On Seeing Temple Grandin...


I collect experiences the way other people collect shoes, which is why when a writer like Julie Klam, a dog trainer like Cesar Milan, an advocate like Temple Grandin or other notable individuals who fall into my realm of interests come to Vermont, I try to be there. And, just as people buy shoes for all occasions, my interests are varied, falling primarily into the area of animals, writing/memoir, psychology and religion. Yet, to extend the metaphor further, while sometimes people come away from a store with the perfect pair of shoes knowing just what they are going to wear them with, often I come away from my experiences a bit clueless -- pleased by the acquisition, but more likely to store the memory in a back closet until I find an occasion to which it applies.

I guess what I'm trying to say is it takes me awhile to process my experiences and the things I take away from them may be a little on the quirky side like matching combat boots with a party dress -- I process things through my own lens.

For example, I have known of Temple Grandin for years, having always been keenly interested in the human mind and how it works and even more intrigued as a dog writer on the workings of the animal mind. Grandin, an autistic and an advocate for the humane treatment of animals, addresses both. Thus, when I heard she was going to be at the T-Rex theater today, I was excited to go. Perhaps it would be something to blog about, but more honestly, she simply sparked my interest much in the way a moth is drawn to a flame or Imelda Marcus to a Jimmy Choo sale.

Grandin primarily spoke about autism and how to channel children on this spectrum in ways that allow them to reach their fullest potential. It was fascinating and Grandin, in her trademark western shirt and necktie, did not disappoint. I jotted down notes, but my overall impression could seem tremendously simplified. I'm sure there were people with more compelling reasons for being there than me, who were dealing with a child or family member with autism and to those I think Grandin gave some good advice. From my perspective, I came away with some impressions and thoughts that I could generalize to my own life, like seeing a window display and trying to figure out what parts of it I could recreate or apply to my wardrobe at home.

I came away with this -- Grandin emphasized that too often we as a society focus on the negative, what a person with autism can't do instead of focusing on the positive, what a kid is capable of doing. She emphasized that we should foster their passions and make use of teachable moments. She said that by acclimating autistic children to new experiences we fill their brains, creating more and more categories and as a result more flexible thinking. I came away thinking how this approach not only applies to autistic children, but to all children and even to my pugs. Grandin may not have spoken about the mind of dogs on this occasion, but so much of what she said I could take to heart in working with and understanding my dogs. We often read training books that recommend giving our pets a job and finding ways to let them do what they were bred to do. We know that we should seize opportunities as they arise to train them. She said rather than yelling "no," we should illustrate the way we want things to be done-- how often have we heard this said about the training of our animals? And, in turn, doesn't this apply to interacting with my nieces and nephews as well?
I find more often than not that when we find something to be true in one area it frequently applies in more universal ways. I came away believing that Grandin's advice is just plain good parenting and training: Encourage others to do what they are good at, emphasize the positive, find teachable moments, just do it!

She may have been talking about autism, but I'm going to apply this to  Waffles and Alfie as well, because as the saying goes if the shoe fits wear it!