Employers being vague with instructions or criticism is hardly helpful for the thought processes and understanding of workers with autism, said renowned autistic speaker Temple Grandin.
The Finch Fieldhouse gymnasium was filled past capacity Wednesday night by more than 200 people as Grandin shared her story of a successful life with autism.
As part of the T.R. Johnson Speaker Series, her speech “The Way I See It” was put on by the College of Education and Human Services.
During her speech, Grandin attributed much of her success to her early diagnosis in 1950, which helped her to get a myriad of individualized attention and mentoring. Grandin, who did not speak until she was more than 3 years old, is a strong believer in the power of socialization and work experience as remedies to some of the more reclusive behavior seen in members of the autism spectrum.
Grandin is considered one of the most successful and accomplished adults living with autism today, having earned her Ph.D, designed the facilities in which half the country’s cattle are handled, and published several books on autism.
“Too many kids aren’t learning how to work,” Grandin said. “Kids need to be getting out and doing more kinds of things.”
Administrative Secretary Roxanne Jordan, who had a hand in organizing the event, said they made seating available for 1,900 people, but she had been informed of at least 2,100 in attendance.
Grandin emphasized that employers need to be upfront and honest with their employees who fall into one of the categories along the autism spectrum.
With several references to Steve Jobs and other successful “techies,” Grandin made it clear there are countless people living with the same conditions, but different labels.
Too often, she said, she will walk into a conference for gifted children and see the same characteristics of the children she sees at conferences for the autistic.
Grandin emphasized that many people with autism are visual thinkers, like her. These visual thinkers are the perfect match for industry jobs that require a lot of visual planning and design, Grandin said.
“We have a shortage of skilled trades workers,” Grandin said. “One of the worst things schools have done is take out the (vocational-technical) classes.”
These and many other topics held the audience captive as Grandin transitioned from serious subject to lighthearted comment throughout her speech, even joking when the people walking in front of the stage had thrown off her train of thought.
Jordan said since the event’s announcement, she has been getting calls and emails from people as far as Lansing, Detroit and Indiana to confirm their attendance at the speech. She and other organizers quickly realized the event would have to be moved from its original location in the French Auditorium to allow more people to attend.
“It was excellent,” Jordan said. “And we saw some of them were here at 3 p.m. waiting.”
Junior Emilia Tomassucci of Iron Mountain has known she wanted to be a teacher since the second grade, and was impressed with what Grandin had to say.
“I have heard so much about Temple Grandin and how successful she has become,” Tomassucci said. “I was inspired by that and I want to be able to push my students to their levels, too.”