Friday, August 24, 2012

TOP STORY >> Autism activist visits

Dr. Temple Grandin, an animal scientist and autism advocate, visited the Lighthouse Christian Academy in Beebe last Sun-day and spoke to area educators, parents and families with autistic children.

She visited at the behest of Eric Moxley and his family, whose child Mary Madison Moxley, has been diagnosed with autism. She attends Lighthouse Christian Academy.

Diagnosed with autism at the age of 2, Grandin overcame social disdain and uncooperative educators to become one of the nation’s leading experts in the treatment of livestock as well as an outspoken activist in the field of autism.

A professor of animal science at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo., Grandin has received numerous awards from the livestock industry and animal-welfare groups for improving conditions in large processing plants around the country.

She credits her sympathetic approach to animals to her mental condition and her fascination with the power of human contact.

Named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2010, she received a master’s degree in animal science from Arizona State University in 1975 and a doctoral degree in animal science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1989.

The HBO film about her life and early career, “Temple Grandin,” earned five Emmys in 2010.

She spoke of her life at a recent luncheon at the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion sponsored by the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences’ Psychiatric Research Institute and the University of Arkansas College of Medicine’s Division of Genetics.

Educators from Beebe, Cabot, Jacksonville and the Bryant school districts were present last Sunday.

Families with autistic children and adults listened to Grandin’s views on how the talents of these children can be better utilized.

She stressed the importance of early-intervention and of these children getting appropriate therapies and services.

She emphasized the importance of slowing down when communicating with children who have autism, of giving proper instructions for things you want them to do and of encouraging their creativity.

Grandin shared some scans of her own brain in comparison with a non-autistic college professor.

She said that children or adults who have been “labeled” autistic can be some of the smartest people around.

“If you took away all of the autism in the world, you wouldn’t have another computer or video game, etc.,” she said.

Some of the smartest people in the world have been diagnosed as being somewhere on the autism spectrum, including Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, many computer programmers in Silicon Valley and others, she said.

Grandin also broke from her normal protocol of written questions and took questions directly from the floor — from teachers, parents and from adults with autism who were present.

She told parents to make sure their children with autism are being taught skills that will enable them to find and keep employment, once they reach adulthood.

She stressed that too many times schools and parents try to keep these children “in a box” or on a certain education path, when at times it may be necessary to get outside-the-box and expand their capabilities.

“Sometimes these children become fixated on certain things,” she said.

Grandin encouraged educators and parents to “use that. Don’t squash what they are interested in. Use that thing to teach math or reading.”

She also said “if a child is capable of doing higher- level math or science than his grade level may allow, let him do it. Stretch them, expanding on their capabilities and strengths instead of focusing on areas they may not be as capable in.”

Grandin’s story is told from the standpoint of a woman thriving in a male field and she stood up for herself when others had written her off.

Madison’s father, Eric Moxley, said that as a family that has been affected by autism, one of the most helpful things he and his wife, Jaynna have is an active support system in place.

“We are very blessed to have a strong church family, and our family is here today. It matters. When you’ve got a strong support network that is engaged and they care — it matters. You may not ‘fix’ autism, but you can support those who are affected by it, and that will mean so much to these families,” Eric Moxley said.

For information, contact the Arkansas Autism Resource and Outreach Center, 501-682-9900. For news and information resources see