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Famed autism expert to visit Quad-Cities

Parents who suspect their child has autism should intervene and find help as quickly as possible, said Temple Grandin, arguably the most famous person with autism. Grandin, an author, educator and public speaker whose life story was the subject of an award-winning HBO movie, will bring her message to a Quad-Cities audience when she visits Davenport on April 19. Grandin’s appearance is as part of the Anti-Stigma Speaker Series, sponsored by the Vera French Foundation. The event is 9-11 a.m. April 19 at the Davenport RiverCenter. The Anti-Stigma series is designed to educate and inform Quad-City residents about mental health issues. Grandin, who was listed by Time magazine in 2010 as one of the 100 most influential people in the world, is the third person to visit as part of the biennial series. (The others were actress Patty Duke and actor Joey Pantoliano.) She was chosen because the overall theme for 2012 is autism awareness, said Ann Criswell Tubbs, the executive director of the Vera French Foundation. “It made so much sense to invite her to town,” Tubbs added. “She’s an authority on autism as well as a consumer and a person with it.” Grandin, who has appeared on numerous TV and radio shows, dispelled any notion that she is a famous autistic person, noting that Albert Einstein would have been diagnosed under the autism spectrum disorder if he were alive today. But she is passionate about sharing messages about autism to help others. A professor of animal science at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Grandin bristled at the stigmas associated with the disorder. That includes, for example, the problems that some autistic people have with fluorescent lights. She points out that it also is an issue for those who suffer from migraine headaches. She has dealt with stigmas in a forthright manner. “Through my whole career, I’ve sold my work rather than myself,” she said in a telephone interview. “Every job I ever got, it was with my portfolio of work, with photographs of finished projects and articles I’d written for magazines.” Grandin’s profession involves animals, and she has a special connection to horses as well as other livestock. She said her uncanny ability to understand animals is not necessarily connected to her autism, but she has met other autistic people with the same talent. Skill sets might be uneven for those with autism, she pointed out. “There are word thinkers, there are auditory thinkers,” she said, noting that while her special skill set involves visual thinking, she is horrible at algebra. And while some autistic third-graders might be able to do high school-level math, they are not proficient readers. Lyndon Heiselman of LeClaire looks to Grandin as an example as he and his wife raise their autistic son, Garrett, 18, a senior at Pleasant Valley High School. “Temple has overcome a lot of barriers in her life and people gave her opportunities,” he said. His son, who is employed and plays in the school band, has abilities that will serve him in the future. “He’s got a contribution to make, and with someone like Temple, that has helped those also on the spectrum. There are no preconceived notions about what Garrett can do,” added Heiselman, who is an accountant and the treasurer of the Autism Society of the Quad-Cities. Grandin said work is important to autistic people and should be a goal for teenagers who are autistic. She worked with the help of her aunt, who owned a ranch. She built a gate for the ranch and also was charged with taking care of nine horses. But early intervention is vitally important, she tells parents and family members of those with autism. Explore sensory issues, she suggested. Realize the sensitivity to touch, including the effect of scratchy clothing on a child’s skin. Grandin’s upcoming visit to the Quad-Cities is appreciated by many, including Heiselman. “Her biggest impact is that she helps open up opportunities for those with autism, which would not otherwise be there,” he said.

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