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Temple Grandin On The Downside Of Autism Awareness


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Temple Grandin is arguably one of the most famous faces of autism. Nonetheless, the self-advocate says there are drawbacks to all of the awareness surrounding the disorder.

Grandin says she’s worried that focusing on labels means that today’s youngsters with autism won’t meet their full potential.

“To a certain extent it’s a good thing,” Grandin said of increased autism awareness in an interview with Salon.

“On the other hand… I visit people in (autism) meetings, and a 9-year-old will come up and want to talk about his autism. I’d rather talk about his science project. You get fixated on your favorite thing as a kid, and now kids are getting fixated on autism instead of dogs or medieval knights. I’d rather get them to fixate on that something that could give them a career,” Grandin said.

The comments come as autism rates are rising rapidly. In March the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that 1 in 88 children have the developmental disability, up from an estimate of 1 in 110 just three years ago.

Grandin, 64, has written several books and tours the country speaking about her experiences as a person on the spectrum. She is also one of the country’s foremost experts on the handling of livestock. Her experiences were the subject of an award-winning 2010 HBO biopic starring Claire Danes.

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Comments (10 Responses)

  1. fairlady68 says:

    Yes, Dr. Grandin, I see this as a problem for myself too, i.e., fixating too much on my Asperger’s as a “special interest” and letting it distract me from the strengths and potentials I do have. Thanks for the candid words on this topic. You have done so much to help us all…and for the most part the wider awareness of the syndrome does make it easier for us on the spectrum to explain ourselves to others.

  2. Lisa says:

    A good reminder to us parents, no matter what the diagnosis. However, isn’t it better that a child begins early to understand that they have certain conditions? I like that my child also finds a better level of understanding from people who have begun to open their eyes about the many different abilities & challenges among us.
    The question is – what do you do with the greater awareness? What is the next step?

  3. sean Dineen says:

    Dear Dr. Gradin:
    I am a college professor who is a wheelchair user.
    I know what you mean. Total strrangers would rather discuss if I can bathe, then anything about my carrer, or interests.

  4. vmgillen says:

    A nine year old wanting to talk about his autism is NOT autism awareness – a talking nine year old wishing to explore the social impact of autism??? Here’s the downside: my son does not talk, has no social interaction, and certainly not self awareness or understanding of the reciprical interactivity of social -oh, I’m ranting. The downside is everyone thinks there’s awareness, but no one knows what they’re aware of. . . they all think it’s their autism, and only theirs. Maybe this will be fixed in the DSM-MCXL.

  5. Jon K. Evans says:

    Thank You Ms. Grandin! When I was in Elementary School, my teachers, parents, and older siblings all had a fit when I chose to read fact based books. A nun even went so far as to physically confiscate a book I found in the library on Chemistry! I confronted her as to why she did it weeks later, and she said that she thought I read too much information! I could understand it if I were reading Playboy Magazine at the age of 11 or 12. But to confiscate Chemistry; The History of Illinois? That was not only none of her business, but was overkill!

  6. msamericanpatriot says:

    We go on to acceptance. Yes we are aware of our autism because we live with it every day and have it shoved in our faces no matter how subliminally.

  7. Nicole says:

    Here’s the thing, the kid likely has lots of other interests, but he is there to see Temple Grandin!
    It is more likely that he is just excited to meet someone he can relate to so much and whom is so respected. The association they have is through the autism community, so of course they’re going to want to talk about it. I bet if she met him again, he’d talk about something else.

  8. Glen S says:

    Shoved in your face? Really? Sounds a bit like one poster is pushing the victim mentality again!

  9. autismUXB says:

    I recognize that Ms Grandin is an outstanding individual in the world of autism, and her comments for highly functioning people with autism may be well placed. However the majority of the population are lower functioning and less able to communicate. The potential for most is entirely dependant on the support and understanding of the people who live and work with them. Despite the increased occurance of autism, most people don’t know or care about the condition and we are in a political climate that believes that money is being wasted on this population. Better autism awareness to all is important to the current population, their caregivers and for all the new members that will be joining “autism club”. Also this applies to any disabiled people who are unable to communicate for themselves.

  10. Mary DeBernardis says:

    So true! We are PEOPLE first! Everyone has special talents! Focus on the positive and throw the negative out the door. We didn’t know that our first born had fragile x syndrome. It took 12 years to receive her diagnosis. When she was little, I expected her to help prepare food, play the piano, dance, sing, memorize poetry, read–and she did! She graduated from highschool and has lived independently for over 15 years and even drives her own car, works, volunteers, and participates in taekwando going for her black belt! We are hoping to make taekwando part of special olympics and she is helping in that cause as well. Erma Bombeck has said, “normal is just a setting on the dryer”! We can use some humor as well! Yes, it was a challenge to obtain special ed services all through the years, but I was able to be a “stay at home mom” and supported the teachers so they could better help our daughter. Our daughter attended 10 schools since my husband was a career Marine, but she learned how to adapt to “change” as a result. Temple, you are a great role model for many people. Thank you for all you do!

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