On April 7, internationally recognized autism advocate and friend of the Autism Initiative at Mercyhurst (AIM), Temple Grandin spoke via Zoom with students and faculty from the AIM program.
Grandin was previously scheduled to deliver a talk to the Mercyhurst community on April 23, but the event was unfortunately cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Brad McGarry, director of the Autism Initiative at Mercyhurst, worked hard to still allow the students to talk with Grandin.
“Anytime you have the ability to connect with a world–renowned personality that wants to personally support your program and your students, you have to set that as a major priority,” McGarry said. “I knew the benefits and the unique opportunity for our students was unprecedented and I wanted to do everything in my power to make it happen.”
The chance to meet virtually with such an influential figure in the autism community had both the staff and students “geeking out” according to McGarry.
“They see Temple as a major influence on them and the world and they were very excited to connect face to face, even if it was virtually,” McGarry said.
The global pandemic has been a source of stress and anxiety for everyone, but it is especially hard for those with autism.
As a person with autism herself, Grandin shared some of her own coping strategies due to the pandemic during the Zoom meeting. These strategies included setting schedules and establishing new routines while social distancing.
Grandin discussed the challenges that come with the disruption to daily life because of COVID-19 and how she was feeling about such a major change in her life. She also shared the ways she was curbing her own anxieties and staying safe.
Grandin discussed life after college for the students, suggesting ways for them to best prepare themselves for the meaningful employment.
Her discussion ended with a question and answer session that was open to anyone on the call.
“The questions and answer part of the interaction was really the coolest part of the meeting. Watching as the students interacted with and picked the brain of such a great resource was a great experience,” McGarry said.
Thanks to McGarry and Grandin’s close professional relationship, the Zoom meeting was able to be organized fairly easily dispute the challenges set forth by COVID-19.
“The pandemic caused all kinds of challenges, but overall we have an ongoing relationship where we check in from time to time and in these discussions Temple shared that she still felt it was very important to connect with our students, so we made it happen,” McGarry said.
Mercyhurst is looking forward to rescheduling Grandin’s physical visit to campus as soon as possible.
One of Grandin’s primary goals in her advocacy is to encourage schools and businesses to think of the assets, over the impairments, of people with autism. In addition to her global work in educating on autism acceptance and awareness, she is a professor of animal science at Colorado State University and a consultant to the livestock industry on animal behavior.
In 2010, Grandin was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world.