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Asperger's Syndrome: Secret to Success

Scientist and autism activist Temple Grandin, PhD, reflects on life with Asperger's syndrome.

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Do you think that the prevalence of Asperger's is increasing today?

No. It's not increasing. It has always been here. We were just called nerds before. The autistic spectrum is a big spectrum from severely autistic kids that stay non-verbal to the brilliant child with Asperger's. There is a link between autism and genius.

How are adults with Asperger's faring today?

I am finding that people with mild Asperger's are all employed today. One of the reasons they are employed is because they have learned you can't pick your nose in public or make rude comments to customers. I learned when I was 6 not to pick my nose in public. Learning a skill that other people value such as computer programming also helps.

What else can parents of children with Asperger's do to help their children?

Take the Asperger's kid who doesn't have friends and find his or her area of strength and really build on it. It may be visual thinking or mathematics, or they may be word specialists. If the kid is obsessed with airplanes, read up on them and use airplanes to motivate learning.

What type of thinker or learner are you?

I am a visual thinker. I get concerned with very smart kids with Asperger's getting held back because they are visual thinkers but terrible at algebra. Visual thinking children love art and building blocks. They get easily immersed in projects. Math concepts such as adding and subtracting need to be taught starting with concrete objects the child can touch. If a child only draws one thing, such as airplanes, encourage him to draw other related objects.

Any other tips?

Parents should also encourage social interaction through shared interest, whether a computer club, band club, or an acting club.

What were your interests growing up?

For me, it was model rockets, riding horses, and electronic lab. I was teased horribly in high school, but when I was horseback riding or in electronic lab, there was no teasing. I was not interested in studying or school until I had a goal of becoming a scientist. To this day, most of my social life revolves around livestock or autism.

In addition to not speaking when you were younger, you also had sensory issues. Do any remain?

I am still overly sensitive to touch, but now these are nuisance issues and not debilitating.

What advice do you have for children with sensory issues?

Sensory problems are common with many different brain disorders. For some children, being in a supermarket feels like they are in a speaker at a rock-and-roll concert or a flicker of light can look like a discotheque. We have to be careful about sensory overload in these kids. I wish there were a lot more research being done on the sensory disorders.

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