Temple Grandin's Practical Approach for Educating Autistic Children Runs Counter to NCLB "Science"
Ohanian Comment: Read this article and weep for how far NCLB drives classrooms from the simple precepts Temple Grandin suggests, precepts that should be honored for all children. Contrast her humanistic advice with the "science" decreed by NCLB.
Dressed in a gold Western-style shirt, blue jeans and red scarf, Temple Grandin looks like the owner of a dude ranch, and her straightforward manner also evokes the rugged West.
Grandin, 56, designs facilities for handling livestock and is an associate professor of animal science at Colorado State University.
Although Grandin has a neurological disorder called autism, she earned a doctorate in animal science from the University of Illinois in 1989.
Her practical approach to educating autistic people, detailed on the last day of a convention of the Autism Society of America, drew a standing ovation yesterday from nearly 1,000 people at the Westin Convention Center hotel, Downtown.
"We've got to build on talents. There's way too much emphasis on disability," Grandin said, adding that she knows many autistic people who are happily employed as photographers, computer technicians, graphic artists, engineers and in other fields where visualization is an important skill.
About 2,000 people attended the conference, which drew researchers, government officials, health care providers, people who have autism and their families. Autism is estimated to affect up to 1.5 million Americans, according to Rob Beck, executive director of the society.
Autistic people who are successful, Grandin said, developed their talents early in life with the help of parents, teachers and mentors who guided them through high school and college.
Grandin, who compares her brain to a computer's hard drive, said she continues to add images to it all the time.
"Being a visual thinker is like having movies in your head," she said, adding that she had art lessons at an early age.
"Drawing is what I do for designing. That's how I use my visual thinking," Grandin said. "I keep learning new things. I've got enough images on my hard drive that now I can really think!"
One of her first livestock projects was designing a cattle-handling facility at a feed lot in Arizona. Before completing her design, Grandin said she looked at every kind of crate and pen used to house animals.
Grandin also realized that a livestock facility's orientation to the sun would affect cattle because they are frightened by high contrasts of light and dark or objects that move suddenly.
"It took me six months to download that plant information into my brain," she recalled.
Autistic children younger than age 5, Grandin said, need at least 20 hours of stimulation each week so that they do not withdraw and regress. When Grandin was 2 1/2, she said, her parents hired a nanny to keep her mind and senses engaged.
Autistic children also should be taught to type on a computer keyboard as soon as possible.
"They've got to learn that words have meaning. Computer games -- I'd like to throw them all in the ocean," Grandin said. She insisted that typing on a computer keyboard can also help an autistic child improve hand writing.
Whatever a child is interested in should be used to educate them, not reward them, Grandin said. If a child is fascinated by trains, for example, their math problems should involve various numbers of trains.
Some autistic children's problems are sensory and loud sounds or too much visual stimulation can frighten or overwhelm them.
To determine if that's the case, Grandin said, "do the Wal-Mart test. If Wal-Mart makes him have a screaming fit, your child may have sensory problems. Microphone feedback just blows out their ears. It hurts like a dentist drilling into a nerve."
Grandin said she is surprised by the types of behavior that some parents tolerate in autistic children. She said she has seen autistic children eat mashed potatoes with their fingers, throw tantrums to manipulate teachers, wear sloppy clothes, fail to groom themselves and swear.
"This is just plain bad behavior," Grandin said.
Designer's approach to education for austistic people based on own experiences with autism
July 21, 2003
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