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Temple Grandin, the most well-known American with autism, urged teachers, parents and students to avoid getting “hung up on labels” during her standing-room-only keynote address Saturday at a University of Wisconsin Oshkosh special education conference.

Grandin advocated for building on students’ strengths no matter the disability label.

The “Planting the Seeds of Inclusion: Supporting All Children” conference — hosted by the UWO’s curriculum and instruction, reading and special education departments — brought together educators, therapists, parents and other professionals who support the growth and learning of all children, from birth through age 22, in inclusive settings.

Grandin said her own brain works in an associative — not linear — manner; she thinks in pictures, not words.

“It’s like Google for pictures,” she added.

Grandin said that if a child with autism is fixated on a certain topic, such as horses or NASCAR racing, teachers should build reading and math lessons around that topic to keep the child interested. She also said early intervention and teaching children with autism how to take turns are key to success.

“You can’t take the geek out of a geek,” she said. “But you can teach them to be polite geeks.”

Following Grandin’s address, conference attendees took part in breakout sessions, covering topics such as identifying students for special education services and Wisconsin’s new definitions of learning disabilities.

Photo by See Xiong

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