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A Conversation with Temple Grandin in 2022 (Full Transcript)

A Conversation with Temple Grandin in 2022 (Full Transcript, Part 1)

Updated: August 11, 2023 · 30 Minute Read

Amy Gong

Reviewed by:

Amy Gong, Neurodiversity Advocate

Highlights

  • "There's an expression that you don't grow out of autism you grow into it."
  • "You got to get out and get exposed to stuff. I can tell you one class I hated in school was cooking class. I hated that. But I loved sewing. How are you going to know if you’re not exposed?"
  • "I can tell you going to the cattle industry in the 70s, being a woman was a much bigger barrier than autism. Autism was like a nonissue, being a woman was a gigantic issue."
  • "If you're improving then you're doing something right."
  • "You see with an autistic kid everything has to be taught because it doesn’t come instinctually."

Ask Temple Anything: How families, friends, co-workers, and allies can better support the neurodivergent community 

 

On April 3, 2022, Beaming Health sat down with hundreds of families and community members to ask one of the most prominent autistic figures, Dr. Temple Grandin, important issues surrounding autism and how to better support the neurodivergent community. This transcript has been edited for length and clarity. You can find the full video in the Beaming community. Part 2 of the transcript can be found here.

 

Marissa: My name is Marissa. I am one of the co-founders of Beaming Health. We are a company that's trying to create a better world for neurodivergent families. 

 

I am so excited tonight to be introducing the iconic, world-renowned autism champion, scientist, inventor, author, professor, animal rights advocate, Dr. Temple Grandin. She has served as such an inspiration and role model to literally hundreds of thousands of people on the spectrum. 

 

A few interesting facts that I love. Temple, she didn't speak until she was 3 and 1/2 years old. She received incredible speech therapy and had amazing teachers who helped her develop along the way. 

 

Half the cattle in the US are handled with facilities she designed. That's a lot of cattle! Thank you so much, Temple. 

 

She also loves country-western music. And my personal favorite thing, Temple, that I found out while preparing for tonight, was that you love Phantom of the Opera. 

 

There's an expression that you don't grow out of autism you grow into it and Temple, I just think you're a perfect example of this and how you’ve really just grown into your autism, your strengths, and served as such an inspiration to so many people. 

 

How we're going to run through tonight, I'm going to start off with 15 minutes or so of prepared questions. We have some questions a bunch of folks sent in via email. Thank you so much for that. Will do some of those questions and then we'll do some live Q&A to close. 

 

Dr. Grandin: It sounds good. 

 

Marissa: Sounds good. 

 

All right first Temple as you know it's autism month. Words matter. How we talk about autism matters. One concept I've heard you talk about is that it’s kind of a barrier to the autism community at times, is this idea of label-locked thinking. Just this idea of what people think or have in their minds when they hear autism. We’d love your advice or to hear you share more about how you describe autism to people who’ve maybe never encountered someone on the spectrum before. How do you share what autism is? 

 

Dr. Grandin: If you’ve worked in anything involving engineering, you’ve encountered somebody with autism. It’s that simple. You’re going from Elon Musk and Einstein to somebody who can't dress themselves. They've changed the criteria to where now you have this huge spectrum going from no speech delay, socially awkward to very severe, maybe epilepsy, can't talk, and maybe no movement, and all of this is given the same name. And I think this has made the label locking worse because back in the '70s to be labeled with autism, the child had to have obvious speech delay prior to age 3. Obvious speech delay. Then in the early 90s, they added Aspergers, which is basically socially awkward with no speech delay, and then in 2013 they merged it all together. So now you've got such a huge variation. 

 

And I've been doing a lot of research into how people think. In fact, I have a new book coming out, Visual Thinking: The Hidden Gifts of People Who Think in Pictures, Patterns, and Abstractions and you can actually pre-order on Amazon right now. And what I’m finding is you have visual thinkers like me, that are super good at things like art and mechanical stuff. Then you’ve got your mathematical thinkers. And then you have your verbal thinkers. And the verbal thinkers tend to be the worst at getting locked into the labels because they think in words. Where I think in pictures and I’m seeing Elon Musk. He’s got the same name as somebody that has epilepsy and cannot talk. Those are very very different. 

 

And we need to be looking at what the individual can do. One of the big problems I'm seeing, especially on the fully verbal end of the spectrum, is parents getting so label locked that teenagers are not learning basic skills, like shopping. Learning how to save money, having a bank account, just basic stuff like that. 

