Temple Grandin speaks at the "Family Is Important" autism conference
Temple Grandin speaks at the "Family Is Important" autism conference in Pullman

One of the world’s most influential people is bullish on breakfast sausages and laments that kids don’t have paper routes anymore. She is NOT in favor of coddling. And as for people who conduct inadequate experiments with medication on 5-year-olds … well, don’t get her started.

“I don’t have enough swear words for what I’d like to do to them,” autism expert Temple Grandin told Washington State University faculty this month.

Moments later, she told a story that would make a 10-year-old double over with laughter. She admits to cracking herself up regularly. “My emotions aren’t complex.”

But when it comes to intellectual complexity, Grandin’s audiences are well-advised to buckle their seat belts and turn on their tape recorders. In Pullman, she spoke to nearly 500 people at the autism conference sponsored by Families Together and the WSU College of Education. The night before, a campus crowd of more than 1,000 heard her lecture.

Grandin impresses with plain talk and a mind that works like Google, pulling together related ideas from vast stores of data. At the conference, she shared information on learning challenges, nutrition, medication, career choices, parenting, teaching and animal behavior. She acknowledged the wide range of abilities represented by people on the autism spectrum. On one end are children and adults who need constant care; on the other end are high-functioning people with Asperger’s syndrome, such as Grandin.

She was full of advice, based on experience and science, for educators, counselors, students and parents. Much of it came from observing what she calls “old Aspies like me” who have worked all of their lives. Some tidbits from her torrent of wisdom about kids:

  • Make sure they get protein for breakfast to fuel their brains. “Nuke a couple of those frozen sausage links.” Oh, and “cut out the 20-ounce Cokes!”
  • Get them doing jobs that people want done, which teach responsibility, at an early age. Some examples: walking dogs  or managing a church website.  “Any job on a computer you can start teaching at age 10.”
  • If they need medication, start out with the tried-and-true drugs that have been scientifically proven and have limited side effects. Consider anti-depressants, like the one she takes, to dampen anxiety. “Fear is the main emotion of autism.” Use very small doses. “Doctors are raising doses when they should be lowering them.”
  • Teach them social skills and survival skills. “Johnny’s got to learn how to order food. Get him a debit card. He’s got to learn that when the money’s gone, the card won’t swipe anymore.”
  • Tap into their fixations. If a child draws nothing but horse heads, get her to draw a person on a horse. Then the house the person lives in. “Get them to draw pictures of people’s pets.”

Grandin urged everyone to accept the tears of people with autism, be they children or grownups.

“I had to replace anger with crying,” she said. “The geeks that cry keep their jobs. They’re not going to get by with throwing tools in the equipment room.”

For more information about Temple Grandin, see her website. For photos from the conference and her breakfast with College of Education faculty, click here.