Persons, places and things: Different, not less

Barb Arland-Fye

Jennifer Hildebrand, a nurse who focuses on health ministry, was among 1,600 people who attended an anti-stigma talk April 19 in Davenport by Temple Grandin, a nationally known speaker who has autism. Temple had also spoken the day before in Iowa City.
Jennifer admits to being surprised that Temple was articulate, given the fact that many people with autism struggle to communicate effectively.
Jennifer said Temple shared great advice that would benefit any parent: teach your children to be independent, to have good manners, to focus on developing their strengths and interests and to be accepting of others. Don’t coddle children; let them learn from their mistakes. Be aware of sensory issues that can cause distress, such as flickering lights.   Students in middle school and high school should be given jobs that teach responsibility and how to interact with other adults.
Temple spoke candidly about hating high school because of the way her peers treated her. That’s a message teenagers need to take to heart, Jennifer believes. She was glad a number of teens were in the audience to hear that message.
After listening to Temple’s presentation, “you get a sense not to be so judgmental because everybody has their own story. They come from different places,” Jennifer observed.
“Temple’s ability to stand up there and tell her story was inspirational,” said Lee Morrison, superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Davenport. In the audience he saw families, children and adults with autism, teachers and typical students. Their interest should help families realize they are not alone.
Lee was also impressed with Temple’s willingness to talk about her use of medication to aid her coping skills. She shared with the audience that medication may be right for some children and adults,  but not for others.
“If parents walk away with a better understanding of their children, if teachers walk away with a better understanding of their students, then the presentation was a success,” Lee said.
My friend Liz, an adult with autism, also attended the talk and afterwards bought a book by Temple titled “Different, Not Less.” The book’s title, like the talk itself, “convinced me I’m no less of a person. I’m as good as everybody else,” Liz told me.
Liz talked about how Temple’s mother persevered in working one-on-one with her daughter. “She wasn’t going to give up,” Liz noted. Temple’s mother also taught her daughter good manners, something Liz’s mother taught her.
Did Temple’s story of her childhood remind you of your own story? I asked Liz. “A little bit,” she said. Her mother, who attended the talk with her, continues to be Liz’s greatest advocate and has helped her achieve a good deal of independence.
Liz remembers wondering as a little girl why her mother took her to church, the same thing Temple wondered about her own mother’s insistence that their family go to church. Temple obliged because she didn’t want to lose TV privileges.
Liz developed a deep love for God and regularly attends her Lutheran church. She said her mother once told her: “Faith in God has nothing to do with what level of development a person is at.”
That beautiful observation caused me to reflect on the Special Faith Saturday program I had just attended with my son Colin at St. Ann Parish in Long Grove. Instructor Nancy Shannon had Colin, Garrett, Melissa, Bob and Gerard make eucharistic bread from recipes once used at St. Ann’s. While making the bread, Colin said he imagined Jesus Christ was standing right beside him. Colin doesn’t understand the nuances of his autism, but his relationship with God is far more advanced than mine.
He informed me that he had attended Temple’s talk, too. I wasn’t aware that he had been sitting somewhere in the same big, dimly lit auditorium as I. But I believe God wanted both of us there to hear Temple’s story of hope and to embrace the concept that different doesn’t mean less.
Barb Arland-Fye

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