Changing Perspective

Peter Huynh | New University

Temple Grandin tells UCI to take a different approach when thinking through issues.

UC Irvine welcomed Temple Grandin last Thursday, Oct. 4 for Disability History Week to speak about autism and Asperger’s and their role in the world today.

Grandin’s goal was to encourage the audience to address issues with “a different point of view.”

Her credentials include degrees from three colleges, a position as a Professor of Animal Science, nine novels and her hand in inventing livestock handling facilities that are used worldwide.

“I think that’s doing pretty good for somebody who they thought was mentally retarded,”  Grandin said.

Jan Serrantino, Director of Disability Services, said her personal involvement with the teaching of kids on the spectrum made her “incredibly pleased [to be] having someone who is a hero to many students with disabilities [and] on the spectrum [speak].”

She was followed by Gregory Leet, Vice Chancellor for University Advancement, Chancellor Michael V. Drake and recent UC Irvine graduate Noah Lee, who all expressed gratitude on her willingness to speak. Lee was open about his own experiences as a person with Asperger’s.

“It is a relief to realize you are not alone in your struggles to discover who you are and what you can do in spite of the challenges you face,” he said. “Especially when autism or Asperger’s is a significant element in your life.”

Grandin defined autism in her own way.

“It’s a developmental disorder, and the thing is, it varies,” she said.

She mentioned both ends of the spectrum, one which has the nonverbal and the other, which included minds like Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs and the variations between “NASA space scientists [and] quirky weird artists.”

Grandin expressed concern over the complicated nature of the spectrum and its disorders, and how the change and variations make it so that diagnoses are “not precise.”

Grandin then moved into her objective, which is to “get you thinking about different ways people think [because] … different people think differently,” and how “different kinds of minds need to work together, because they really do great things together.”

Grandin said she is adamant about reinstating the hands-on methods into the education system, through things like home economics and auto shop.

“Taking the hands-on classes out of schools … [is] disastrous,” Grandin said.

It ties in with her strong belief that children need to be given different areas — arts, math, science — to try out and hone their strong suits while finding their weak points.

Mentors are another key factor to overall success. Grandin mentioned the high school science teacher that helped guide her and feels that the same resource is invaluable to students, particularly those on the spectrum, who need nudges in the right direction.

It is also the real world where Grandin sees a need for improvement. From the little things such as punctuality to the larger issues of respecting authority, Grandin urged spectrum students to have more firsthand encounters with situations such as ordering at restaurants and presentations for investors.

While these skills are strengthened, the long term goals need to be kept in sight. Grandin said children need to start working young so that they have enough knowledge to go into more long-term careers.

Skills from all types of thinkers, including visual, verbal and auditory, should come together to build projects from the ground up so that no mishaps occur.

Having realized this, Grandin said that different types of thinkers can work together to differentiate between simple and complex problems.

“Sometimes the most obvious is the least obvious,” she said.