 

Marissa: You already sort of alluded to this a bit in your answer, but just how has your perspective on autism changed over the years? Just the label of it and the power of thinking differently, how has that changed for you?  

 

Dr. Grandin: When I was in my 20s, I didn’t know that other people thought in words. I did not know that in my 20s. But that helped me in my cattle handling work because I looked at what cattle were looking at. And I was kinda shocked when I found out that some people think in words.  

 

And what I'm concerned about is I'm seeing too many smart kids going nowhere, getting addicted to video games and things like that. And if they were getting fabulous jobs in the video game industry, you know programming, maybe even sales or animation I wouldn't be criticizing but that's not what's happening. And when I was out working all the time on these big heavy construction jobs and big plants were being built, I worked with skilled drafting design professionals and skilled tradespeople that were inventing things. And 20% of those three —the autistic, dyslexic, or ADHD, all undiagnosed —what saved them were the hands-on classes in schools. 

 

Worst thing schools ever did, taking out shop! And also taking out music, art, theater, cooking, sewing, woodworking, all of these kinds of things. We’ve got a huge skill shortage right now.  

 

Marissa: I'm so glad you brought this up and we're definitely going to dig more into that here in just a second. 

 

Zooming out a little bit Temple, just cuz I know we do have a lot of really incredible family members, caregivers here on the line. Can you talk a little bit about some of the most impactful adults in your life growing up and maybe what it was that they did for you that was so meaningful? 

 

Dr. Grandin: All right, let's just start with my mother. I was very lucky to have been taken to a neurologist, not a psychiatrist, a neurologist, Bronson Cruthers, Boston’s Children’s Hospital. There’s an endowed chair at that hospital for Bronson Cruthers.  And he tested me for epilepsy and deafness and then he referred me to a little speech therapy school that two teachers taught out of their home. And I got very good early intervention. I can't emphasize how important that was. 

 

And my mother had a very good sense of just how much to stretch me. Not just suddenly force me into something I couldn’t handle but stretch. And she always encouraged my ability in drawing. Now I would tend to just draw the same horse head. She’d say “Let's draw the saddle.” “Let’s draw the stable.”  

 

Broaden. 

 

Broaden it. 

 

I had a fabulous third-grade teacher and my mother and the third-grade teacher in my elementary school worked together to make consistent rules. 

 

Another super influential person was Mr. Carlock, my science teacher. He was really really important. And I was not studying at school. I didn’t see any reason to study. I was just kind of a goof-off. And what got me interested in studying is Mr. Carlock gave me interesting projects and showed me how studying was the pathway to a goal.

 

And then there was Jim the contractor. I'd been out in the field and he’d seen my drawings and he’d seen some of my work and he sought me out. 

 

So this brings up another really important thing. And that important thing is to show your work. See the way I used to sell jobs, and when I was in high school sign painting, is to simply show pictures of my signs. I learned to sell my work and I made a portfolio of work. And they’d look at my work, my drawings, pictures of jobs. And when I was painting signs, that taught [me] really important work skills. And I showed my sign portfolio to an old sign painter at the Arizona State Fair and I painted signs for carnival attractions. Silly carnival attractions. But I was learning really important work skills doing that. 

 

Marissa: I've heard you talk about this and it's so incredible and I'm curious what advice you would give to folks that have folks on the spectrum in their life, especially parents, caregivers. When should they maybe start exposing their kids to these different interests? Or any advice you have. 

 

Dr. Grandin: Everything. I got involved in the cattle industry because I got exposed to it as a teenager. I think a lot of kids today aren’t getting exposed to enough stuff.  Why would I draw a picture of a horse head if I hadn’t seen a horse? And kids are not getting out and getting exposed to enough stuff. 

 

I was just at an autism school, just the other day, and I heard about a teenager that they were teaching them small engine repair. They took a small engine like for a lawnmower apart and while the teacher was gone he put it all back together again. He's 18. He needs to be working in a shop. 

 

Let's do it. 

 

Instead of rewarding him with video games, let's buy him a tool chest. An empty tool chest and you're going to earn tools. Because what's been found with some of these video game addicts, there's been three cases where the video games were successfully replaced with car mechanics.  And I’m talking serious car mechanics, taking engines apart. Not just lube jobs. And all three of the adults found that motors were a lot more interesting than video games were. 

