Let’s talk summer!

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Tuesday, March 18, 2014


“I WAS so afraid to go out west to my aunt's ranch. But the only choice my mother gave me was to go for two weeks or all summer. I wound up staying all summer. And that's where I learned about cattle. I could relate to their behavior, their fears.”-Temple Grandin

Summer time is here once again and for most parents and teachers of children with autism spectrum disorder, this is a great time to relax from daily routines. Some parents choose to let their children go on summer workshops while others let their children stay at home on a free and spontaneous schedule. Either way, summer vacations offer greater opportunities of development for children/adults with autism spectrum disorder.

We cannot take for granted the importance of a summer activity for children with ASD. Let us learn from the example of Dr. Temple Grandin. She was born in 1947 and was diagnosed with autism at the age of two. Today, Dr. Temple Grandin is noted as the world’s most accomplished person with autism, having graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Franklin Pierce College, a master's degree in Animal Science from Arizona State University and a doctoral degree in Animal Science from the University of Illinois. She works as a Professor at the Colorado State University and is famous for her best-selling books about her life and her career.

Her biography states that one of her biggest accomplishments in life is becoming an expert designer of livestock handling facilities.

“Facilities she has designed are located in the United States, Canada, Europe, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, and other countries. In North America, almost half of the cattle are handled in a center track restrainer system that she designed for meat plants.” Currently, she is a much-sought consultant on “modern methods of livestock handling which will improve animal welfare and productivity” and a prominent advocate and speaker on autism topics, based on her real life experiences.

So what is the lesson that we can learn from the life of Dr. Temple Grandin? It was that one summer activity that opened her doors to a successful and meaningful life. She was 15 years old when her mother “pushed her” to spend summer at her aunt’s ranch. It was during that summer that she developed a fascination with cattle and from then on, her talents and abilities were focused on observing how animals behaved and “viewed the world”. This led her to become an animal scientist and enabled her to design facilities and slaughter houses that helped reduce stress in the animals (e.g. cows and hogs) during their final minutes. And the rest is history for this famous and productive life of Dr. Temple Grandin.

Summer is a good time for children and adults with ASD to be socially mainstreamed. Activities such as arts and crafts, cooking, dancing, singing and the like will boost their confidence and help identify hidden talents and skills, similar to the case of Dr. Temple Grandin.

My advice to parents: let us be like the mother of Dr. Grandin who was very supportive by giving unique summer experiences to her child. Sometimes, it is by practical and enjoyable activities that are implemented through customized teaching strategies that we discover the inclinations and interests of our children with special needs. I hope you are able to place your child in a good summer program that includes workshops facilitated by an experienced SPED teacher who can help kids enhance their impulse control, problem solving and attention span. Have a productive summer!

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Jane Ann S. Gonzales is a mother of a youth with autism. She is an advocate/core member of the Autism Society Philippines and Directress of the Independent Living Learning Centre (ILLC) Davao, a centre for teenagers and adults with special needs. For comments or questions, please email janeanngonzales@yahoo.com).

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on March 19, 2014.

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