Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Power of Identifying Strengths

Arguably the two most articulate and successful adults with autism are Temple Grandin and John Robison. Their insight, personal experience, and advice is invaluable to those living with and on the spectrum. Their books are honest overviews of the challenges of growing up with autism as well as the ability, hope, and potential that can materialize from every hurdle. Watching these two clips, one is struck by the advice they give in unison: to identify and pursue special interests as a key to adult independence and success.

The truth of which they speak is underscored by their very different upbringings of a generation ago. In Robison's case, being obsessed with electronics and pyrotechnics provided an escape route from a dangerously dysfunctional home. In Grandin's case, it cost her mother her marriage and almost her life to follow a gut feeling that Temple had cognitive ability. Temple's mother, Eustacia Cutler, tells her own story on tour and in the book, A Thorn in My Pocket. It is inspirational to hear this genteel woman describe how she stood in the face of major opposition to save her daughter from an institution. Unknowingly she was also paving the way for future generations of different learners and those who advocate for them.

Whether it is Star Wars, math, mechanics, electronics, animation, music, or trains, niche interests (some would say splinter skills) can lead to significance, life purpose, and world changing contributions. Developing and nurturing those strengths should color the way we write IEP's, choose summer camps, and spend free time.

Click here for the video of John Robison at the top of this news story. It is a very abridged version of the book, Look Me In the Eye. And here is the latest trailer of Temple:

Know that wisdom is thus for your soul; If you find it, then there will be a future, And your hope will not be cut off. Proverbs 24:13-15

But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. James 1:4-6

My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; Psalm 139:14-16

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