TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN
Renowned animal advocate, autism expert and author Temple Grandin addresses a large audience on the topic of autism during a daylong event at the Western Manitoba Centennial Auditorium on Thursday.
If parents are concerned about their toddler’s communication, behaviour and social development, early intervention is crucial.
That was a key message stressed by renowned autism advocate Temple Grandin to a sold-out crowd of more than 800 people Thursday.
"You’ve got two-year-olds, three-year-olds that are not talking …The worst thing you can do is do nothing with them," Grandin said. "You’ve got to work with these kids 20 or 30 hours a week of one-to-one instruction."
It is important to act quickly and not necessarily wait for a diagnosis.
"I don’t care what diagnostic label they put on them … if (two- and three-year-olds) are not talking, acting weird in any kind of way … waiting is the worst thing you can do," said Grandin, a well-known speaker and author living with high-functioning autism.
The full-day event was held at the Western Manitoba Centennial Auditorium, presented by the Westman Autism Parent Support Group and the Westman School Clinician’s Association.
It was Grandin’s second event in Brandon. On Wednesday, she spoke to a packed room at the Victoria Inn about animal welfare.
Jan Pilling is a speech/language pathologist in the Brandon School Division and a conference committee member for the WSCA. She said the number of children with autism in the school division is on the rise.
"We’re definitely working with more students who are diagnosed with autism or Asperger syndrome," Pilling said.
"Every child with autism is different, so they all have different needs … Some children that have autism speak, and do not have difficulty with that and some do not speak at all, so we help them at whatever level they need."
Autism is a developmental disorder that affects the ability to communicate and interact with others to varying degrees and is considered a spectrum disorder.
"It goes from Einstein and Steve Jobs and musicians and artists, down to somebody that’s going to remain non-verbal and be very handicapped," Grandin said. "It’s a continuum of traits, going from people that can be really brilliant but socially awkward, to somebody that’s definitely not going to be going to college and is going to have to live in a supervised living situation."
Sheila Deacon, president of WAPS, started the support group in 2001 after her three-year-old daughter, Jillian, was diagnosed with autism. Now 15, Jillian is attending the Life Skills class at Neelin High School.
"We’re continuing to work on her communication and looking forward to what she may do down the road after school," Deacon said. "We’re always looking for those strengths and see what direction we can guide her in."
Another key message Grandin spoke about was the importance of new parents understanding sensory problems.
"The kid is screaming when you go into the big grocery store because he’s got sensory overload," she said. "People need to understand the sensory issues, that’s extremely important."
Kids with autism often have "uneven skills," Grandin said.
"They’re good at one thing, bad at something else. Some kids are visual thinkers, some kids are word thinkers, some kids are mathematical thinkers and we need to take and build on the area of strength," she said.
Grandin is a professor at Colorado State University and has a PhD in animal science. She is the focus of the semi-biographical, award-winning HBO movie, titled "Temple Grandin."
She was listed in Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2010.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition May 25, 2012