It takes all kinds of minds: Dr. Temple Grandin sheds light on autism at USU

Dr. Temple Grandin

Dr. TempleGrandin will soon visit Utah State University. She’s coming to discuss animalhandling, a field she’s revolutionized. She’ll also talk about Autism Spectrum Disorder.


She’s on theautism spectrum herself, and her life experience gives her a refreshing,insider’s approach to the topic. On November 2 she’ll deliver a free public lecture:“All Kinds of Minds Need to Work Together.” She speaks at 4 p.m. in the TaggartStudent Center ballroom.


If anywhereneeds more frank discussion about autism, it’s Utah. Nationwide, one in 110children is diagnosed with ASD. In Utah, the rate is one in 77. That means that two of every 150babies born in the state will experience the significant challenges incommunication, behavior and getting along with others that come with ASD. Thecost of treating autism can total $3.5 million over a child’s lifetime,according to a 2006 Harvard study—including medical care, prescriptionsand intervention.



Autism isn’tjust a hot topic because of the numbers. It’s also hotly debated, as advocates,parents, doctors and researchers seek consensus on its causes and treatment.


That said, somebright spots in the autism puzzle shine right here on the USU campus. All kindsof minds are working together at the Center for Persons with Disabilities to identifyASD and help people on the spectrum to be included in their communities. Programsensure that professionals and future leaders who will be working with childrenand adults on the ASD spectrum will be trained in intervention techniques thatwork.


“We work very hardwith the children to prepare them for success in inclusive settings,” said Dr.Thomas Higbee, who directs the Autism Support Services: Education, Research and Training (ASSERT) preschool program. “Just throwing them into inclusive settingswhen they have not developed the skills to be successful is oftencounterproductive. It is critically important to help them learn effectivesocial skills. Once a student has learned them, it is a great opportunity forthem to have positive experiences that will hopefully motivate them to continueparticipating in social situations.”


The ASSERTclassroom provides instruction to preschool-age children, plus some real-worldexperience to students and graduate students in the field. Many children have graduated from the ASSERTprogram and gone on to mainstream classrooms.


The CPD alsooffers early intervention services offered through the Up to 3 program. Screening services are alsoprovided for people of all ages, using an interdisciplinary approach.


Dr. Grandin has repeatedly said thesensory issues that often accompany ASD should receive more attention. Peopleon the spectrum may be hypersensitive to sounds, textures or smells—and thosesensitivities can further complicate social interactions and even make manyfoods undesirable, affecting the child’s nutrition.


CPD clinics and programs address achild’s sensory difficulties, particularly when it comes to food and nutrition. And over the past 3 years, 26 graduate students orpracticing professionals in health care have received autism-specific trainingso that they can better address the needs of people with ASD in their owncommunities. They received that training through the Utah Regional LeadershipEducation in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities program, co-administered by USUand the University of Utah.

CPD researchers are also working tounderstand the causes of autism. It is a harder task than they anticipated. Althoughgenetic research in autism is a very active field–and many research groupsclaim they have autism-gene associations–only a small percentage of autism casescan firmly be associated with genes, said the CPD’s biomedical laboratorydirector, Dr. Anthony Torres.


“Dax” from the 1 in 110 photo exhibit, that will be
shown in conjunction with Dr. Grandin’s book signing.
Photographer: ChristopherGauthier.

“It is my belief thatautism is not caused by one defect,” he said. “If we knew differentgenetic defects for certain groups of patients, we could customize thetreatment.” Dr. Torresand Clinical Services Co-Director Dennis Odell have discovered an associationbetween autism and a gene linked to autoimmune problems.


Whatever thecauses are for ASD, advocates have long speculated that some of the world’sgeniuses, including Albert Einstein, were on the spectrum. In her book The Way I See It, Dr. Grandin had thisto say: “There’s just no black and white dividing line between a computertechie and say, an Asperger’s person. So if we get rid of the genetics thatcause autism, there might be a horrible price to pay. Years ago, a scientist inMassachusetts said if you got rid of all the genes that caused disorders, you’dhave only dried-up bureaucrats left!”


Instead, asher lecture implies, she argues that all kinds of minds should work together.


For moreinformation on Dr. Grandin’s upcoming visit to the USU campus, take a look ather visit page. The event is part of the Center forPersons with Disabilities’ 40th Anniversary Celebration. (The CPDand USU’s College of Agriculture are two of several sponsors of her visit.)


For moreabout on the CPD’s programs for ASD, contact JoLynne Lyon.

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