Aaron McGinley, program director at Black Mountain Academy, recently had the opportunity to interview Dr. Temple Grandin and Dr. Debra Moore about their new book, “The Loving Push: How Parents and Professionals Can Help Spectrum Kids Become Successful Adults (2016).” We find the book’s message about the importance of compassionately guiding students on the Spectrum to gain important skills through community involvement to be an inspiration and an elegant expression of our program philosophy.
Aaron McGinley: What first inspired you to write this book?
Temple Grandin: “I strongly believe that kids need to be out in the community, getting jobs, doing service, learning manners by interacting with people in the community, and being challenged to expand their skills. What I found, in conference after conference, parents recognized how important this was, but they weren’t sure how to go about it. When I talked to Dr. Debra Moore at a conference, she expressed that she was encountering the same thing in her practice with students on the Spectrum.
Dr. Debra Moore: Much like Temple, I was worried about these families. They knew that their kid needed to put down the video games and learn skills, but weren’t quite sure how to go about it. We wanted to pull together the research about some of these challenges, share some success stories about families that had done it, and provide practical guidance on how to start the process.
Aaron McGinely: Sometimes families realize late in their child’s development that it is important to really challenge their child to develop adult skills. What thoughts do you have for families of 16 and 17-year-olds that are worried it may be “too late”?
Temple Grandin: It is never too late. These students are not going to be successful if they don’t start soon. If students are of legal age to start working they need to find a way to work or do community service. Even if they aren’t that old, parents can give them a choice: ‘you can do boy scouts or robot wars’ for instance. But what isn’t an option is to stop. For the kids that are older, it just means it is more important to get them started. In some cases, parents may need the help of a mentor or a professional, but they can’t afford to keep waiting.
Dr. Debra Moore: I think the most important thing to remember is to be kind to yourself. You are trying the best that you can, and raising a child is not easy. With that said, it is important to remember that the longer you wait, the harder it will be. One of the challenges for students on the Spectrum is that they don’t have the executive functioning to initiate on their own. They will try new skills if you expose them to them, especially if they are tied to interests. But parents can’t do this on their own. In many cases, seeking help from the community is important. We really believe in the expression “It takes a village.”
Aaron McGinley: Any additional thoughts that you wish to share with parents, students, or the professionals that work with students on the Autism Spectrum?
Temple Grandin: I can not emphasize enough how important it is to help students stay away from Video Games and get involved with activities. This can be community service, jobs, doing chores, joining the boy scouts, whatever gets them out of their comfort zones. But this must be done by intentionally teaching social skills. When I was growing up, my mother used to make me practice manners, and I think most parents taught social skills directly, whether their kid had Autism or not. They didn’t just tell them what not to do; they told them what to do. If a kid was eating with their fingers, they wouldn’t just tell them to stop, they would tell them “Use your fork!” Students on the Spectrum need that. They need direct instruction on social skills, and they need to be challenged to use those skills in the community.
Dr. Moore: I think the key is to recognize developing these skills with students on the Spectrum is not always easy, but it is critical. Parents can’t do it alone, and yet for a variety of reasons students on the Spectrum won’t always be willing to or able to initiate the activities that will help them craft essential skills. But if parents can start somewhere by picking a skill that they want to challenge their child to refine, then it begins to open up a world of possibilities.
Dr. Temple Grandin and Dr. Debra Moore’s book, “The Loving Push” is available in paperback, Kindle, and audio versions and can be found on Amazon.com or at other retailers where books are sold.