FGCU autism conference attracts record crowd
Renowned speaker Temple Grandin stresses early intervention
Parents and teachers must work together early in an autistic child’s life to nurture development and build skills that can open doors to employment in adulthood, Dr. Temple Grandin told a crowd of 2,200 on Saturday at FGCU’s Alico Arena.
“I can’t emphasize enough the importance of early intervention,” Grandin said in a keynote address at Promising Pathway’s fifth annual national conference on autism, hosted by FGCU. “The worst thing you can do is nothing.”
Introduced as “the most accomplished and well-known adult with autism in the world,” Grandin, 64, is a renowned educator and best-selling author as well as a ground-breaking animal scientist and industrial designer. Her life inspired an award-winning HBO movie, and Time magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
Grandin’s appearance helped draw a record number of families, teachers and health professionals to “Promising Pathways: The Road to Best Practices in Autism.” Last year, about 500 people attended the conference on autism, a broad spectrum of neurobiological disorders that cause social awkwardness, difficulty communicating and other behavioral symptoms.
Dr. Marci Greene, dean of FGCU’s College of Education, said Grandin is in high demand as a speaker.
“She only accepts about 20 percent of the invitations she gets,” Greene said. “One of the reasons she decided to come is that it was free. She wants as many people as possible to hear her message.”
Grandin and fellow speaker Dr. Tristram Smith, a clinical psychologist who leads federally funded research into autism at the University of Rochester Medical Center, offered insight into how autistic children perceive the world and presented the latest information about behavioral intervention. The goals should be to encourage socialization and develop cognitive abilities, they said.
“We need to develop a kid’s strengths,” Grandin said. “They need to learn work skills. So many schools have taken out hands-on classes like cooking, woodworking, shop. These classes teach work skills. People always ask my why I don’t become a full time autism advocate. I’m a better role model if I have a real job.”