A US autism expert, who was diagnosed with the condition in the 1950s, has said there is a massive need for increased investment in Irish special needs education in order to prevent young people from ending up as “recluses in their rooms”.
Nine hundred parents and special needs assistants (SNAs) attended a talk, held at Cork Institute of Technology yesterday, by Dr Temple Grandin who emphasised the importance of educational intervention at the earliest possible stage to help equip children with autism succeed in life and the world of work.
“The individuals who will be successful in the workplace are most likely to be the ones who developed good working skills at a young age,” she said.
Dr Grandin was one of the first people on the autism spectrum to publicly share insights from a personal experience of the condition. Born in 1947, and unable to speak until the age of four, she is now professor of animal science at Colorado State University and a consultant to the livestock industry on animal behaviour. Dr Grandin’s mother rejected the route of institutionalisation, which was the standard medical recommendation for the condition at the time, and explored different supports and options to develop her daughter’s potential.
Dr Grandin urged parents to look past the medical jargon in order to see their children’s strengths rather than their deficits.
“Half of the people in Silicon Valley are on the autism spectrum undiagnosed. Thomas Edison would probably be labelled autistic today. Albert Einstein had no speech until the age of three. Then there is Steve Jobs. He was a weird loner who brought snakes to school. It shows that a person with autism can grow.”
She warned parents not to allow their kids with autism to get obsessed with video games. “If they get holed up in a bedroom playing video games then they are not going to develop. People in Silicon Valley don’t let their kids play video games. They are learning java script. It is really important that I am doing this talk from the Institute of Engineering. This isn’t the correct destination for everybody with autism but there is nice big portion of the verbal kids where the institute of engineering should be the goal. Another good place is skilled trades.”
Dr Grandin said video games should only be on offer to children with autism for an hour a day and that instead they should be given focused, targeted practical work to do.