Temple Grandin: Autism Is Not My Identity

The following essay was written by Dr. Temple Grandin exclusively for TakePart.

I live in two worlds. 

One day I am visiting the engineering campus of a university, and the next day I am at an autism conference. What I have learned from this is that many technical and creative people are often undiagnosed autism spectrum, Asperger, dyslexia, or have learning problems. Many of these successful individuals are aged 40 and older. They are in good jobs, and they have succeeded because their sense of identity is as a statistician, artist, computer programmer, musician, engineer or journalist. 

This is similar to me. I am a scientist and college professor first and a person with autism second. Autism is an important part of me, and I do not want to change, but my career is my identity, not autism.

More: Temple Grandin Reveals Her Advice for Educating Autistic Kids

I get concerned when young kids come up to me and all they want to talk about is “their autism.” I would rather talk about their interest in animals, science, or history. They are becoming their label.

Wide Spectrum Difficulties

Special education teachers have a difficult time because developmental disorders are such a broad spectrum. At one end of the spectrum, there are individuals who are not going to be able to go to college or go into high-level careers, and at the other end there are highly capable individuals.

What worries me is that I see too many smart children becoming their label and not succeeding.

Often teachers have a harder time working with a brilliant child with Asperger’s because they have no training in the complex subjects the child is interested in. What worries me is that I see too many smart children becoming their label and not succeeding. Then I travel to a major tech company and I see all the old people with Asperger’s, ADHD, or dyslexia holding good jobs. 

Steve Jobs probably was an Asperger, and I see too many Steve Jobs Jrs. not attaining the achievements they could be attaining.

Free Resources Online

There are a lot of free classes online in all kinds of fields. Some of the best websites are Khan Academy, Coursera, Udacity, MOOC and free classes at MIT and Stanford. The local community college has lots of classes in computer-aided drawing, auto mechanics, welding, electrician, and many other fields. There are some good free drawing programs online, such as Sketchup.

We need to tap into the vast pool of retired people to get the kids who are quirky and different turned on to their gifts. Retired artists, professors, engineers, and other professionals could mentor these students.

Related Stories on TakePart:

After Her Daughter's Autism Diagnosis, Impassioned Mom Creates a Special Needs School

Special Education in the U.S. Has a Long Way to Go—Here’s What Schools Can Do About It

Boy With Autism Fights for His Right to Attend Local Florida School

Dr. Temple Grandin’s achievements are remarkable because she was an autistic child. She was motivated to pursue a career as a scientist and livestock equipment designer. Temple lectures to parents and teachers throughout the U.S. on her experiences with autism. She was honored in Time magazine’s 2010 “The 100 Most Influential People in the World.”