Temple grandin an inspiration on how to welcome autistic people into our community
|Montreal Gazette 20 Apr 2017 at 07:02|
Famous both as an animal sciences professor and as a speaker on autism, she started her presentation with pictures of Edison and Einstein, both of whom are thought to have been on the autism spectrum. She went on to speak about herself and, in particular, about how she had had to learn about her condition and to find ways to succeed in life. She pointed out that it is possible to work around many of the problems associated with autism. The main thrust of her presentation, however, was to talk about the things thathad enabled her to make best use of her strengths. She explained how she saw the world in pictures and how she was able to focus on a problem and pay close attention to detail. She illustrated her points by describing the cattle handling facility design work she has done, as a proponent for the humane treatment of livestock slaughter. She said she felt strongly that mollycoddling young people with autism was not the right approach to bring them to their full potential. She said they should be encouraged“to order their own McDonald’s” and to make their own discoveries about how to do things in the world.
Autism is an invisible condition. Autistic people do not look different from neurotypicals (people who are not autistic) but they see and experience the world very differently. Temple Grandin published a book on The Autistic Brain. In it she reviewed and discussed what is known about the way in which it differs neurologically from a neurotypical brain. She spoke about this in her presentation. Autism is a developmental variation. It is not a disease that needs treatment. Knowing that the condition varies enormously from person to person, and even from time to time in the same person, has led to the current way of thinking of it as the Autism Spectrum. Autism is not as uncommon as was once thought. Reader, if you look around, knowing some of the characteristics of the condition, you will probably recognize its features in people you have met. Affected individuals may seem eccentric and unusual and they may not have good social skills but they tend to be smart, honest, dependable, highly focused and fantastic at problem solving. Not only Edison and Einstein, but many other leaders in the arts and sciences, and in medicine, engineering, technology, politics and many other fields have been suspected of being on the autism spectrum.
Temple Grandin is an amazing example of what can be achieved when autistic children are encouraged to explore the world, make their own discoveries and develop personal talents. Her privileged upbringing was very different from that of most of her peers, who were either being institutionalized or ‘treated’ in the hope that there was some way to ‘cure’ them. Temple Grandin has shown the world that it is not only possible for autistic people to succeed, but that they can rise to the top. She has written and talked about many of the things that can be done to help autistic children adapt, advance and work around the difficulties thatcome with the condition. In her book Different …. Not Less she writes about a variety of people who have found gainful employment despite being autistic: a retail employee, a freelance artist, a real estate executive, a dancer/choreographer, a veterinary surgeon, a ‘techie’ and others.
Many in society are vaguely aware that there are eccentric ‘techies’ working in the computer industry. Most, however, are unaware that they are surrounded by many others in the everyday world. Sadly, statistics indicate that only about 15per cent of autistic people are employed. What a waste of untapped potential. Autistic adults, even those at the lower end of the spectrum, have many sought-after strengths. In addition to being scrupulously honest, reliable, detail-orientedand having amazing memories, they have different and unique perspectives and great problem solving abilities: attributes highly valued by businesses in a wide variety of fields, not just the computer industry. A friend told me that she looked for someone “on the spectrum” if she needed a person to do a job for her because she knew it would then be “done right.”
It is known that Microsoft recognizes and uses the untapped potential of autistic adults. There is an increasing number of other companiesthat also have the confidence to employ autistic people.
Specialisterne, a Danish based specialist recruitment company, uses the special talents of autistic people to gain competitive advantage in software testing, programming and data entry. Specialisterne operates in numerous locations around the world and employs large numbers of autistic people. It is happening here, in Calgary, too. The 2016 Calgary Chamber of Commerce Community Impact Award was won by Meticulon, a company which creates meaningful employment opportunities for autistic people. Unlocking the potential of this virtually unknown segment of the community can lead to countless unexpected advantages for forward thinking businesses, but tapping this resource also means adjusting to the different way in which autistic people interact socially.
Companies need to increase their compassion bank and have an enhanced level of tolerance and acceptance to accommodate autistic workers. For instance, instead of criticizing a social gaff, make a buffer by drawing the autistic person into conversation. Try saying something like ‘That was weird. What made you say that?’ Asked in an encouraging and non threatening manner, this will allow him/her to safely discover, and manage, a social error he/she may never have otherwise understood. Many find they are richly rewarded by getting to know autistic people and by peeking inside their unusual and colourful minds. They frequently have amazing knowledge about fascinating subjects. All you have to do is ask. Readers, have you ever been dissatisfied at the way a job was done for you? If so, next time be bold and have confidence. Try looking for a person who might be on the autism spectrum, and consider asking him/her to do it for you.
April is Autism Awareness Month. Vaughan Bowen is a Calgary physician with a family member on the spectrum.