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A Conversation with Temple Grandin in 2022 (Full Transcript Part 2))

A Conversation with Temple Grandin in 2022 (Full Transcript Part 2)

Updated: August 11, 2023 · 15 Minute Read

Amy Gong

Reviewed by:

Amy Gong, Neurodiversity Advocate


  • "... I see a lot of problems, where I’m seeing parents that are too afraid to let go when I suggest something like, the next time you are at the gas station and you're filling your car, send the kid in to buy a jug of milk."
  • "One of the things I've talked about right now is getting exposed to enough things to find out what you might want to do."
  • "Visual thinkers like art, design, mechanics; mathematicians for computers, chemistry, and physics, and then you need the word thinkers. They help organize everything."
  • "You know my mother was one of the most important people and she knew just how hard to stretch and push me."

Check out Part 1. You can find the full video and access more exclusive Q&A events in the Beaming community.


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. 


And I see a lot of problems, where I’m seeing parents that are too afraid to let go when I suggest something like, the next time you are at the gas station and you're filling your car, send the kid in to buy a jug of milk. 


And you're right there. You can see into the shop. 


And I've had parents afraid to do that. Things that are basic.  


Marissa: Emily over to you. 


Emily: Oh thank you. 


Hi Temple! I am a special education teacher in San Francisco and I really have resonated with the way you describe the different types of minds with students with autism. I see so much potential in the students that I work with. And my question for you is how can I and other teachers be better advocates for our students with others who may hold limiting beliefs about students with autism? 


Dr. Grandin: See that’s very very general. 


You see verbal thinkers overgeneralize. And I think this is one of the things that's caused a lot of label locking, is over-generalizing. And if you're in a school that has art, and sewing, and woodworking - I loved sewing, woodworking, and art when I was in elementary school. If I hadn’t had the classes I would have hated elementary school. And if you have those classes, music theater. I wasn’t interested in being in the play but I made costumes and sets when I was in elementary school, high school, and college.  That was my contribution to the theater. But that's something where you can get some friends who share interests too. 


But even in college I got bullied and then we had a school-wide talent show and I sang a goofy song and I made sets for it and that's something that helped me get friends. You know it's a really important thing, friends who shared interests 


Marissa: Definitely! Ross over to you. 


Ross: We're so excited to meet you! We think you're extraordinary, but we have questions. So our son is 10. We're really interested in having him develop better fine motor skills so that he can engage in the trades when he goes into high school and can start learning those things. But he has some significant issues with sensory in his hands and he doesn't like any sort of pressure on his hands. So he struggles with fine motor skills and we're wondering how you could suggest we combat that so that he can start to be able to engage in some trades?


Dr. Grandin: Have you talked to an OT or a PT about that? 


Ross: Yes. So we do behavioral therapy and he does go to OT services in school once a week.


Dr. Grandin: There's some skilled trades where those motor skills, they affected some of my stuff in skilled trades. I tried welding and I couldn’t, but you know what I do drawings for welders. Drafting, the motor skills don’t cause a problem because I always had a ruler. That solved the problem with the motor skills. 


Ross: For example, he won't open a jar because he doesn't like to press on something but he'll stim with objects. But he has a hard time holding on to things.


Dr. Grandin: I had some clumsiness. I was at a meeting up in Bismarck, North Dakota, OT meeting, and somebody asked, “well you haven’t talked much about sports.” Well, I was kind of klutzy in sports. No matter how hard I tried I could never learn to ski correctly where you keep them together. No matter how hard I tried. I couldn’t do it.


Now there are some exceptions. There is an autistic basketball player that's got a book. He helps get people with autism into sports. but I'm one of the ones where clumsy and klutzy is kind of how I am. I could never get really good. 


Is he improving on any of this motor skill stuff? 


Ross: Yeah. It’s getting better but [he] still has a really hard time picking things up, touching things, and doesn’t like to get his hands wet if he has to clean a dish. So, this is like a sensory thing that we're noticing.


Dr. Grandin: What if he wears gloves? There’s all kinds of work gloves. Amazing different kinds of work gloves. And I think you get the right gloves. Go into the store that sells work supplies, you’ll be amazed at the different kinds of gloves they’ve got there. 


