In her groundbreaking autobiography, The Way I See It, Temple Grandin writes about the role mentors can play for people living with disabilities: “Mentors did, indeed, play a pivotal role in helping me become the person and professional I am today. They can be valuable catalysts to helping the spectrum child or teen learn fundamental study and research skills that will propel them to a future career.” Through programs like Mentor Match, of course, PYD uses mentoring as tool to empower youth with disabilities to reach their full potential.
Mentoring was a theme Grandin talked about during her presentation on Feb. 21 at Gordon College, as part of “Beyond Disabilities,” the school’s week-long series of events raising awareness of disabilities among students and interested members of the community. Titled “Thinking in Pictures: The Ability in Disability,” Grandin described how her mind works and talked about the need for appreciating the strengths in different styles of thinking.
Grandin also talked about the important role mentors have played in her life for fostering her self-esteem and success. In particular, Grandin’s high school science teacher was a significant mentor in her life. The consistent guidance and encouragement of Mr. Carlock was a tremendous help for directing Temple’s path and fostering her accomplishments. Mr. Carlock interested Grandin in science and validated the fact that many of the ideas others called Grandin “crazy” for having were similar to thoughts of well-known philosophers. He also engaged Grandin’s special interests and talents, and used them to motivate her to build an interest in school work.
Just as Mr. Carlock was an instrumental influence in Grandin’s life, Grandin is a mentor for many individuals with Autism and their families, including my own. When my younger brother was diagnosed with Autism, Grandin was a key influence my family turned to for guidance. She has helped us better understand the experience of Autism through her clear articulation of the way she thinks, feels, and communicates. I am grateful for Grandin’s activism—and meeting her for the first time was an incredible joy.