 

But you have to do it slowly. This kid needs to be rewarded with slowly building up his tool chest. And he’s going to become a mechanic. And I think a lot of his behavior problems are going to stop because he knows that if he throws a wrench that absolutely will not be tolerated. You’re going to have to behave like a grown-up in the shop. It’s just that simple. 

 

Marissa: I love what you talked about, about showing your work and creating a portfolio and using that to get jobs. What kind of other, maybe workplace or professional tips would you have for kids on the spectrum or young adults or others in the workplace? 

 

Dr. Grandin: We need to start training their work skills early. Let’s start off with simple things. When kids are like 7, this was done in our neighborhood, they had to dress up in their good clothes and be little party hostesses and hosts. Meet the guest, learn how to shake hands. 

 

I was just down at some autism school and kids were terrible at not knowing how to shake hands. Not just look at someone and say you know, “Good evening Dr. Grandin.” Yeah, just basic stuff like that. 

 

And then when they're around 11 we've got to find a replacement for the paper route. Because a lot of the grandfathers I’d talk to that discover they're autistic when the kids get diagnosed all had paper routes. So how about a church volunteer job? Helping out at the farmers market? Putting up the tent and helping a farmer sell their stuff at the farmer's market. 

 

The instant they're legal they need to get real jobs. Working skills are very different from school skills. 

 

And now the thing you're asking, how do you find your interest? 

 

You got to get out and get exposed to stuff. I can tell you one class I hated in school was cooking class. I hated that. But I loved sewing. But how are you going to know if you’re not exposed? I tried musical instruments. I never could figure out how to play the flute. A little recorder flute. I tried it but you see that's exposure. 

 

You don't know until you expose the kid. Because I got fixated on carnival rides in high school because I went on one. You know that's exposure. 

 

[Reading chat] And here's a mother saying her daughter's amazing at making video productions. You know what I would do on that, put together a good demo reel and let's just go to car dealerships and offer to make a car ad. And show off that demo reel. 

 

But the thing is you have to show that car dealership a demo reel they want to see. They don't want to see space aliens or Pokemon or some Fortnite thing. They don't want to see that. Make a demo reel that a bank or you know local TV station could run as an ad. 

 

And the other thing, you got to have your portfolio on you. That demo reel has to be on your phone and it needs to be on mom and dad's phone. Because you never know where you could whip it out and show it to someone because that's how I sold jobs. I showed people my portfolio.  

 

[Responding to a chat comment about very high functioning autism] Well there's still social awkwardness. I can tell you stuff I still have a disability on. I cannot remember long strings of verbal instructions. I have to make myself a pilot's checklist. I also can't multitask. Don't put me on a crazy multitasking job. That, I simply cannot do. And also vague instructions don't work. Also, a lot of people love these social chit-chat conversations that go back and forth really fast. And they're having such a good time at it. I can’t even follow it. My processor speed is just too slow. But that doesn’t affect doing design work. But the thing is to show your strength. 

 

I recently watched the Paralympics. And I watched it live. I'm really glad that I did. And the sit-down slope ski did amazing. These are people that are paraplegics and they're doing the most amazing, special, single ski. That's the kind of stuff I like. 

 

Steven Hawking, the famous scientist, couldn’t even hardly move. He said, “Concentrate on the things your disability doesn’t prevent you from doing well.” He could do math in his head super well and not much else. 

 

Marissa: I love this Temple and it’s a really nice segway. How can we help both just the people we know in our lives and our kids just focus on these strengths? And also curious how you thought about when to disclose that you're on the spectrum?

 

Dr. Grandin: Well when I was out working I never disclosed. The only thing I ever disclosed was, let me write down some of the design specifications for this job. Now I would just say, “Pilots need a checklist. I need a checklist for finishing out the cash drawer.” And I would leave it at that. Or I'm terrible at multitasking or I need a quiet place to work. 

 

You know there's a ton of places to disclose and places not to disclose. 

 

And there's been a lot of discussion about masking and about anxiety and burnout. Now I think some of this autistic burnout I’ve been hearing about, like in the late 20s is anxiety, and I can relate to that. I had horrible anxiety and I talk about it in my book Thinking in Pictures. And I've been on antidepressant medication for 40 years. It saved me. Absolutely saved me. It’s an old-fashioned drug. I’ve googled the factory. I commune with the factory. I hope nobody hurts that factory. Because that drug saved me. 

 

But make sure the dose is kept low. I've had a hundred people tell me that they did wonderful on a low dose. Raise the dose and here comes agitation and insomnia. Don't do that. 

