Two weekends ago, I attended my first Us Aspergers and Autism Association Conference. The Sheraton hotel acted as the venue for this event. I drove up early on a Friday morning, anxious to hear Temple Grandin kick off the day. Little did I know I would be able to meet her in person and snap a shot of us standing together.
I walked into the conference perusing the different booths. One offered up interesting insight on diets and the biomedical side, another supplied various supplements also catering towards the biomedical side, many presented various therapies and treatments available in and outside of Utah. My favorite was the library booth. Three eight foot tables jam packed with books for all who were interested. You could find books for children, books for moms, books for teachers, therapists, family members, doctors, you name it. Half of one whole table was dedicated to Temple Grandin’s books. Maybe it was no surprise when I met and got her autograph right next to this section of the library. I was one of those weirdos who was trying to snap sneaky shots of her without her knowledge, then it occurred to me…why don’t you just go ask her if she is up for taking a picture! So I did. Her response…
“Sure. But it needs to be quick because I am about to start.”
No smiles, no expression. But hey I wasn’t even phased! For one I expected a similar response after reading how she describes herself and her social interactions, and two, she could have said anything under the sun and I still would have been as happy as a clam. I am also one of those weirdos who gets overly star struck. She would probably laugh if she knew people like me think of her as a celebrity. Or maybe she wouldn’t laugh;) Seriously, I was just so happy to meet her in person.
After I loaded up on way too many books, I headed into the conference center. I was there with the Autism Journey crew (for those who don’t know, Autism Journey’s is Cali’s treatment center), and we sat on the far left front row. Temple started with a bang and ended with a bang. The middle was equally as enthralling. I hurriedly jotted down as many notes as my fingers could type. Every word out of her mouth was worth gold…to me anyhow. I’ve mentioned this before, but there is something profound hearing from the words and insight of an autistic adult. An adult because they have lived a life with autism and know how to explain what your child may be thinking, feeling, and all around living. I wish I could have video taped the especially poignant moments, but not videoing was allowed. Instead my feeble notes will have to suffice. Here are some of her wise insights, thoughts, and even humor, mixed with my novice, motherly thoughts…
- The main idea I took away from this is to be a proactive parent. Learn, study, and then teach. You can’t teach if you don’t know. Learn, study, then teach.
- Choices. Give choices. Temple and going to her grandmother’s ranch. “My mother gave me the option of either one week or the whole summer. There was no not going.” She gave two choices and stuck to them. If a child isn’t choosing then you choose for them. Very simple.
- “I didn’t think my thinking was different. I thought everyone thought in pictures.” It is true…we see the world as we are and not as it truly is. Realize that we all think differently and that the world doesn’t think like Chelsea. There would be an increase in patience and acceptance if we saw the world through a larger lens.
- “The more specific examples I get, the better I understand the concept.” Pictures, pictures, pictures
- “Get these kids out into the world to experience lots of things. Way too many get way too sheltered.” Experience “lots of things” in order to established shared interest with peers. If they involve themselves in various activities, soon enough they will find the one, two, or three activities they love. Once they find what they love they will find their friends. Friends who share interests.
- “Fear is the main emotion in autism. My amydala (fear center) is three times larger.”
- “You need thinkers like us.”
- “…using pressure to calm the nervous system during therapy. Try it. It may not work for everyone.” Madi (Cali’s therapist) did this often in the beginning and she still does from time to time to get Cali to focus and regulate.
- “Prepare for employment. Get a job early on. Mow lawns. Take a paper route, work the church website.”
- ” I think we have tendencies to over shelter these kids.”
- “Teach kids to be problem solvers.” Teach them how to be resourceful when things aren’t working out perfectly.
- “Teach word concepts with specific examples.”
- “Social interaction through shared interest. I CAN NOT emphasize this enough.” Let kids involve themselves in lots of activities. When they find what they like, they will make friends with those who are doing the same thing. Shared interests makes friends.
- “Use the teachable moments.” Give the instruction instead of saying no. For example, spinning a spoon around on a plate. Don’t just say “stop” or “don’t do that.” Give an example of the correct and appropriate way to act. Saying no doesn’t teach what they are supposed to be doing.
- “Make accommodations.” Figure out ways to make them able. “If they need a list to complete a task, give them a list.”
- “Do not punish sensory overload.” Shoes bugging Cali. Don’t get mad at her. Figure out the cause of the behavior verses reacting to the behavior.
- “Do not try to de-geek the geek!” My favorite!
So much great insight and I feel like this is just the tip tip top of her iceberg! My brain is still spinning on all of this wonderful wisdom. I can not wait to post my deeper thoughts on what Temple has taught me. More to come!!