On Thursday, May 14, 2020, students, faculty, and staff in the Reich College of Education’s (RCOE) Department of Reading Education and Special Education (RESE) were treated to a special Zoom presentation and discussion from Dr. Temple Grandin, a prominent author and speaker on both autism and animal behavior as well as a professor of animal science at Colorado State University, as part of the virtual commencement celebration.
Dr. Susan Hedges, assistant professor of special education in the RESE department, reached out to Grandin as a way to honor and celebrate the students graduating this year in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Hedges told the graduating students, “We decided we wanted to do something special to honor you, graduates! We wanted to make sure that you know just how much we value all of your hard work and that you deserve to be celebrated in a big way!”
For many, this special presentation was an opportunity of a lifetime. Grandin shared her experiences as a student, as well as her advice to future teachers. Participants were also able to ask questions of Grandin. There were over 30 faculty, staff, and students in attendance. Watch the entire presentation here.
“I already knew that our professors love and care about us so much, but just the thoughtfulness behind this event really made me feel loved and valued in the department,” said Carolina Parris, who is graduating in August with her M.A. in special education and a graduate certificate in autism spectrum disorder. She graduated with her B.S. in special education last year.
Kayla Pitman, who completed her B.S. in elementary education in 2015 and will complete her M.A. in reading education and a graduate certificate in autism spectrum disorder in August, posted on social media: “Today I was able to Zoom with Temple Grandin. This was such an honor. She has truly paved the way for autism research. I am so grateful for the opportunity to ask her questions and hear her insights on how to best help all of our students. Thank you to Reich College of Education at Appalachian State University for allowing us the opportunity to speak with her, and thank you, Temple Grandin, for joining us!” Photo submitted.
“I've looked up to Dr. Grandin for years and it has been a goal of mind to hear her speak, so the fact that I could hear her speak in such an intimate setting was a complete honor,” said Colleen McIndoe, who completed her B.S. in special education last year and will complete her M.A. in reading education and a graduate certificate in autism spectrum disorder this August. “I was totally and completely starstruck.”
For McKenna Wild, who completed her B.S. in elementary education last year and completed her M.A. in reading education and a graduate certificate in autism spectrum disorder this May, she had studied and discussed Grandin throughout her college career. “It was so cool for me to get to be on the same zoom call as her- she is such a unique and cool individual!!”
Those in attendance had similar takeaways:
- Provide choices for children
- Provide more hands-on learning activities
- Leverage student special interests
- Look at the bigger picture
- Individualize for all children
- Be aware of sensory issues
“Dr. Grandin’s message about the ‘different types of minds’ is very meaningful for our new teachers,” said Dr. Debra Prykanowski, assistant professor of special education. “I would love to think my students came away with this idea that every student that comes into their classroom brings a unique perspective with different strengths. As their teacher, it is up to them to find those strengths and design their instruction to meet everyone's needs.
“I also liked that she talked about the teachers who made a difference in her life to get her to where she is today,” she added. “I hope that my students walked away thinking that they could be that person for a student of theirs one day.”
“She validated what I believe is core to reaching students with special needs,” said Dr. Chris Van Loan, professor of special education.
The advice and experience Grandin shared can be applied to various classroom settings. Many of the students noted how they would add sensory activities and a calming corner in the classroom.
For those who are parents and caregivers of children with autism, they would love to partner with beginning teachers as they enter their classrooms to help provide a parent’s perspective.
“This presentation helped me remember that our ‘key players’ in special education are very much accessible,” said Dr. Aftynne Cheek, assistant professor of special education. “I hope to reach out to others and have them speak with our students.”
For Parris who is starting her first year teaching next year, “listening to her encouragement is very helpful to calm my nervousness!”
Dr. Betsy Rosenbalm, Director of the Public School Partnership and four-time Appalachian alumna, posted on social media: “I had the incredible opportunity to Zoom with Temple Grandin today! What an honor to be able to ask questions face to face with quite possibly the biggest champion of Autism!” Photo submitted.
COVID-19 changed teaching and learning for young learners to adult learners, and Grandin’s message had implications as we all look toward the next academic year. This included being flexible, connecting with the students and families, having conversations about masks, and providing choices in delivery and engagement.
“I plan on being flexible and kind in whatever ways I can be,” said Dr. Jason DeHart, assistant professor of reading education. “I also know that many students, at the K-12 and post-secondary level, will need emotional support and understanding.”
For Clare James, who completed her B.S. in child development last year and completed her M.A. in special education and a graduate certificate in autism spectrum disorder this May, she said, “hopefully, maintaining a sense of normal and comfort for the kids and meeting them where they are academically and helping them adjust.”