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Dr. Temple Grandin: Good Teachers Can Help Autism Students Soar

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TULSA, Oklahoma -

She didn't speak until she was 4 years old, and today she is a household name to ranchers, animal scientists, autism advocates and HBO audiences.

Dr. Temple Grandin's life was chronicled in the HBO film "Temple Grandin," which earned 15 Emmy nominations and five awards, including Claire Danes' Best Actress in a Drama win for portraying the title role.

After a fundraising event for Tulsa Community College's veterinary technology program, Grandin stopped by News On 6 and spoke with Six in the Morning anchor LeAnne Taylor about how she turned challenges with autism into a successful life and career in animal science.

When she was a baby in the 60s, research on autism was lacking. Doctors diagnosed children, including Grandin, with "infantile schizophrenia. Grandin calls that claim "ridiculous."

She says there are signs parents can pick up from their child's behavior, and those signs should not go ignored.

"Most important thing, if you've got a child that's 2-3 years old and not talking and is sitting and rocking and doing a lot of odd behavior, the worst thing you can do is nothing," Grandin said. "It's very important that these kids get 20 hours a week of interaction with a teacher. Teach them turn-taking. Teach them language. We've got to keep them engaged with the world."

Grandin credits both her aunt and her science teacher, who was depicted in the film as her mentor, with giving her the opportunity to use her mind as a tool to help animals and those who raise them. Grandin's invention in 70s, a curved cattle-handling system, revolutionized the ranching industry.

It was all encouraged because her teacher recognized she had a soft spot for animal science.

"You have to push kids on the autism spectrum, but don't overload them," she said. Grandin said her mission as a woman with autism, is to show kids "that they can grow up to do something."

From someone like Steve Jobs, who gravitated to a computer club after being bullied because he thought differently than other kids, to "someone who is going to remain nonverbal, maybe have epilepsy and have very, very severe problems," Grandin said, kids need something to pour their minds into to keep them engaged.

"You gotta get them [involved] in special interests," Grandin said. "They like cars, get them interested in auto shop. They like art, develop their ability in art.

"Good teachers can make such a difference. When I was in high school, it was the worst part of my life – teasing and everything else. If I didn't have my science teacher, I wouldn't have gone anywhere."

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