PORTLAND, Maine — Temple Grandin, one of the country’s most well-known autism advocates, will speak to a sold-out crowd Sunday at the University of Southern Maine.
Grandin, 64, an animal science professor who has autism, is known for promoting more humane treatment of livestock at ranches and slaughterhouses. She was profiled in an Emmy Award-winning HBO film in 2010 and has been featured in a best-selling book and on numerous national television programs.
The packed house that will greet Grandin at USM’s Abromson Center comes amid renewed attention on autism after a recent federal report that found autism disorders affect 1 in 88 children in the U.S., far more than previously thought.
“Some of it’s increased detection, but I think severe autism has actually increased,” Grandin said in an interview Friday.
The disorders are nearly five times more prevalent among boys than among girls.
Environmental contaminants that affect women in the early stages of pregnancy appear to play a role in the rising rate, said Grandin, who teaches at Colorado State University.
The spotlight on autism has led to better detection, but some high-functioning children with the disorder may be held back by the diagnosis, she said.
Parents and educators sometimes struggle to interact with children with autism, a disorder that appears among both the severely handicapped and brilliant Silicon Valley tech stars, she said.
“I’m seeing problems where they’re not learning basic skills, like shopping, how to take turns, how to wait in line, how to shake hands with people,” Grandin said.
Children with autism must be taught social rules and many can interact with others quite well with some instruction, she said.
“The thing about being autistic is you keep learning,” she said.
Grandin didn’t speak until she was 3½ years old. She now lectures internationally about autism and compassionate treatment of cattle.
The worst approach to take with autistic kids is to stick them in a corner and leave them to languish, Grandin said.
“Not recognizing sensory issues is a big mistake,” she said. “And another big mistake is to not stretch these kids enough.”
Grandin’s event in Portland will benefit speech and language therapy services for children at Northeast Hearing and Speech in Portland.