 

I've worked with visual thinkers professionally that took Prozac. Helped them a whole lot. One of them was a Vietnam veteran. Brilliant at drawing. 

 

What’s important to me in life? It’s having an interesting career. And I read something that made me very very upset. [In] a top science journal, I read about a scientist over in Ukraine. He studied prehistoric whale fossils and he wanted to save his life’s work. Couldn’t take the whale fossils out, they were too big. He had this little hard drive thing, with his life’s work on it. Trying to download it on a really slow internet connection to France to save it. I was just crying. 

 

I can’t look at a portable hard drive now without getting upset. Just thinking about that scientist's hard work on a hard drive. And if that hard drive is destroyed. 

 

You see that when you're really getting into what identity is for me and I can't even talk about this without crying. If I go into Best Buy and I look at the hard drive, portable hard drive I’m going to get sad. Because I’ll look at that and think, well that had his entire life’s work on that. He had it in a bag on a train and was going to try to get to a better internet connection. You drop it in the puddle and it's gone. He wanted to get it downloaded somewhere else safe. Save his life’s work because that’s his identity and a lot of people I work with, you know their identity is “I invent things” “I build things” and that's why I put so much emphasis on career because career is what's given me meaning in life. 

 

In the stage of my life that I’m at now, I’ve had parents say to me, “My son went to college because of you. I pushed my son because of you and he blossomed.” I’ve heard this term blossoming. Blooming, when they get out and do more things. 

 

[Reading chat] Somebody's got a 12-year-old daughter's beautiful pianist. Well, let’s make a career out of that. Playing in a hotel lobby. You know I started off painting signs, but that taught me very important skills. Signs at the carnival, but I learned important skills from that. 

 

Marissa: Just one last question here and then we're going to segway to community questions but something that I've seen from you and others on the spectrum that helps me convey the strengths of autism is just thinking about people like you and other incredible creators and inventors on the spectrum. Could you share who your favorite folks on the spectrum are? Your favorite autistic inventors or creators that inspire you. 

 

Dr. Grandin: Tesla. Tesla who invented the electrical power plant. AC electricity. And of course, the car now named after him. Elon Musk. 

 

I’ve always thought Elon Musk was autistic when I read Ashley Vance's book but I couldn't say it. But now he's come out, so I can now say it. But he’s someone who is all careers. He sold all his mansions and he lives in a box at his spaceport and when you watch him give a tour of his factories, I've looked at a bunch of those videos, he loves his factories. He loves the stuff he does. He loves his cars and his rockets. That to him is the stuff that matters and I can really relate to that.

 

[Reading chat] Here's a 10-year-old twirling around with sticks and things like that. I’m going to assume maybe he's nonverbal. 

 

One of the things you might do in a situation like that is let's turn twirling sticks into a game where we share a stick and we take turns twirling. This was a very important thing I learned as a kid. We had a lot of turn-taking games. So I learned how to wait and take turns. That was done a lot with me when I was 4 or 5 years old.

 

[Reading chat] 3-year-old is having a meltdown. 

 

Sometimes kids just have tantrums. You know when the kid gets older some of the things that cause meltdowns is sensory overload. Like if it happens in the middle of a busy Walmart, that’s probably sensory overload. Frustration because they can't communicate the nonverbal. Got to give them away to communicate. 

 

Sign language. Picture board. You know, a fancy communication device. A text messaging on a tablet, but something to communicate with. 

 

And then sometimes a nonverbal individual, now a 3-year-old hopefully, is learning how to talk, but an older nonverbal individual can't tell you if he has a hidden painful medical problem. Like a tummy ache. Earache. Tooth infection. A urinary tract infection. Sometimes there's a lot of bad behaviors caused by a hidden medical problem. A simple medical problem that just needs to be treated. And there’s a tendency sometimes for doctors to say, “oh that’s just autism,” when really the problem is acid reflux.

 

[Reading chat] Somebody said how do you get parents to understand you need to introduce these skills? 

 

Well, I come out of the construction industry so I'm kind of blunt about it. And certainly, you've got to, you slowly do it. Mother had a very good sense of stretching so you don't suddenly force something like, force them into the deep end of the pool. You don't do that. But you stretch them because if they don't learn these skills they're not going to progress. This is what bothers me. We’ve got a gigantic skill shortage right now, high-end skill trades.

 

Marissa: Temple, a few questions that came in from the community. From Cindy, “My daughter Melanie's 11. She's very bright.  Loves making videos on her iPad. Loves music and putting it all together. Trying to figure out how to best support it. Doesn't seem like there are lots of things out there tailored to kids on the spectrum. Any suggestions?”

 

Dr. Grandin: I would want to look at her videos. 

 

Just today I was over at a friend's house having lunch and heard about a 12-year-old kid who's very good at drawing. One of the people wanted to write a children’s book. I said let me see the drawings. And if they’re good enough we're going to go to a book agent and I’m not going to tell the book agent she’s 12 years old. Well, we’ll have to when we sign a contract. Because she can’t sign a contract, but let's sell the job first. And she didn't have the stuff on the phone. You see this where you got to have the portfolio there. Nobody’s going to care a 12-year-olds art is good enough. 

 

It’s like if you’re a fancy photographer with a whole room full of equipment and you took your best picture on a phone, you don’t have to tell anybody you used a phone. 

 

Marissa: From Karen - “My autistic teenager wants to live on a ranch and be a scientist when she grows up. Sound familiar? What practical advice can you offer for how to get from the stress and social isolation that she's feeling in high school right now to this life of her dreams?”

 

Dr. Grandin: Well, high school was the worst part of my life. And the only place I had friends was friends who shared interests. And we had a model rocket club and an electronics club. And then my other big thing was everything with horses. Riding horses. I ran our school's horse barn. 

 

Electronics club and model rocket club, those were places where there were no bullies. Get involved with things with friends who share interests. It could be a robotics club. You get really good at what you do. 

 

I can tell you going to the cattle industry in the 70s, being a woman was a much bigger barrier than autism. Autism was like a nonissue, being a woman was a gigantic issue. And they really did put bull testicles on my vehicle like they show in the movie. That actually happened. 

 

Marissa: Temple, you talked a little bit about no bullies in the shared interest or no bullies in those clubs for special interest, shared interest that you had. Is that sort of the best advice you would give for parents? 

 

Dr. Grandin: Go to shared interests clubs. Boy scouts. Girl scouts. 4H. FFA. 

 

4H is a great organization. Even in the cities, they have it. Through the county agent. Through a local university. Church camps. There’s all kinds of stuff. Get outside of the medical model and the educational model. That's what you need to be doing. 

 

Marissa: Totally agree. On a little bit of a different note, just going back to something you were  discussing a little bit ago, sensory issues. 

 

Dr. Grandin: Sensory issues are a big issue now. One of the things that can help a kid tolerate a sound is if the kid can control it. Well, I’ve had a talk with a parent where a kid went from hating the vacuum cleaner to loving it when he got to play with it. He could turn it on and off. Same thing with hair dryers or car horns. Let the kid control it. 

 

Another thing is with the headphones. If you wear the headphones all the time, it's going to make the sensitivity worse. But what you want to do is let the child have control. Have them with you all the time, have them with you, but then try not to wear them all the time. But they're there with you for those really horrible noise places. 

 

Marissa: That’s great advice. That’s super relevant for my own family.

 

Dr. Grandin: [Reading chat] Driving? Let me tell ya, you start out really slow. I learned on really balky three-on-the-tree ancient pickup truck. Really terrible clutch, three-on-the-tree. Lurching around the horse pasture. 

 

That's where you start. 

 

Middle of a big parking lot. 

 

It's going to take a lot more practice. Lot more practice because you've got to get the operation of the car into motor memory before you touch traffic. That will solve the multi-tasking issue. Lot more practice. And my aunt’s mailbox was three miles away on the ranch and we went up and back there every day six days a week. That was 36 miles a week. I did 200 of those miles before we did traffic. 

 

Go into it a lot more slowly, but you slowly and steadily need to go into it. And you start off in very safe places where there’s nothing to hit. Horse pasture, giant parking lot. Places like that. 

 

Marissa: Love it. Another question here from Daisy, “Just curious to get your thoughts on ABA therapy. Know it has critics and people who love it. Just would love to hear your perspective on ABA therapy.”

 

Dr. Grandin: There’s all kinds of ABA. There's some old-fashioned, rigid, bad ABA where kids were forced into sensory overload. That’s not acceptable. 

 

Now, there's a lot of different things labeled ABA. 

 

Let’s talk about little kids' programs first. What you’ve got to have is enough hours with an effective teacher. Like two-year-olds, three-year-olds, four-year-olds. What’s an effective teacher?  

