The Autistic Journalist

Using words to explain the mind

Posts Tagged ‘author

Temple Grandin, promoter of strength

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Temple Grandin, right, signs autographs and chats with two spectators following a lecture at SUNY Ulster. Photo by Kelly Dornicik

Autism’s longest-recognized advocate made another splash on Friday at SUNY Ulster in New York. Temple Grandin, who earned the respect of her professional peers and the admiration of a nation after her designs for cattle-handling facilities were widely adopted, promoted pushing autistic children out of their shells during her speech. Michael Novinson of the Times Herald-Record was there to cover her appearance.

Grandin has consistently emphasized teaching basic manners and social skills for autistic children, as well as channeling their interests as a parlay for employable skills. Her firsthand experience is referred to by supporters as living validation that a “marketing strategy” is beneficial. While Grandin had difficulty integrating with her peers on a social level in agriculture engineering classes, they quickly latched on when she presented her sketches (although she noted encountering a few skeptics in her first book, Thinking in Pictures). Grandin also spoke about the increasing prevalence of medicating autistic children. She believes exercise and dietary changes should be implemented first to address behavioral issues in autistic children, and medication only if previous methods are unsuccessful.

Compared to other stories I’ve discussed in the last week, Novinson’s article is a simple event coverage story. Readers who know of Temple Grandin already have some familiarity with her life story, but her name recognition continues to attract press coverage from local reporters when she visits their coverage area. Novinson only quotes Grandin from her speech and bookends the story with two sources who weren’t given quotes, but still displayed the mentally stimulating effect Grandin carries as a speaker. A similar approach is seen with Novinson’s short add-on about autism and medication.

Speeches and press conferences possess the fluidity of water; no two events run by separate organizers will be alike in their approach. While reporters can receive press releases or schedules revealing the event’s course and time frame, they have to be prepared to incorporate speakers in whatever capacity they offer. There may not have been a one-on-one with Grandin scheduled out of personal discomfort, time constraints, or another reason totally unrelated to either theory. Ideally, most journalists will attempt to conduct a one-on-one before or after a lecture, and if that plan is unsuccessful, they’ll rely on the speech itself to guide the story.

Covering Grandin is a challenge in itself; she’s appeared in virtually all forms of storytelling through her own books, a documentary, TV appearances and an HBO film with Claire Danes assuming her character. The best tip for reporters is not to stress over one-upping others who filed reports on Grandin, but recognize the significance of the story she creates.

Written by TheSportsBrain

April 24, 2011 at 10:58 am

Age no prerequisite for understanding autism

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WINK News (CBS affiliate in the Fort Myers/Naples area of Florida) revealed that age means little when it comes to educating autism. WINK profiled a 10-year-old boy who published his first book, Reno’s World, a compilation of thoughts and facts Reno Williams learned when he discovered that he was on the autism spectrum (Asperger’s to be specific). The book turned into a reality via grant money from a local autism group in southwest Florida.

Most ironic about this story is the subject, since the market WINK is a hot spot for retirees to reside part-time or full-time. That doesn’t mean families don’t take up space though. The characteristics Reno shared are actually very similar to other people with Asperger’s or another form of autism spectrum disorder, such as hand flapping, lack of eye contact and light sensitivity. The true selling point of the story is the author’s age, since others acutely aware of their autistic symptoms often don’t discuss them until adulthood. While many autism resources are available now, there’s still a lack of material offering direct insight from people on the spectrum. A lack of communication skills can be attributed to the dearth of knowledge coming from those who know best, which makes media such as Reno’s a fascination for journalists and the rest of the population.

Coincidentally, this could fit a few points made by Ari Ne’eman in his Wired interview. Most notably, that people can learn about autism from anyone on the spectrum or working with autistic people, and not just celebrities within the community.

The story’s structure is nothing new for journalism followers, profiling someone with an accomplishment via assistance from another person or organization. While the format is common, Reno’s story can remind its audience and other journalists that behavioral patterns associated with autism are best learned directly. As alternative communication methods increase, what we’ll learn from the spectrum’s inhabitants will follow accordingly.

Written by TheSportsBrain

October 12, 2010 at 4:48 pm

Autistic people do lend a hand

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Courtesy CNN

Go ahead, say what you want about autistic people living in their own world and ignoring their surrounding environments. Haley Moss, a 15-year-old autistic who wrote and illustrated a book about helping others get through middle school, can’t hear you.

Haley’s on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum. Non-verbal at age 3, her parents got her private speech therapy and hippotherapy, a technique that involves a horse and a speech-language pathologist, shown to increase verbal communication in some children. She never took a special education course and is a straight-A student at a private school in Florida, but nothing could prepare her for the challenges of middle school, and those challenges inspired her to create her first book.

Sarcasm is a challenge, as she doesn’t find the concept to make any sense (which technically is true), along with starting conversations. Haley says her interests, art and video games, don’t always match up with her peers. But her memorization skills are above most of her classmates and her advice on social situations differs from what most people would say. Haley might be an incarnation of myself if I were female, although it took me a little longer to get up to speed. I always called myself a “Lego brick” in school, because I could detach and attach myself to any “set.” Haley’s parents kept her autism private until she started working on her book. So far, Haley says revealing her condition hasn’t helped socially, but it did help her peers understand.

Her responses to numerous situations suggest that she employs a logical problem-solving technique. Instead of jumping to conclusions after hearing a comment she doesn’t understand, she asks her mom for help. Another tip she shares is logical, but I wonder how necessary it is: learning about trends to talk about them. She says doing so helped her fit in because you’ll be picked on if you’re not like other kids, which means she’s watched the Twilight series and knows about the Jonas Brothers. My experience was no different than Haley’s in middle school, although I have no complaints about not sharing similar interests with most of the crowd, especially if they weren’t to my liking. Depending on your interpretation, Haley’s suggestion could be seen as forcing to assimilate yourself into what society wants you to be like (she’s not a fan of the Twilight series and its second entry, New Moon, earned mediocre reviews with critics).

Of course, I do share interests with the rest of the world, and you’ll know that right away when it comes to most movies or sports. If she’s learning trends to fit in, I’d be curious to know how friendly her friends are. Obviously, you need a few things in common, but my friendships have lasted in part because of my stubborn refusal to give up individuality. I’m curious about my friends’ pursuits and they know and are interested in mine, regardless of whether or not they’re following the same path.

Curiosities aside, Haley’s doing the very thing that I mentioned autistic people don’t often get the chance to: fight their own battles. The CNN story has no political tone, but they do an effective job examining Haley’s personal life, using her art and writing skills as catalysts. Her book applies to everyone across the board when it comes to middle school, including anecdotes written from other autistic kids. She also has her own website, and her bio on the home page mentions nothing about her autism spectrum disorder. That’s fine, playing the autism “card” is never a requirement, and can be a confidence booster if your talents are recognized simply on their merit.

Haley’s a rarity, an autistic girl who’s managed to integrate with society and use her experience to assist those entering the world she departed. With the initial wave of doom and gloom behind us in press coverage, we’ll see more stories like Haley’s in its wake. Nothing cheers up an audience like a good profile piece detailing success, especially with an economic condition that sucked happiness from most of us. Her story won’t have the magnitude of Jason McElwain or Temple Grandin, but that isn’t necessary. Progress in press coverage will happen when the audience realizes that autistic people are no different from any of us. Everyone is flawed, but they also have talent. If readers get that message, then don’t be surprised if you hear more autism success stories to the point where they become “annoying.”