Autism advocate Temple Grandin comes to campus

“Concentrate on the things your disability doesn’t prevent you from doing well.”

These are the words of the late Stephen Hawking, echoed by Dr. Temple Grandin during her stop to Oakland University’s campus last week. A highly regarded professor and autism advocate, Grandin came to OU on Tuesday, Oct. 30 to discuss the importance of inclusivity.

The speaking engagement was presented as a collaboration between the Office for Disability Support Services (DSS) and Oakland University Center for Autism Outreach Services (OUCARES). The event centered around students on the autism spectrum and how to make college a more successful experience for them.

“Faculty and staff from across the university have been contacting both the Disability Support Services Offices, as well as OUCARES, for years to get information about how to best support OU students with autism spectrum disorders,” said Kristin Rohrbeck, director of OUCARES.

So many requests were made that OUCARES and DSS have begun offering campus-wide autism training. This training teaches faculty and staff members practices to support students with learning differences. Grandin served as their keynote speaker.

“Every year, more and more students with autism are entering higher education settings and becoming adults,” Rohrbeck said. “It is very important for OU faculty and staff to be trained and supported to meet the needs of the growing ASD community on campus.”

Grandin is a professor of animal science at Colorado State University and an advocate for people on the autism spectrum. Because of her advocacy, Grandin was included on the 2010 Time magazine’s Most Influential People list in the “Hero” category.

“That’s the kind of attitude we need to have in thinking about outcomes because kids who are different have uneven skills,” Grandin said in reference to teaching students with learning difficulties. “They’re good at one thing and rotten at something else. We need to be building up the things that they’re good at.”

Among Grandin’s notable work is her invention of the “Hug Box,” or “Squeeze Machine,” intended to calm children with autism who felt overstimulated by physical affection. The device calms anxiety and releases tension, and is used in several therapy centers across the United States.

The training that followed Grandin’s speech involved teaching educators ways to improve their students college experiences through inclusivity and communication. This training was led by Maureen Ziegler, an autism education and intervention specialist.

OUCARES is located in 425 Pawley Hall and is devoted to the support of community members with autism. This includes events for OU students, as well as camps and day programs for children with learning differences.

DSS work with students with visible and invisible disabilities. Their office is located in room 103 North Foundation Hall. Students can contact DSS to set up specialized plans to make their college experience more accessible.

“OU does a great job with inclusion and accessibility,” said Sarah Guadalupe, director of Disability Support Services, who was also present at Grandin’s speech. “This conference provided even more information and tools that will assist in ensuring we continue to support those with autism and other disabilities throughout campus.”

Students, staff and faculty interested in learning more about autism awareness or supporting community members with learning differences can volunteer by visiting OUCARES website and filling out the form under “Get Involved.

OUCARES will be holding several events in November and December, including workshops on speech and language development, as well as holiday parties.