Temple Grandin's Advice on Educating Children with Autism

The key to helping kids with autism succeed in school is to stay positive and focus on building their strengths, according to Dr. Temple Grandin, a scientist, inventor, and educator who also has autism herself.

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"Special educators need to look at what a child can do instead of what he/she cannot do," she writes at Take Part. "An emphasis on deficits should not get to the point where building the area of strength gets neglected."

After Grandin was diagnosed with autism in 1950, her parents were told that she should be institutionalized. Now a successful author, inventor, designer, and teacher with a bachelors degree in psychology and both a masters degree and a Ph.D. in animal science, she says that it is important for parents to look past the labels and discover what skills a child really has. In Grandin's case, her talent was art.

"I heard about sad cases where a teacher forbids an elementary school child to draw pictures," she writes. "If a teacher had stifled my art ability, I would have never become a designer of livestock equipment. Half the cattle in North America are handled in equipment I have designed for the meat plants. I think that this is a real accomplishment for a child that some people thought was mentally retarded."

Since kids with autism tend to fixate on certain things, adults need to help them expand that fixation and use the skills they gain in different ways. It's the first step in helping kids on the spectrum learn to lead independent lives.

"If a child likes to write, he/she could start doing writing assignments that would interest other people," she points out. "A middle schooler could be given the job of updating the program on a church website or writing for a neighborhood blog. He has to learn that racing cars is not an appropriate topic for this purpose. Learning how to use abilities to do assigned tasks is essential."

"I heard a sad story about an art student who got straight A's in an elite art school, but he lost a job because he did not want to waste his time doing his employer's stupid bird graphics," she continues. "A job requires work, and if the employer wants stupid birds, then he should draw really good stupid birds. Then he should put them in a portfolio and get a better job doing more interesting things."

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