Autism advocate Temple Grandin speaks to HCDE occupational and physical therapists

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October 14, 2021 by HCDE-Texas

Over 260 therapists, teachers, specialists, and school psychologists logged on to their computers this week to hear renowned animal behaviorist and autism activist Temple Grandin, Ph.D., speak about her autism diagnosis and what steps she believes should be taken to ensure autistic students can thrive in educational and professional environments.

Grandin’s keynote speech was part of a 2-day professional development workshop hosted by School-Based Therapy Services titled “Great Minds Think Differently.”

As Grandin began her hourlong presentation, teachers, school personnel, and occupational, physical, speech, and music therapists from Harris County and across the state began flooding the virtual workshop chat window with questions hoping to gain unique insights from one of the disorder’s most well-known spokespeople.

A screenshot of Temple Grandin, Ph.D., and School-Based Therapy Services Senior Director Carie Crabb taken on Oct. 12, 2021.

In response, Grandin gave examples of how those with autism and related disabilities might think and how to encourage people with those issues to pursue their interests. 

“You’ve got to get exposed to stuff to get interested. A lot of autistic kids will get fixated on one thing and what you want to do is broaden that fixation,” affirmed Grandin. “One of the things that motivated me in my twenties is that I wanted to prove to people that I was not stupid. I’m kind of a NASA geek. I always loved outer space, but I couldn’t become an aeronautical engineer because I couldn’t do the math—but I could find the area of a circle—that kind of practical stuff I could do. So, I went into the cattle industry, and I’ve done a lot of good things. Half the cattle in this country are processed in a piece of equipment that I developed called the center track restrainer system. I think that’s doing pretty good for a kid they thought was retarded.”

Other event speakers included Paula Kluth, Ph.D., who presented “You’re Going to Love This Kid,” a creative approach to teaching students in an inclusive classroom, and Susan Catlett, Ph.D., a board-certified behavior analyst and consultant who shared evidence-based practical strategies with participants.

Therapy staff attend a “Great Minds Think Differently” workshop, October 13, 2021

“Anytime you see Temple Grandin’s name on something, the excitement level just goes up,” says Harris County Department of Education Occupational Therapist Thelma “Tina” Banks, who works as an occupational therapist in the Houston Independent School District through a partnership between the district and HCDE. “Learning about different thinkers and her struggles with math but [having] other great abilities, it really speaks to us [occupational therapists and guides us to] rethinking how we set up our programs for people who have other abilities like autism. It doesn’t have to be the thing that keeps them from getting to their true giftedness, whatever that is.”

The objective of the workshop was to provide attendees with applied skills, tools, and resources that can be easily replicated in the classroom.

“I have wanted to bring Temple Grandin and Paula Kluth to our staff for a long time.  I would say they are ‘bucket list’ speakers for me,” said School-Based Therapy Services Senior Director Carie Crabb. “We want to bring the best professional development possible to those working with kids with disabilities to help them be the best practitioners they can be. When we are our best, our kids reap the benefits.”

Banks agrees and looks forward to attending future professional development events to learn additional practical skills to implement with her students.

“The focus of giving us strategies that we can take back to the campuses, that’s spot-on,” Banks said. “You’re going to get a cheer from every therapist here when you do that because we are always wanting to be better and get better at what we do so that our students are better, and that’s the bottom line.”

The 2-day virtual workshop was recorded and will be available on-demand via the Whova platform through November 30. For access, register at https://bit.ly/HCDEGreatMinds.

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