I recently had to opportunity to hear Dr. Temple Grandin speak at an Autism Conference in Champaign, IL. I have to say I’m slightly obsessed. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to her, as well as her mother. As a professional, I went into this conference wanting to learn more about Autism (I know the basics). As a mother, I went into this conference listening to another medical diagnosis that seems to be consuming the disability community. I have a heart for the disability community, as I am raising two children diagnosed with genetic birth defects. My son’s resulting in a lifelong physical disability.

I have a great respect for how Temple was raised and Temple’s now perspective on disability. Even though my son does not have the same diagnosis, the same philosophy can be applied to all disability (in my opinion). This also includes the philosophy of parenting. Those being the philosophy of self-advocacy and parent voice. Not only parent voice to community members, school officials and the “no sayers” but parent voice to our own children to help instill and/or guide their self-advocacy.

Temple’s self-advocacy has earned her to be a PhD professor teaching courses in animal science. Parent voice allowed her to quit her schooling at a younger age for more non-traditional schooling of allowing her to work with cattle. Which as you can see, in the end, was life changing.

Self-advocacy allowed Temple “to go in the back door because there were too many barriers at the front door” (her words not mine). This “back door” approach allowed her to “sell” her cattle squeeze machine to all Cargill Plants across North America. Parent Voice allowed her to enter college through the “back door.”

From one parent to another, I have great respect the approach Temple’s mom took (at such a young age) to get the early intervention services that were so crucial in Temple’s development. Temple’s mom also took the parenting approach of “unconditional love….not unconditional acceptance” (their words not mine). Meaning you discipline the child based on poor behavior not poor behavior as a result of the disability.

These are very few of the many words I took away from the conference that day. These few paragraphs do not do Temple and her mother justice in the work they have done and continue to do. What I took away was not just more than the basics of Autism but a greater appreciation of self-advocacy and parent voice. It is very powerful alone but in combination it is life changing. Disability aside… a lesson we should all open our ears too.