Last night we had the privilege of going to see Dr Temple Grandin, the autistic woman famous for inventing humane animal handling systems. Dr Grandin is also a renowned expert on autism and Youngest was very keen to hear her speak.
So off we went to Reading, but by the time we had arrived and found the Town Hall, Youngest had become overloaded, fallen into intractable silence and could not be persuaded to eat or drink anything. This was not looking good and I wondered if we should just go home. But I had only booked because they had wanted to go and I knew hearing Dr Grandin would be important for him.
There was a while to wait before the show started and I offered Youngest some cash to see if they wanted to get anything in the cafe. Off they set, with me trailing behind them. Their eyes alighted outside the auditorium on Dr Grandin signing books. Silently, we went down to the cafe but there was nothing to their liking. Back we came and they slowed down at the book-buying table. I asked if they would like a book and to get it signed. Yes.
The queue had diminished and we got the last book. Youngest met Dr Grandin for a brief moment as she signed youngest’s name and hers and youngest went back to their seat clutching the signed copy. They managed a small drink and a bite of the sandwich. I knew that as soon as she started talking youngest would be transfixed, for a full hour.
Dr Grandin spoke about how important it was to engage young people with autism, for them to participate through common, shared interests and how to teach them bottom up, not top down. By this she meant using specific examples to teach concepts, to teach the child according to the way they learn. She said it was also particularly important to discover the root cause of a child's problems, whether it was biological, sensory, fear/anxiety or a hidden medical problem. It was important to give an instruction for the type of behaviour you want, rather than a negative instruction.
Dr Grandin said that much more research needed to be done into sensory issues, to which Youngest , in particular, is very sensitive. She also pointed to how so many young people with autism were without basic skills and how fifties-style parenting, emphasising behavioural expectations by way of routine, benefitted young people with an ASD.
Her advice to teenagers with ASDs was that if you find it difficult to interact with people socially, then impress them with what you can do - build up a portfolio of the things you are good at and play to your strengths because talent gets respect. In this way, you can find a place for yourself in society.
Dr Grandin has a new book out, the same one that Youngest has today taken to school. It's called Different... Not Less: Inspiring Stories of Achievement and Successful Employment from Adults with Autism, Asperger's, and ADHD.
We didn't stay for the Question and Answer session after the break - Youngest 's attention was exhausted and so were they. But they took a lot from it, I could tell. Dr Grandin is very similar in her thought processes to him and I believe they were inspired and comforted to realise that so many people had come to listen to someone just like him.
Before we left, I asked youngest if they would like a picture taken with Dr Grandin - because I knew they would. I explained to Dr Grandin that Youngest now needed to go home but they would really love a picture with her. "We'd better do it right now, then!" she said and Youngest quickly went to stand at her side. It's not a great quality image, but I know it's one Youngest will treasure.
On the way home, they were ready to eat a sandwich and have a proper drink. It hadn't been an easy trip, but I know that they were satisfied and that's enough for me.
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