Marissa: Clarissa, ready for your question? 


Clarissa: Yes, I'm a young adult on the spectrum and my special interest is psychology. I have a bachelor's degree in it. And I've been considering in the long-term going back and working towards becoming a therapist. For a while I've been questioning whether I can even be a good therapist because I'm on the spectrum. But I've kind of been considering exploring that by talking to some other therapists who are on the spectrum, and kind of picking their brain a bit. 


Dr. Grandin: I’m a big fan of trying on careers, but due to confidentiality they’re probably not going to let you go to therapy sessions. Those are too private. 


Clarissa: No, no, I don't. I don't mean that, I just mean asking questions. Like, “How do you handle grad school?” “What were the struggles?” 


Dr. Grandin: I can tell you one of my biggest struggles, math. And I'm very concerned right now that some of the talented people we need for a lot of things, building stuff and things like that, can’t do algebra. 


And I've often thought, what would I do if someone waved the magic wand and I am 18. Can’t do algebra. Flunking out of school but I have the knowledge I have now. And the knowledge I have now, I’d get a laborer job in a big corporation. Very very easy to work up. You have to pay your dues. But you can work your way up really quickly without the degree. 


Now you can’t do that in things that require a degree like psychology but the thing I’ve found in engineering. I’ve done tons of engineering, but I had to be very very careful never to use that title. Always wrote livestock handling consultant and then the drafting person, who took a one-semester community college class, always signed his letters as a draftsman. 


Had to be very very careful, can’t use the title of a licensed professional but let me tell you, I've done a ton of engineering. Steel and concrete work. Tons of it. Drawing the drawings for it and I've had to correct drawings that the engineering firm did for concrete work and they didn't draw in the reinforcement rods correctly. I did that and I penciled that drawing in and I said take that drawing back to that fancy engineering company and they need to draw the rebar in there correctly because it's ridiculous. 


And you go look at big engineering projects. You've got, what I call the clever engineering department. These are the ones who barely graduated high school but their patenting stuff. These are the ones that we're losing. We need them. 


Clarissa: Well, my question is that because so many autistic job programs are focused on things like technology and all of those things, how should a young adult on the spectrum go about exploring a career that does not fit one of these? 


Dr. Grandin: Well there's a lot of careers. 


Actually, some people on the spectrum are very good at sales. I gave a talk this summer to a big bank. Great big bank company and they have two autistic salesmen for high-end financial products. This has nothing to do with technology. But the verbal thinkers know all the ins and outs of fancy financial products. I don’t even understand.  And they told me they were very good at sales. A sales job because sales social is a very structured kind of social. You can easily learn that. And selling very specialized things, that's not technology. And that's something that a person on the spectrum can often be very good at, selling something specialized. 


Or just working in a store. I know a guy who’s got a Ph.D. I've known him for years. He's my age. He works at a large retail store. He’s been there for 30 years. Maybe under-employed but kept the job. Has health insurance. Selling a retail product. He's valued for his knowledge of the products. 


And one of the things I've talked about right now is getting exposed to enough things to find out what you might want to do. I talked to big corporations about different kinds of minds. Visual thinkers like art, design, mechanics, mathematicians for computers, chemistry, and physics, and then you need the word thinkers. They help organize everything. And the different kinds of minds can be complementary skills. 


I've talked to tech companies. I've talked to banking companies. Retail product companies. Service companies.  


Marissa: Thank you so much here, Temple. We're going to do one more and then I have a little closing. I know we're overtime. Thank you so much for joining us! 


Dr. Grandin: And I was a little bit late so I can stay on a little while longer. How many people have we got on here tonight? 


Marissa: We had a lot of folks. We have over a hundred on here tonight and we're trying to get everyone's questions! And thank you so much, everyone, for being so engaged. It's been a really fun discussion. 


Cindy, are you ready here? 


Cindy: I am. 


Hi Dr. Grandin, it is an honor. Honestly, I am so excited to actually be able to talk to you. 


I have a question. My daughter just hit puberty and her pica has just increased significantly. I wondered if you had any suggestions on how to deal with that? 


Dr. Grandin: What is she eating? 