 

More language. Better at turn-taking. More skills like dressing and washing their hands and number four, the child should love his therapist. If the child hates the therapist, it will probably send him into sensory overload. 

 

A good teacher has the knack and I have found that teachers do the same thing regardless of what the name of the program is. Now I don't like some of this rigid stuff, especially with fully verbal kids when they get older. It just gets too rigid and weird. And also, even with a nonverbal, you make him do something stupid like setting and unsetting the table 10 times in a row and they get mad. Nobody does that in real life. You set the table. You eat. And then you clean it up. 

 

Have them do real things. 

 

Marissa:  Another question here from Janet. “Dr. Grandin, you're truly an inspiration. My 10-year-old nephew's on the spectrum. He is the most generous and genuine spirit. One of his innate abilities appears to be music and rhythm. Although sensory challenges do exist, what are your thoughts about which instruments, if any, are most conducive to kids on the spectrum? His pitch is near perfect.”

 

Dr. Grandin: I would just try different things. Get a chance to try some different things. Try some. Watch some videos, maybe of different instruments. Watch different people play them and I would just leave it wide open which one to try. 

 

Marissa: Let's see a couple more here and then we'll switch over to live questions. 

 

Advice for parents when their kids are having these meltdowns or tantrums. Just if there is anything else you would add to what you mentioned earlier. 

 

Dr. Grandin: Well you got to figure out what causes the tantrum or the meltdown. Is it biology or behavior? Biology would be let's say in a nonverbal kid, a stomach ache that's not being treated. Sensory overload would be another one. And then the frustration because he can't communicate. And then there's some kids that learn a pitch fit to get out of something. They manipulate by pitching fits. And you've got to be a really good detective. But I’ve got to rule out the frustration because they can’t communicate, sensory overload, and a painful medical problem that they cant tell you first. And a lot of the painful medical problems is simple stuff to treat. Just regular stuff that a normal kid would tell you about. 

 

Marissa: Last one here that we're hearing a lot about is just how we can support kids on the spectrum socially? Seeing a lot of interest from, I'm assuming parents, but just when their kids are having trouble making friends.

 

Dr. Grandin: Let’s start getting him into clubs. One enterprising teacher started a Star Wars Club for an autistic kid and then other kids got involved in the Star Wars Club.

 

[Reading chat] Kids are bullying a child. 

 

First of all, teachers need to explain. I managed to get through elementary school without being bullied and the reason for that is my third-grade teacher explained to the other children that I had a disability that wasn't visible like a wheelchair and they needed to be helping me. That has a name. It's called peer-mediated intervention and I've got a paper online called, “How Horses Help the Teenager with Autism Make Friends and Learn How to Work.” She did peer-mediated intervention and that school needs to be doing that. 

 

Marissa:  Love it! We’ll turn it over here for some live Q&A. 

 

Thank you so much everyone for your patience! We'll start off here with Summer. 

 

Dr. Grandin: [Reading chat] Now this other thing about making videos. The other thing is, your 11-year-old daughter is old enough to start learning to make videos on assignment. 

 

My very first sign painting jobs for a hair salon. Well, I had to make a sign that they would want. So I put the Breck Lady on it. That was a mascot for a shampoo company in the 60s. I’d rather put a flying saucer on it but I don't think the hair salon would have liked that very much. And you see when you're making something on an assignment, you’ve got to make something they would want and I'd like to start encouraging her, maybe she should make a video for a church picnic. Something where you're making a video on some kind of assignment. You see and then you're learning a work skill. Make a really good church picnic video, then you can make car ads for a local tv station. If you live out in a rural area, that's actually something you could do quite easily. They have little bitty TV stations. And I can tell you some of the advertising is definitely amature. 

 

Marissa: Summer, are you ready here to ask your question?

 

Summer: Yeah thank you. Thank you so much, Temple, Ms. Grandin, for being here. I would love to hear what you consider to be some of the inherent gifts of autism and what can the neurotypical community learn from people who have autism?

 

Dr. Grandin: Well, the visual thinkers like me, the object visualizers, you know and I do have some information about that in my book The Autistic Brain that presents some of the science behind object visualizers like me that thinks in pictures. HBO movie showed very nicely how I think in pictures. And the things I'm good at - art, mechanical stuff, animals, and photography. 

 

Then the mathematical kids [are] good at computer programming, mathematics, chemistry, physics. 

 

Now, the kind of stuff I can't do is algebra. I'm very concerned that my kind of mind who’d be very good at skilled trades, is getting screened out because of algebra requirements. And I’ve talked to older people that have businesses. Big shops. Well, they were allowed to take business math for running their business instead of algebra. 

 

And then you have your word thinkers. This is the autistic kid that knows all the historical facts about something he’s interested in. Or all kinds of stuff about sports teams and they are definitely not interested in mathematics or mechanics or any of that kind of stuff. 

 

They’d be really good at specialized retail, like working in the phone store or working where they can sell cars. There have been big successes with people on the spectrum selling cars. Very big successes. I know four or five that I’ve talked to. Because they'll know every feature of every car out on the lot and people appreciate that. And they also don't try to sell the whole lot. A good salesman picks out the right car for the right person. Or the right phone or right printer. Whatever the thing is they are spelling. Specialized retail is what that would be.

 

Marissa: Next here, Danielle, are you ready to ask your question?

 

Danielle: Yeah I’m ready. Like I had said in the chat, my son is very high functioning and I definitely get that whole, “Oh it's a phase” [or] “Oh he’ll grow out of it” and they don't understand the struggles that we go through. 

 

And also he is in a mainstream kindergarten class. 

 

Dr. Grandin: And how's the kindergarten class going? 

 

Danielle: It's actually going wonderful. He's doing amazing. He's getting good grades and doing great but he does come home a lot saying, “nobody wants to play with me.” “Nobody likes me.” 

 

Kids are very receptive, so I wonder what is the best way to encourage him in those situations. 

 

Dr. Grandin: One thing you’ve got to learn at that age is how to take turns at games. That is something you have to learn how to do and there was a lot of work that was done with me on that. Playing board games. Learning how to take turns. You know, sharing toys, taking turns. I think my speech teacher put a lot of emphasis on that. 

 

Danielle: We are definitely doing that in ABA therapy. He's struggling but he is learning.

 

Dr. Grandin: But that’s something they’ve got to learn, is taking turns. 

 

And what's the age now? 

 

Danielle: He's 5 but he'll be 6 in a couple months 

 

Dr. Grandin: When I was a little kid I liked to do a lot of the things little kids did. Swinging. We had a scuzzy old pond at our school and we’d go pick pollywogs out of it and stuff like that. We liked doing that. 

 

Danielle: He loves dinosaurs. That's like his thing. 

 

Dr. Grandin: Lots of kids love dinosaurs. That’s something that can be a shared interest. Little kids like dinosaurs. 

 

Danielle: But it’s like to the point where he only wants to play dinosaur games. 

 

Dr. Grandin: Well, you see this gets back to learning how to take turns. We’re going to play some dinosaur games, but the other kid might want to play some other kind of a game. This is where you have to learn how to take turns. And this is something that has to be taught. 

 

The other thing I had to learn when I was in high school I got fixated on this router carnival ride and all I wanted to do was talk about that and that just drove everybody crazy. You know I could talk about that carnival ride maybe twice and then that's it.

 

Danielle: Well I definitely want to tell you, when I found out about you as a teenager I said “I can have an autistic child. That would be, I could handle that” and lo and behold my son is autistic.

 

Dr. Grandin: Well he’s only 5 and the thing you want to look at, is he improving? 

 

Danielle: He is. 

 

Dr. Grandin: If you're improving then you're doing something right. Now sometimes improvement may be slow. 

 

And then the other thing we need to be teaching is table manners. And another thing that was done in the '50s is what I call teachable moments. So if I stuck my finger in the mashed potatoes my mother would say use the fork. Give the instruction instead of screaming no. And you might have three or four teachable moments at every meal. And you need to sit down for meals where everybody puts the phones away. 

 

Danielle: Thank you so much! Thank you so much for being a pioneer in this field.

 

Dr. Grandin: And I'm not suggesting anything that you know is really difficult or expensive. You see, why is that granddad who probably had you know no big speech delay, maybe a little speech delay, that's an engineer, a pharmacist, or an accountant, got a job? Well, you see in my generation, just manners and social skills were taught to all children in a much more structured way. And I think it really makes a difference. 

 

I did a talk in Pakistan last week. I explained to them that you have to teach someone like in a foreign country. For example, in my country, I don't know that in your country it's rude to show the bottom of your foot. Now that's something that I have no way of knowing about. Now just imagine everything you teach the autistic child is like teaching somebody how to behave in a foreign country. Somebody has to tell me that in a middle eastern country it's rude to show the bottom of your foot. I have no way of knowing that unless somebody told me. 

