Dr. Temple Grandin is an expert in animal behavior and a professor of animal science at Colorado State University. She’s also known as a national spokesperson and activist for people living with autism.
Dr. Grandin herself is on the autism spectrum.
“When I was 3, I had no language," Dr. Grandin said. "I had all the classical symptoms of autism and I was very lucky to get into an early speech-therapy program when I was 2-and-a-half years old. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of that. I also had really wonderful teachers.”
She says she wasn’t the best student in high school, but her science teacher helped her find her passion.
“By giving me interesting projects and making education a pathway to a goal of becoming a scientist, then that motivated me to study,” Dr. Grandin said.
Dr. Grandin has earned international recognition. She was one of the first adults to publicly share she’s on the autism spectrum and she’s played a big role in breaking down the stigma that comes with the condition.
Most recently, she’s been leading a special education lecture series with Varsity Tutors, a company that pairs students with personalized instructors. Doreen Fasen is the director of special education with Varsity Tutors.
“These are just different ways of learning," Fasen said. "Just because the school system can’t teach you the way that you need to learn isn’t really your fault. You just have to go find the right way that you learn, so you can learn.”
Fasen has a son with autism and a daughter with dyslexia.
"I share this information very openly and so the company knew that I would care a lot about this audience,” Fasen said.
Fasen says she asked Dr.Grandin to be a part of the series because she’s been inspired by her since her son was very young. He’s now 20 years old.
“She told me that her mother always held high expectations for her, so I’ve always believed that my son can achieve a lot," Fasen said.
20 years old means he’s close to the stage in life where young adults often find independence and a stable job. Dr. Grandin’s final lecture for the series is geared toward preparing students on the spectrum for the workforce. She says she owes her success to her mother who helped her gain work skills at a young age.
“Mother got me a little job when I was 13," Dr. Grandin said. "She set it up so I could help sew dresses with a seamstress when I was 13 years old. And that was my first job where I got paid money and I really liked that. We need to just look for those kinds of opportunities in the neighborhood.”
That’s basically what Fasen is trying to do with her son.
“It’s hard to explain to him what different types are like, so we’re just trying different types of jobs," Fasen said. "For example, he loves music and he really wanted to be in a music job. But when he got some experience doing that where it was later in the evening and really, really loud, he realized ‘ooh, I don’t like that’ so then we tried something else.”
Fasen says the spectrum is wide and you can’t put all students with autism in the same category, but she wants everyone to understand people on the spectrum can achieve great things. Who knows – they could be the next Temple Grandin.
“My purpose is to help these parents realize that there’s a lot of hope here," Fasen said. "There’s a lot of reason for them to believe in their students and know that just because they may not be on a typical path, they’re still on a good path and they still have a great future ahead of them”
Dr. Grandin’s message for people on the spectrum: find what you love and what you’re good at.
“Develop your strengths," Dr. Grandin said. "People on the autism spectrum tend to have uneven skills – good at one thing, bad at something else – let’s build on the thing they’re good at.”