Grandin’s visit inspires students

Famed animal welfare activist Temple Grandin, PhD. spoke to over 1,250 students, administrators and faculty in Carnesecca Arena on Wednesday about her experience with autism, as part of 2013 Founder’s Week.
Her lecture, titled “The Autistic Brain,” gave insight to those in attendance about the autism spectrum and how parents should embrace the interests and abilities of these children
at a young age.

“Autism should not define us,” she said, “but it can be used to our advantage.”

After Grandin was diagnosed with autism at age 2, she said her mother used to take her to speech therapy classes and paired her with a nanny that taught her social skills in the form of turn-taking board games. When she got a bit older, her mother sent her out to a relative’s farm where she found her affinity with livestock animals.

Her big break didn’t come easy for her, she said, but she saw there was a “need” to improve the conditions of animals before they got butchered.

“You have to learn to do the things that people want,” she said. “When I started in livestock handling, there weren’t a lot of people doing it, but there was a need– and I was good at it.”

Since then, she’s earned a doctorate with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and has worked extensively with farm animals, creating several projects targeting animals’ welfare, including her S-shaped designs meant to reduce stress of animals before being slaughtered and point system that detailed animal behavior.

“It was an absolute pleasure to welcome Dr. Grandin to campus,” Mary H. Pelkowski, associate dean for student engagement, said in a press release on the University website. “Scholar and servant, she has motivated countless people with her story and journey. It’s only fitting that she served as this year’s Founder’s Week speaker.”

The excitement and awe of Grandin also spilled over to students.

Ashley Di Gregorio, a senior, found the lecture to be beyond interesting.

“Temple is an amazing woman for her focus with autism,” she said. “But she’s so much more than that.”

Grandin also offered advice for those working with young children who have autism.

“If you see speech delay after two years of age, you need to address right away,” she said. “There are so many talented kids out there who are going nowhere because they have no mentor
to channel their abilities.”

Demetria Mantikas teaches English as a second language to students in the GLCC and has cousins on the autism spectrum.

“I saw her movie and I thought then she was a fascinating character,” he said. “Seeing her today just made me appreciate her even more.”

Kimberly Cuneo, a speech-pathology major, did therapy with children in the autism spectrum over the summer and felt Grandin’s speech validated her work.

“She inspired me in the work I do,” she said. “I feel like I make a difference.”