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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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Is there anything that was better in the 1950s than today when it comes to helping children with autism spectrum disorder?

Yes. In the 1950s, manners were taught to everybody. I just got an email from a teacher of a kid with Asperger's. She wrote that this child thinks it's funny to pull his pants down in class. I would have gotten in a lot of trouble for doing that. That's naughty behavior and Asperger's is no excuse. All children need to be taught manners and turn-taking. I was expected to sit at granny's formal Sunday dinner table for 20 minutes and I did.

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.

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