Temple Grandin on why having autism makes her different, not less

First aired on Day 6 (25/5/12)


According to a recent study, one in three people with autism have had no paid job experience seven years after leaving high school. And with reports that autism diagnoses are on the rise -- one in 88 kids are diagnosed with a condition on the autism spectrum, a 78 per cent increase from 10 years ago -- Temple Grandin is concerned. She's a bestselling author and a professor at Colorado State University, and was the subject of the HBO movie Temple Grandin, starring Claire Danes. Grandin wants to help inspire kids with autism to get out and get working, so she's edited a new book called Different...Not Less: Inspiring Stories of Achievement and Successful Employment. It's a collection of essays written by people on the autism spectrum who are employed and living full lives.

Grandin believes that the key to professional success for people with autism is for them to get into the workforce early. Grandin herself started making money at the age of 13, sewing small projects for her mother. At 14, she got a job cleaning stables on a horse farm. The 14 subjects in Different...Not Less have a variety of careers, but Grandin says they all have one thing in common: they started working early and their passions were encouraged. When Grandin became obsessed with her relaxing machine, a science teacher encouraged her to figure out why it worked. He "used my fixation to motivate an interest in science," Grandin explained to Day 6 guest host Jim Brown in a recent interview.

And she's not alone in this. Stephen Shore, one of the book's contributors, became obsessed with taking things apart and putting them back together. As a result, he became a whiz at bicycle repair and started a small business in college fixing other students' bicycles. "It's important for kids to develop their areas of strength," Grandin said. "We got to get people into careers and jobs so they can support themselves,"


Building on their strengths accomplishes two things: it provides kids with career-friendly interests, but it also boosts their confidence.  Grandin had many mentors along the way who encouraged her and gave her belief in her own abilities, and without them she knows she wouldn't have the career she does today. She sees no reason other children with autism can't be provided with the same kind of opportunities, no matter where their interests lie.

That's the reason Grandin showcased so many different kinds of careers in Different...Not Less. She wants kids to be able to see themselves and their potential futures in the book. "There's a lot of different kind of minds" Grandin pointed out. "There's the visual thinkers, like me, more of the art kind of mind, the designer. Then you've got the techies, the more mathematician kind of mind. And then you've got the word thinkers."

After the HBO film about her life came out, Grandin was floored by the amount of attention she got. Others with autism found her story inspiring and it encouraged them to go after their dreams. Grandin hopes this book will do the same.

"I have kids write to me to tell me that they now know they can do it, they can succeed," Grandin said. "I think that's a really good thing."

Related links: