a medical emergency ensued in the auditorium and I tried to provide some assistance.

Temple’s main focus in her lecture was about the importance of early intervention. She said the worse thing to do, is to do nothing! Teach autistic kids how to take turns as well as manners. Limit video games and TV each day (not more than 1 hour per day). Try to promote social interaction by expanding on things of their interest. In her case, Temple gained social interaction skills when she joined a rocket club. Promote environmental enrichment. Temple believes in the necessity of teaching experiences that are shared by multiple senses. Look for good mentors who can work with your autistic child.

In regards to autistic adults, she expressed a need for finding jobs and being productive. “Learn about real stuff! Business can’t find enough car mechanics”’ said Temple. Sell your work, not yourself! Get your portfolio to somebody who can appreciate the same, target an individual for the presentation. Take your portfolio with you in your cell phone.

If you already have a job, ask your boss for specific goals and work outcomes. Maintain a correct distance between people. Demonstrate correct greetings. Try to look for a workplace with incandescent lights, quiet, and consider taking breaks to calm down. Temple also called to take advantage of many resources on the internet like: Khan Academy, EdX, Wolfram Mathematics, etc.

I think the best part of her presentation was the question and answer period when she was able to quickly dissect problems brought to her by parents in the audience. All her recommendations were constructive and followed common sense. After we left her presentation, Temple was variously accosted by interested parents who wanted to take a photograph with her or have her book autographed. Temple was extremely cordial to all of those who approached her.

I am thankful that Temple considers me her friend and has cited my work in several of her books. I do not agree however, in her recent generalization of autistic individuals as gifted. Her alliance with the neurodiversity movement lay claims for a small percentage of autistic individuals. Mood disorders, seizures, and sensory problems handicap a large percentage of patients with autism. When facing an individual with any of the latter symptoms medical treatment is necessary and should be prioritized.

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Figure: For the past couple of decades our group has made individual efforts to publicize the importance of sensory abnormalities in autism. During the Autism Society of America 2014 we had the opportunity to come together to discuss further work in regards to the squeeze machine. From left to right: Temple Grandin, Margaret Creeson, Steve Edelson, Manuel Casanova, and Emily Williams

3 responses to “Temple Grandin at the Autism Society of America 2014 Meeting

  1. I wholeheartedly agree with you in regards to the neurodiversity movement. It is really unfortunate that a small, but vocal minority speaks against research into possible treatments and cures. Most individuals with autism are not savants and instead require constant support in their everyday lives. It is so frustrating that some of our biggest hurdles in public awareness and being taken seriously come from the least affected within our autism community.

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  2. Temple Grandin’s claim that anyone can just be an automechanic 1-2-3 or that obsessions can be turned into marketable skills is a simplistic solution to the hard problems of autistic unemployment. Very few professions exist where one can just take a portfolio of work and show it to an employer. If you don’t have experience in the profession you are probably not going to be skilled anyway. As a nearly 59-year-old man on the spectrum who worked sporadically for nearly three decades I know well the hardships that face those of us in the spectrum who try to work. The neurodiversity movement is absolutely despicable, it is unbelievable they are embraced by the government and various developmental disabilities organizations because they have some noisy people, but i guess there’s nothing I can do about that.

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    • I think that many people make comments from their own viewpoint without having had the experience of interacting with the broader population of autistic individuals. The problem reminds me of the way research is funded by the NIH, where they fund projects based on institutions and facilities to individuals who have had no contact with autistic individuals or human patients to start with. A lot of misinformation is spread this way.

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