Inspirational Temple Grandin points to need for investment in Irish special needs education


IMPACT calls for implementation of Oireachtas Committee’s recommendations on upskilling of SNAs and other educational professionals

RW Photo Temple with CowThe experience of Dr Temple Grandin, a renowned expert on animal behaviour and husbandry, and an inspiration to tens of thousands of people affected by autism, demonstrates the value of investment in special needs education, according to IMPACT trade union. Dr Grandin, who addressed 800 people at an event called The World Needs All Kinds of Minds: An Afternoon with Temple Grandin at Cork Institute of Technology today (Friday), was diagnosed with autism in the 1950s, but went on to become an internationally-recognised scientist, speaker and author.

Speaking today, Dr Grandin emphasised the importance of educational intervention at the earliest possible stage to help equip children with autism succeed in life and the world of work. “The individuals who will be successful in the workplace are most likely to be the ones who developed good working skills at a young age,” she said.

The event was organised by IMPACT’s Munster Special Needs Assistants’ (SNA) Branch, which represents 2,000 SNAs in the province. Union official Barry Cunningham told the audience that Dr Grandin’s story underlined the need for increased investment in Irish special needs education – in particular continuous professional development for SNAs and other educational professionals as called for by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Social Protection in January 2016.

“Dr Grandin’s determination and success are an inspiration to every family that’s touched by autism, and to every school and education professional who works with these special young people. But there is an important lesson for Irish policymakers too, as her experience points to the need for more investment in special needs education. This must include specific training and continuous professional development to ensure that SNAs and other educational professionals are able to provide the best possible educational supports to help children with special needs realise their full potential at work and in society, just as Temple Grandin has famously done,” he said.

Dr Grandin was one of the first people on the autism spectrum to publicly share insights from a personal experience of the condition. Born in 1947, and unable to speak until the age of four, she is now professor of animal science at Colorado State University and a consultant to the livestock industry on animal behavior. She was in Ireland to address a major meat industry conference.

She was diagnosed with autism in the 1950s. Her mother rejected the route of institutionalisation, which was the standard medical recommendation for the condition at the time, and explored different supports and options to develop her daughter’s potential.

IMPACT represents over 8,000 SNAs across the country.