Noted autism self-advocate Temple Grandin is taking special educators to task for too often dwelling on the challenges students with disabilities face rather than the strengths they possess.

“Special educators need to look at what a child can do instead of what he/she cannot do,” Grandin writes in an essay on the website TakePart.

Rather than focus exclusively on trouble spots, Grandin said educators and parents should encourage kids with disabilities to expand their strengths, citing her own childhood interest in art. Though she preferred to draw horse heads repeatedly, Grandin said she was pushed to expand her skills by painting pictures of the beach, for example.

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Eventually, Grandin said, her art skills led to her work designing livestock equipment.

“There needs to be more emphasis on building up and expanding the skills a child is good at,” Grandin writes. “Too often people get locked into a label such as dyslexia, ADHD or autism and they cannot see beyond the label.”

Grandin said she’s dismayed hearing about children who are dissuaded from pursuing their talents. In one case she heard about a teacher forbidding a student from drawing pictures. And at some schools, Grandin said, kids are limited to materials specifically for their grade level.

“If a teacher had stifled my art ability, I would have never become a designer of livestock equipment,” said Grandin, noting that equipment she designed handles half of the cattle in North America. “I think that this is a real accomplishment for a child that some people thought was mentally retarded.”

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