Cindy: Paper. Plastic. Basically, just anything that she’s not supposed to. 


Dr. Grandin: Is she actually eating this stuff? 


Cindy: We try not to. The school is managing it and we keep a very close eye on it but it seems to have gotten worse since she got her period. 


Dr. Grandin: Well that’s normal. And is she verbal or non-verbal? 


Cindy: She is verbal but it's gotten to a point where she even asks for it. Like, especially with the toilet paper she asks for it. We tell her and she's very aware that she's not supposed to eat it.


Dr. Grandin: Well there might be something else that she can chew on, like gum or something like that. 


Cindy: Yeah the school has worked with giving her ice. We give her gum. And we're working with the doctors. The doctors have even tried to see if there’s an iron deficiency. But it's gotten to the point where you know she's even aware of it. 


Dr. Grandin: The other thing on a lot of these, is she getting enough exercise? Because exercise helps with anxiety. I hate exercising but I find that that burst of hard exercise really does make a difference. 


Cindy: The thing is right now, ever since the pandemic, it’s been a little hard to have her be involved in activities. And unfortunately, I have had some health issues myself. Because I’m a single mother unfortunately I haven’t been able to be as active with her as I like. 


And the other thing too, as you know with girls and puberty right? 


Dr. Grandin: Well that’s the hormones because when the hormones hit that’s when my anxiety skyrocketed. My anxiety was way worse than the hormones. 


Cindy: That was going to be my second question. My second question is going to be at this age, where she's at, 11…


Dr. Grandin: Puberty is coming early. I was 14 when puberty came. 


Cindy: Yeah she, unfortunately, hit puberty very young. She got her period at 10 and 1/2. 


Any suggestions on managing her anxiety? 


Dr. Grandin: Well, then you get into whether or not to do medication. 


I think way too much medication is given out to kids like candy. It’s just disgusting. I have talked to parents where the kids are on eight different drugs. Some 8-year-old’s a zombie on eight different drugs and I find out no thought when into it. They’re just throwing prescriptions at it without thought. That’s just horrible. 


Cindy: She’s on a very low dose of guanfacine but that's about it and I was very reluctant.


Dr. Grandin: Is it working? 


Cindy:  The guanfacine does seem to help but that's about it. She's not on anything else. 


Dr. Grandin: The other thing is exercise. Because I’ve found hard exercise helped with the panic. 


Cindy: So keeping her active?  


Dr. Grandin: Active. Active. Active. And does she do things where she interacts with other children? 


Cindy: My daughter is the one that's into video production.


Dr. Grandin:  She’s the video producer? Okay.


Cindy: Yes. So she's way more into that than being with other kids. 


Dr. Grandin: Well then let's do a video production where we do it on assignment. 


Do you belong to a church or something where you could do a video assignment with somebody else?


Cindy: I’m going to look into that. 


Dr. Grandin: I talked to a parent one time and her boy was really good at doing stop motion animation. And I suggested he film the church picnic. And I said, why don’t you get some GI Joes out in the grass and dress them up in civilian clothes. And you have a tug of war where you can do a stop motion tug of war with GI Joes dressed in civilian clothes in tall grass. That'd be very very cool stop motion. Also, it would get him outside. 


The other thing I recommend is that he do it in the church office. Got to get him out of the house. Bring his computer over there. He doesn’t have to use their equipment, but get him out of the house. It’s also something that he has to make a video of the church picnic that the congregation is going to want to see. So you could intersperse it with maybe some stop motion animation of a tug of war with the real tug of war. And edit it really nicely and then people see those skills.


Cindy: Her skills are there. She's even able to change her voice. She does different voices. She can have four iPads at different times and she has them stopped at different times. She includes different music. It's really really amazing. 


Dr. Grandin: You need to get her some jobs. Gigs. Get some assignments where she's going to go out and make a video for somebody else and that video has to please that somebody else. Like I did with the hair salon sign. That was my first little entrepreneurial thing. 


Just simple stuff like that. 


Cindy: I want to say, I think I can speak for everyone, thank you for all the work that you do for the community. You are an inspiration. 


Dr. Grandin: I want to see these kids get out and be successful. I’m seeing too many kids growing up that have never used tools. 


I think taking the hands-on classes out of the schools is one of the worst things schools ever did. You know people ask me, if I could do something to change the schools? I can tell you it would be putting all that stuff back in.


Marissa: Thank you all for such good questions. 


Dr. Grandin: [Reading chat] someone wrote about the movie. 


You know my mother was one of the most important people and she knew just how hard to stretch and push me. And she’d always give me choice, limited choices, of activities and things I could do.  


One of the big problems I’m seeing is the underestimating signs [of] what their kids can do. Now there are some things I can't do. Multitasking I can't do. Remembering long strings of verbal instruction, I can't do. I've got to write it down. I don't particularly like using the GPS because I have to react too quickly. 


Marissa: Desiree, did you want to add on to that about the movie?


Desiree: Hi Ms. Grandin, I was actually the one that had the question about the movie. I was asking about your point of view about your mom? Because I know that something that I've wondered and I know that speaking with other parents that we wonder is, are our kids going to resent us for pushing so hard? 


Dr. Grandin: I think they're going to thank you in the future. They’ll be mad at the time, but thank you. 


Now there’s a scene in the movie where the boss throws the deodorant down and says, “you stink, use it.” Secretary took me shopping.Those scenes happened. They happened. I thank that boss now. 


I think in the future they will thank you. When they get out in some job they really like, doing things they really like, they're going to thank you for doing it.


Desiree: I have two children on the spectrum and they're fairly young.


Dr. Grandin: How old?


Desiree: 5 and 4. 


Dr. Grandin: Ok, their little kids. And I have to ask that. I have to talk about little kids stuff, that’s like under 5. Elementary school. High school. And adults. There’s like four categories. 


Desiree: We’re in the process of getting the IEP for my older son who's going into kindergarten and we've been fighting with the school district and all that kind of stuff. And these days, whenever it gets really hard, I always go back to the movie at the very end, when your character stands up and says that without her, without your mom, you wouldn't be where you are. 


Dr. Grandin: Probably wouldn’t have been. See that’s the thing. She had a very good sense of just how much to push me. Like making sure when I was in college I did a different internship. I was an aide for an autistic kid one summer. I worked in a research lab another summer. Mother helped facilitate those things. It was all back door. 


Desiree: Thank you so much, Ms.Grandin, I truly appreciate your time.


Dr. Grandin: [Reading chat] Here’s something about a 22-year-old, is he always going to need medication? You need to get really good advice on that. 


Some people say all medication is evil or they drown them in medication. That's totally dreadful. But I take one little med. And I don't think I could have achieved the things I achieved without that medication. That medication has really helped me and some of these more severe ones probably need a little bit of the right thing. And you try carefully one thing at a time and see what it does. Because if you change programs and you do a med at the same time, you don't do what works. Was it the change in the program or was it the med? You don’t know. 


And you want to start with the meds with the less severe side effects. 


Another thing is, no medication will give you 100% control of the behavior. My anxiety was about 90% controlled, not 100%. And you don't want to get into the thing every time there’s a problem. You don’t want to get into that mess. 


Marissa: Temple, one question that's come up in the chat is when parents should have the conversation with their kids on the spectrum?


Dr. Grandin: Well, I think it depends on how well the kid is doing. If a kid’s doing just fine, he doesn't need to know. 


Where does a diagnosis really help? Later in life. This is the book, Different Not Less, and this is 18 adults, older adults, getting diagnosed later in life. And their marriages had problems. And this is where diagnosis was really helpful. This is where a diagnosis is really a relief. 


I’ve had wives say to me, “Oh, your book enabled me to understand my engineer husband and saved our marriage.” 


That's where it's helpful, in relationships. Because the things that I get emotional about aren't the same things most people get emotional about. Like getting a really emotional scientist trying to save his life's work. That's something that I get very emotional about. 


[Reading chat] You say ABA is working, well if ABA is working for you then do it. Because so much depends on, not the name of the program, the teachers. The people that do it. There’s all kinds of ABA. Really good, flexible ABA that recognizes the sensory problems and works with OTs to rigid old fashion ABA, that’s just terrible. And some of the advocates that despise ABA were exposed to some very bad old-fashioned ABA and they were forced into sensory overload and that’s why they hated it. Also forced to do too much stupid busywork. 


