If you don't know who Temple Grandin is, you should. She's so amazing.
Temple is arguably the most well known adult living with Autism. She is a professor of animal sciences, inventor, author, presenter, and speaker. If you have never heard of The Squeeze Machine, or "Thinking in Pictures", then you should click on both links for more information. Temple's contributions to the field of Autism research and treatment is irreplaceable, and she has also tirelessly fought for more humane treatment of livestock on cattle ranches, including more humane slaughter practices. Recently HBO did a movie about Temple's life starring Claire Danes, that I HIGHLY recommend for anyone who has never had the pleasure of reading any of Temple's books. The movie shows what life was like for Temple as a child, but it also shows what day to day life is like for an adult Temple with her social, communication, and sensory processing issues.
It's hard to try and summarize the impact Temple has had on professionals, families, and children living/dealing with Autism whom she has never even met. When I started working in this field (which really wasn't that long ago) the idea of an adult with Autism who could be a professor, teach classes, think up and design inventions, and speak all over the world at conferences, was just unheard of. The most optimistic families I knew back then just hoped their child could one day live in a nice residential facility and learn self help skills, such as making a sandwich.
I didn't know of any adults with Autism, and the few adolescents I worked with were all pretty severe. One of the first ABA books I ever read as a new therapist was "Thinking in Pictures", and it completely changed how I viewed Autism. For the first time, I was able to read about what a meltdown feels like for a person with Autism.... Or how painful sensory issues can be..... Or how socially isolated people with Autism can feel, even in a room full of people.
I think any parent who wonders what the future holds for their child can look at Temple and know that there is no set answer. At one time in history a diagnosis of Autism meant a child was immediately institutionalized and deemed "hopeless". Now we know that with treatment and resources there's no limit to what these children can learn.
I also have to credit Temple for teaching me about sensory processing issues. Again, when I first started in this field no one around me knew what sensory issues were. I worked under consultants who taught me that when the child covered their ears, to make them put their hands down. Or that if the child hated wearing shirts and cried and ran away when someone tried to dress them, that they were just being "difficult". The more I learned about Temple and read her books the more I realized that sensory issues are real, and they can be quite uncomfortable or painful. My experiences in this field have often reinforced the sensory issues Temple speaks or writes about. When Temple writes about her experiences growing up, she describes over and over again how debilitating loud noises, strangers, unwanted touch, crowds, or flashing lights were to her:
"As a child, I craved to feel the comfort of being held, but I would pull away when people hugged me. When hugged, an overwhelming tidal wave of sensation flowed through me. At times, I preferred such intense stimulation to the point of pain, rather than accept ordinary hugs...... Whenever anyone touched me, I stiffened, flinched, and pulled away." Temple Grandin, 1992
Reading Temple's books helped make me a better, more empathetic therapist. I could understand why the kiddos I worked with hated hugs, holding hands, or strong smells (such as my perfume).
Its so important for parents and professionals who work/live with children with Autism to know about people like Temple. Today, there are so many adults with Autism to look up to as heroes. There's Tony Atwood, William (Bill) Stillman, Jean-Paul Bovee, Liane Holliday Willey, Daniel Tammet, Dan Akroyd, Michelle Dawson, Jerry Newport, Matt Savage, John Elder Robison, and (depending who you believe) Albert Einstein and Bill Gates. Its important to know that there are poets, musicians, authors, businessmen, inventors, scientists, etc., who have Autism. Just like anyone else they likely have good days and bad days, and struggle with fitting in from time to time. But the potential for greatness is there. Temple helps people by providing some insight into what it is like to go through life feeling like someone dropped you off on the wrong planet. Its often easier to deal with a behavior when you have an idea why the child is doing it. A little empathy goes a long way.
Temple Grandin Website