By Gary Wagner, President & CEO

In July, a large group of staff members from Rainbow Acres had the joy of attending a personal appearance by Temple Grandin, a world-renowned authority on Autism.

Dr. Grandin is one of the first individuals on the Autism spectrum to document the insights she gained from her personal experiences, a professor of animal science at Colorado State University, and a consultant on animal behavior to the livestock industry. In 2010, Grandin was listed among the 100 most influential people in the world and was the subject of an Emmy-winning HBO film that detailed her incredible life story.

When I heard that the Autism Society of Greater Phoenix was featuring Dr. Grandin as the Keynote Speaker for their 20th Annual Conference, I immediately booked 20 reservations for Rainbow Acres so we could take advantage of this opportunity. The excitement and anticipation among the Rainbow Acres educators, caregivers, healthcare providers and others has never been higher!

‘Thinking in pictures’ helps Grandin provide keen insights for everyone in attendance

There is nothing that compares to hearing Temple Grandin speak in person about her life experiences with Autism, not even the movie about her life, her TED Talks (which are available online), or other media representations of her story. She is articulate, plain-spoken and self-confident!  And it was refreshing to hear her insights!

In every presentation, she makes it abundantly clear: “I think in pictures.” And she applies “thinking in pictures” to every aspect of her life, even when responding to questions from the audience. When questions lent themselves to her being able to “picture” her responses, she was quick and clear.

One member of the audience on the Autism spectrum asked, “How long do I need to work at Walmart before trying to move up the ladder with promotions?” She responded with a question, “How long have you worked there?” The young man said, “A month!” Temple’s answer was swift and to the point, “You haven’t been there long enough, give it a year and learn about every part of your job, know it so well, everyone will know you have the ability to move up!”

In her advice to parents and guardians, as well as educators, Grandin cited the importance of teaching and insisting upon good manners, along with providing work-related responsibilities at an early age. For example, teaching a person on the Autism spectrum (even as young as five years old) to pick up litter in their neighborhood or walk the neighbor’s dog so they will learn responsibility provides significant advantage for their social development. Starting early to develop a good work ethic can address many possible future shortcomings. Teaching and developing good job skills upon which the individual can develop a career is critical, as well as “stretching yourself and stretching your child with Special Needs!”


‘Sensory sensitivity’ is key to helping those on the Autism/Asperger’s spectrum

At the Autism Society conference, Grandin was the highlight of Friday’s activities, along with a presentation by Sarah Ward from Massachusetts General Hospital’s Institute of Health Professions, who is an authority on the diagnostic evaluation and treatment of executive dysfunction.

We also attended a full roster of specialized workshops that complimented Temple Grandin’s and Sarah Ward’s addresses. Among the presenters were Dr. James Adams, Director of the Autism/Asperger’s Research Program at Arizona State University; Robert Beckett, JD of Phoenix with a 44-year career focus on planning for families; and Dr. Richard Frye, a child neurologist, a national leader in Autism Research and the new Chief of Neurodevelopmental Disorders at the Barrows Neurological Institute at Phoenix Children’s Hospital.

Many times, throughout the Phoenix Autism Society conference, mention was made of the “sensory sensitivity” of individuals with Autism and other Special Needs. Our team went away with a new awareness and commitment to being more attentive to sensory issues among the Ranchers. 

In personal conversations between Rainbow Acres team members and Dr. James Adams, they heard him praise Rainbow Acres for the quality of community life, educational programs, and beautiful facilities.


Applying what we learned to enhance the daily lives, activities of the Ranchers and adults with developmental disabilities

Following the conference, each attendee from Rainbow Acres was challenged to identify new insights that would impact their service with the Ranchers and adults with developmental differences. At our next All-Staff Meeting, each employee gave a brief response to the question: “What did you hear that inspired you, and how are you going to apply it in your work?” While there were some overlapping insights among the group, overall their responses indicated a heightened sense of awareness as to the needs of the Ranchers, regardless of their diagnosed Special Need, and practical pointers for enriching the experiences of the Ranchers. 

For all of us at Rainbow Acres, Temple Grandin gave voice to a new mantra: “Be gently insistent and lovingly push” the Ranchers to bring about change in the lives of individuals on the Autism/Asperger’s spectrum – which is also a great way to approach every human relationship in our life.