 

You see with an autistic kid everything has to be taught because it doesn’t come instinctually. 

 

Marissa: We have a really fun guest join[ing] us. His name is Mario. He had a short video we wanted to share quickly that includes something incredible that you actually created. I'm going to share it here quickly. [Plays Video] 

 

That was of course your squeeze machine and Mario here from the video is here to ask a question. 

 

Dr. Grandin: I want to thank you for showing that. 

 

Marissa: Mario do you have your question? 

 

Mario:  As a 47-Year-old father, Temple Grandin has been a name in our family for many years, and just like you think in pictures, my son Dante thinks in movies. And during the pandemic, we saw a very terrible regression and we took to social media. We started doing videos on what we're doing in our home and how Temple thinks in pictures and Dante thinks in movies. And it took me learning almost every word to Shrek so I can communicate when Dante is having a meltdown. I was able to communicate. He was telling me he was scared.  

 

And one of the things that I struggle with nowadays is that I'm doing a video on social media, I'm trying to help parents get over that bridge of trying to understand their child, is they don't want to do videos with their kids cuz they don't think it's important that their children watch videos or they want to do it their way. 

 

Dr. Grandin: Who wants to do it their way? The kid wants to do it their way? 

 

Mario: The parents want the child to do it their way and the child obviously is struggling because they want to learn in their own way. 

 

Dr. Grandin: What’s an example of a parent doing a video their way? 

 

Mario: One of the families doesn't believe that electronics is good for their child. They don't want their child to be on electronics. 

 

Dr. Grandin: It depends what you're doing on the electronics. Now if you're actually actively making videos. And you know, I want to start teaching the work skill of making videos on assignment. 

 

That's not just playing games. 

 

The other thing is if you’re making a video you have to go out and film stuff. You’ve got to go out and do that. Even if you’re just doing it with a phone, you still have got to go out and do stuff. 

 

I'm not against all electronics. What I'm against is holding up in the room, playing video games for eight hours a day. 

 

Okay, I had my squeeze machine. I use that for maybe an hour a day. We’ve got kids now when they're 21 or 22 hold up in the basement or the bedroom playing video games all day and they don't do anything else. 

 

Mario: And what we find with Dante and the squeeze machines, he uses it when he's not escalated to the point where he can't even think about using it. 

 

Dr. Grandin: That’s right. You want to stop the escalation.

 

Mario: Exactly! Definitely, an amazing tool in our family because the sensory thing is such a true thing and it's always trying to describe to other families and that's why we do the videos to be able to let families know that there are options out there for sensory. 

 

I thank you for being a pioneer for all these years. 

 

Dr. Grandin: A lot of work is done on computers. But what I’m seeing, the thing that's unfortunate about video games, if these kids were getting fabulous jobs programming video games or doing animation or even in sales or something for a video game company, I’d have a much nicer attitude about it. But they're not going into the field in good jobs. In fact, Silicon Valley parents at companies like Microsoft, and Google, don't let their kids play video games all day. They know how addictive they are. They let their kids go on a computer to learn programming, that's fine. They’ve designed these games to be very addictive and I'm not seeing good outcomes from this. 

 

The kids are out making videos, let’s start making videos on assignment. And then I'd like to make up some commercials and things like that. You know, then people hire you to film weddings and things like that. That's stuff they can turn into a job. 

 

Photography. 

 

I’ve talked to a lot of news crews that come and interview me, camera people. I’ve talked to a lot of these camera people. There's a whole bunch of them that are dyslexic or autistic. They just started out, you know, being what's called a grip on set. Grips like grip a lot of stuff. Hold stuff. And that's a good field. And eventually, they learn a whole bunch of stuff. 

 

It’s also a field where you can show off some of your camera work in a portfolio. 

 

You see the other thing we’ve got to do is be finding back doors into a job. They’re everywhere and people just don’t see them. That's why the portfolio needs to be on the parent's phone. The kid's phone. Cuz you never know who you might be able to show it to. 

 

Mario: Thank you for continuing to be a pioneer, Temple, and you're very revered in our family. All the best to you. Thank you so much for your time. 

 

Dr. Grandin: Thank you. 

 

Check out Part 2. You can find the full video and access more exclusive Q&A events in the Beaming community.