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“Temple Grandin” teaches autism program mentors


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By Aaricka Washington



C.J. West had never seen the HBO biographical film “Temple Grandin” before Wednesday.

West, a senior and the intern for Hutton Honors College’s Autism Mentoring Program, said the faculty adviser for the group suggested screening the film “Temple Grandin.”
Temple Grandin is a leading expert on animal agriculture and an autism activist. Grandin was also the first autistic person to share her life story in her book, “Emergence: Labeled Autistic.”

Since its cultivation in the fall of 2003, the Autism Mentoring Program has paired local elementary and middle school students with Hutton Honors College mentors. The mentors must dedicate at least a year to the younger students   sufficiently help the younger students with their social environment. According to the Autism Mentoring Program’s website, the students participate in social activities with each other, similar to the Big Brothers/ Big Sisters Program and Best Buddies.

West said a crucial way of learning about autism is by knowing someone who is affected by it and developing a close relationship with that person. West has kept the same buddy for three years.

“Often kids with autism don’t have a lot of friends,” West said. “They’re kind of known for lacking social skills, and they don’t always understand the concept of having a friendship, so just being someone that could help them, with skills and also being a friend to them and impact their lives ... that’s what we strive for.”

West has learned a lot from his buddy, he said.

“For me, it’s hard to gauge what exactly is all involved in autism without that interaction with someone who’s autistic,” West said. “Once you have that interaction, then you learn a lot more. And then there’s also a lot of research out there.”

Camilla McMahon, assistant professor at the IU School of Education, is one of the many researchers hoping to gain a better understanding of autism. 

McMahon said part of her research is finding what impairments there are with autism, like social skills and communicating. The other part of her research is finding solutions.

“The second part of my research is once we figure out exactly what’s going wrong is to intervene, to develop an intervention that can address that and help improve those symptoms,” McMahon said.

She led a discussion after the film screening.

“I wanted to hear what other people are thinking, what struck them as surprising, what wasn’t expected,” she said.

Grandin is also famous for her invention of the “hug box,” a squeeze machine box used by Grandin herself to relieve her anxiety. McMahon said that she has never seen anyone involved in her studies actually use the box.

“A lot of individuals with autism have sensory symptoms, so they may have different outlets to soothe those sensory symptoms,” McMahon said. “Temple Grandin came up with the hug box, which worked really well for her. I haven’t seen a lot of people actually use the hug box, but I think a lot of people address the sensory symptoms in different means.”

McMahon said Grandin’s legacy was groundbreaking. 

“She was the first person to do it, so I think that’s why people latch on to Temple,” McMahon said. “In my research, I often think about things in numbers. I‘m often looking about data, doing research ... so I really appreciate reading books by Temple and individuals who have autism, because it offers a different perspective that numbers and data just don’t give.”

Senior Stephanie Workman has an 18-year-old brother with autism.  She said that in general, Grandin has made a difference in her family’s life.

“She’s really opened the doors for understanding autism better,” Workman said.  “Even when my brother was younger, when he was first diagnosed, he was told that he would never be able to talk, never be able to learn, never be able to pretty much do anything. There was a common belief that people with autism had no idea of what was going on around them, and that was something my family never believed and knew it wasn’t true with Zach.”

West said autism needs to be brought to the forefront, especially on IU’s campus.
“I think that it is something that is often overlooked and not talked about that much, especially here,” West said. “That’s personally my goal.”

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