Temple Grandin’s Advice For Living the Best Life with ASD
I recently organized my tenth bookstore for Temple Grandin at a conference in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Temple’s talks are always inspiring and motivating because of all that she has accomplished in her long career. Her boundless energy and enthusiasm make one forget that she is 72 years old. I enjoyed listening to Temple speak with eager delegates at the book signing table just as much as listening to her present in front of a large audience. It’s fascinating to hear her advice to parents who are struggling with their concerns on how to ensure the best outcome for their child.
Use teachable moments
Temple talks a lot about her upbringing in the 1950’s. She credits her mother’s teaching as the source for much of her success. When Temple was doing something incorrectly, her mother never said “no” or “stop it” but rather told her the correct thing to do. For example, if she twirled her fork above her head, her mother told her to put it on her plate. If she touched merchandise in a store, her mother said only touch what you want to buy. These are concrete instructions that are explicit and easy to follow. Just saying “no” does not tell a person what they should be doing. Give instructions calmly and allowing time for processing.
Count to 5 before you jump in to answer for your child
Temple also suggests a longer response time in order to give a person time to process language. She compares autistic processing time to a computer with a slow internet connection. I used to count 5 seconds in my head before helping my children with their words. While it may seem like a long pause, that 5 seconds was usually enough time for them to come up with a response. Jumping in too quickly can cause frustration and discourage a child from trying to talk.
Temple recalls this interesting situation in kindergarten when she was 5:
I remember an extremely frustrating moment where I was not given sufficient time to respond. The class assignment was to mark pictures when an object’s name began with B. I marked the suitcase picture as B for bag. The teacher marked it wrong and spoke so quickly that I could not explain that in our house suitcases were called bags. I could not respond quickly enough to tell her. If she had waited 2 or 3 seconds, I could have explained that I understood the B concept and explain why I marked certain pictures with a B.
Limit technology in favour of making things
Temple is an advocate of limiting screen time in favour of making things with your hands. By doing, a person discovers the properties of that item (its shape, weight, texture, smell, etc.) and can learn to be creative. Fine motor skills improve through practice and making projects provides something interesting to do. When building things, learning happens from making mistakes and having to problem solve.
Calling All Minds, Temple’s latest book, delves into the science behind inventions, the steps various people took to create and improve upon ideas as they evolved, and the ways in which young inventors can continue to think about and understand what it means to tinker, to fiddle, and to innovate. Throughout the book, Temple gives us glimpses into her own childhood tinkering, building, and inventing. She encourages imagination and shows readers that there is truly no single way to approach any given problem–but that an open and inquisitive mind is always key. This is a great read for ages 8 – 12.
Help your child acquire work skills early
Kids used to have paper routes when they were young, but those have since disappeared for the most part. There are lots of other ways to get work skills cooking at a young age. Temple recommends volunteering at age 11. My two children started at that age working at a Farmer’s Market. There are many charities that need volunteers to do simple jobs like stuffing envelopes for mailouts. Churches are also a good place to find odd jobs to do. Walk the neighbour’s dog, shovel snow, or set up chairs at a community center.
Starting work skills early gives that time for critical mass to happen. Critical mass is the point where an individual has gained enough information to be successful in situations, activities, or skills for which instruction has not been provided. When there has been enough instruction and multiple experiences, a tipping point can occur and the person can apply the skill in many new ways.
Limit screen time overall
We live in a high tech world with easy access to cell phones, tablets, and computers. Research shows that people with ASD are at higher risk for developing video game addiction than the neurotypical population. Temple feels there has to be screen free time during the day. Here are her 3 recommendations for limiting screen time:
1. Have one electronic device free meal where EVERYBODY including parents puts away all screens.
2. Limit video watching, video games and other non-school screen time to 10 hours a week.
3. Engage the entire family in activities where people have to interact with each other.
In our household, we make sure our young adults have physical activity throughout the week such as swimming, bowling, yoga, fitness classes, mini golf and horseback riding. My son devotes 3 – 4 hours per day to reading aloud to himself. Both kids volunteer 2 – 3 times a week to keep working on job and life skills. My daughter bakes for the family two mornings a week and does errands like returning bottles or buying a few groceries. Getting them out and about limits their access to screens.
Support participation in simple household chores
Doing household chores provides an opportunity to build life skills, follow a checklist, perform a scheduled task, and contribute to the well-being of the family. Not sure where to start? Have a look at this article for some ideas.
Embrace different minds
The world needs diverse thinkers. The autistic brain is different one, but it is through those differences that unique contributions can be made. Temple’s book, The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum, weaves her own experience with remarkable new discoveries. Grandin introduces the neuroimaging advances and genetic research that link brain science to behavior, even sharing her own brain scan to show us which anomalies might explain common symptoms. The most exciting point she makes is that raising and educating kids on the spectrum isn’t just a matter of focusing on their weaknesses; in the science that reveals their long-overlooked strengths, she shows us new ways to foster their unique contributions.
We owe Temple thanks for all that she has done to further our understanding of individuals on the spectrum and for being such a fine example of what can be achieved. Through her talks, she continues to inspire and give hope all over the world.
Children’s Books about Temple Grandin
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