Many of our kids have disabilities, and it’s absolutely essential to focus on their abilities, rather than hyper-focusing on their inabilities. That’s easier said than done, of course, but it’s crucial. It helps to have some inspiring stories to keep us motivated and hopeful. Here’s one.
Dr. Temple Grandin did not talk until she was three and a half years old, communicating her frustration instead by screaming, peeping, and humming. In 1950, she was diagnosed with autism and her parents were told she should be institutionalized. She tells her story of “groping her way from the far side of darkness” in her book Emergence: Labeled Autistic, a book which stunned the world because, until its publication, most professionals and parents assumed that an autism diagnosis was virtually a death sentence to achievement or productivity in life.
Dr. Grandin has become a prominent author and speaker on the subject of autism because “I have read enough to know that there are still many parents, and yes, professionals too, who believe that ‘once autistic, always autistic.’ This dictum has meant sad and sorry lives for many children diagnosed, as I was in early life, as autistic. To these people, it is incomprehensible that the characteristics of autism can be modified and controlled. However, I feel strongly that I am living proof that they can” (from Emergence: Labeled Autistic).
Even though she was considered “weird” in her young school years, she eventually found a mentor, who recognized her interests and abilities. Dr. Grandin later developed her talents into a successful career as a livestock-handling equipment designer, one of very few in the world. She has now designed the facilities in which half the cattle are handled in the United States, consulting for firms such as Burger King, McDonald’s, Swift, and others. Dr. Grandin presently works as a Professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University. She also speaks around the world on both autism and cattle handling.
As part of NPR’s “This I Believe” series, Dr. Grandin explains how autism actually helps her solve problems that others cannot.
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