Family Initiative, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting children and families with autism, continued its Redefining Autism speaker series with a presentation by renowned autism activist Dr. Temple Grandin Saturday, Jan. 7 at Christ Community Church in Fort Myers. More than 500 people attended the event.

As part of the Redefining Autism series, Grandin discussed the importance of early intervention and workplace readiness for those on the autism spectrum. “I want to see these kids who are different get out and be successful. I worked with skilled tradespeople who installed equipment and I am going to estimate that 20% of them were either autistic, dyslexic or ADHD and they owned metal fabrication companies. They learned to work at an early age, took some skilled trade classes. Now that is not for everybody,” said Grandin.

Grandin, 75, grew up autistic in the 1950s and became a professor of animal science at Colorado State University and a world-renowned autism advocate. Grandin, who was non-verbal until nearly the age of 4, credits her mother with seeking out professional help at her early age to teach her how to navigate the world on the autism spectrum.

Grandin was quick to point out that early intervention programs, like those offered at Family Initiative, are critical to early diagnosis and treatment.

“If you have 2-year-olds, 3-year-olds, 4-year-olds that are not talking, you’ve got to do something. The worst thing you can do is do nothing and let them vegetate on electronics. You must work on speech therapy and teach them how to wait and take turns at games and basic skills like wearing a coat on. Things like that,” said Grandin.

David Brown, president of Family Initiative, says 1 in 44 children are diagnosed on the autism spectrum in the United States. He believes the turnout of more than 400 people to hear Grandin’s message speaks to the impact of autism across the community.

“Temple is an inspiration to so many people who relish the fact that she is direct and to the point about what we need to do with our education system and our workforce,” said David Brown, Family Initiative’s president and co-founder. “Family Initiative is thrilled to be a part of the solution for our region as we educate the community on how we can incorporate folks who are on the spectrum into the needs and the pieces of our community that are important such as workforce development.”

Grandin is an author of several books and published works, has a biographical movie created about her life and is an international speaker working to change the world’s perception on what it means to live with autism.

“In my new book Visual Thinking, I discuss the problem of skill loss. We have a huge shortage of people that can fix things. I worked for years out in heavy construction and the meat industry working with people installing and building the things that I designed for the livestock industry and the people I worked with retired. They are not getting replaced. Some of the kids that should be replacing people that fix things – they are playing video games in the basement when they should be fixing elevators and escalators and other mechanical devices,” said Grandin.

“I had so many moms and dads and young adults stop us on the way out here just thanking us profusely for this. I think just to be able hear her, talk to her and ask these questions means the world to these families,” said Brown. “Our Redefining Autism speaker series is all about changing the way we look at autism, and Temple Grandin brings fresh insights and perspective into the world of autism.”

Family Initiative’s next speaker is Saturday, Feb. 18 at Christ Community Church in Fort Myers featuring Dr. Eileen Crehan, assistant professor at Tufts University on the topic of sexuality and autism.

Learn more about Family Initiative and their Redefining Autism Speaking Series at FI-Florida.org.

About Family Initiative

Established in 2015, Family Initiative, Inc. is a Florida-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit charitable organization dedicated to supporting children with autism and strengthening their families. Its team of clinicians serves children from a compassionate, personalized approach through Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and Occupational Therapy (OT) services, and offers autism play groups, teen meetings, parent education, community conversations and more. In addition, the organization provides child welfare caregiver training and support through its Family Impact Program. Visit fi-florida.org or find Family Initiative on Facebook and Instagram at @FamilyInitiative and on Twitter at @FI_Inc.