Guest: Hi Temple. I’m the parent of an adult child. She's done so amazingly well. She surpassed everything, every step of the way. She graduated from a University in History of Music. The thing is that now she's working at a grocery store, having such a hard time you know, fitting into the world of work and finding something meaningful. 


Dr. Grandin: This is the thing. The mistake that gets made is that in college she should have been transitioning into the world of work in music. 


When I was in high school I had the sign painting business. I ran a horse barn. Didn’t do any studying but I ran a horse barn. I did everything except the finances. Cleaned eight, nine stalls every day. I fed them, put them in and out. I repaired damage in the barn and learned working skills. 


Guest: Temple all along, yes she did play in the orchestra. She's right now she's in a band. She's in two bands. Music is not something that she's going to earn a living. She needs a day job.


Dr. Grandin: Well then the thing is, you do good in the grocery store and then they put you in management.  


Guest: Rachel, she speaks very quickly and sometimes it's hard to understand so direct contact with customers, things like this, are often difficult. And I'm sorry to say this, I love her, but she can be rude. Direct. 


Dr. Grandin: This is where there has to be, you have to explain to her what exactly she did that was rude. You can’t just be vague and say you're rude to customers. That's too vague. 


Now let’s say, you told the lady she was too fat. Okay, that's absolutely unacceptable. But you have to explain to her what she did that was rude. 


When I was in graduate school, in the '80s, there were some people that thought that I was stuck up because I didn't say hi when I went past other people in the corridor. Well, now I've learned to do that. That has to be taught.  


So I have to find out what she is specifically doing in that grocery store that’s considered rude and then we coach her. Just like I have to know not to show the bottom of my foot if I go to a middle eastern country because that's rude. I wouldn’t know that.


Guest: With jobs such as data entry, things like this would be good for her. But again it's been very difficult and sometimes she will find jobs. She'll lose her job. 


Dr. Grandin: And Why is she losing the jobs? 


Guest: Oh my goodness. The last job that she had, unfortunately, she got very frustrated. It was based on sales and things like this. Performance. And she got upset and kicked a door. 


Dr. Grandin: The thing I had to do with anger because I got in trouble for that. I got kicked out of school for anger. You have to switch to crying.  


Just the other day I was at this autism school and I saw this door labeled electrical. Well, when I was in the big meat plants, those were my favorite places to go to cry because nobody would go in there and I knew what not to touch. I never did it in the restrooms. I didn’t want anyone to see me so I’d go into the electrical room or under the stairs. I had places in big parking lots where I would hide when I got really upset. When someone has been mean to me. It was very difficult, but you don't get fired for crying and I made sure that they didn’t see me. That’s why I went to the electrical room. 


Guest: Temple, one other question I really have to ask you and that is with Rachel, I told her that she had Asperger's when she was in junior high. This is because the school wanted me to tell her and she never accepted it? She's 30 now and it's just something she's never accepted about herself.


Dr. Grandin: Well, ok. Elon Musk has autism. He’s on the autism spectrum. Maybe she needs to watch the Saturday Night Live segment. It can be found on Youtube. I think he came out and said he had Aspergers, which is no speech delay type of autism.


Michelangelo probably was autistic. Edison. Tesla. Einstein. In other words an autistic brain and often more interested in what they do like music, than sort of relationship stuff. 


Guest: You know, I think this is just a process and one day I hope that she will be autonomous and living on her own. But anyway she's done remarkably well. 


Temple, thank you very much. I really appreciate it. And especially what you said about going in the back door, that we have to think creatively. 


Dr. Grandin: Well, there’s all these back doors and people don’t see them. 


There’s a very important scene in the movie where I go up and get the editor's card. Cuz I knew if I wrote for that magazine that would really help my career. Really helps my career. I saw that back door and then I produced a good article that summarized my Master's thesis on cattle handling. 


People don't see the back doors. They're right there, they don’t see them. 


Marissa: Temple, thank you so much. Everyone, great questions tonight. Thank you so much!