Autism Expert Temple Grandin Talks About Her Appearance on Xavier Riddle and the Secret Museum

Monday, PBS Kids celebrates World Autism Month by inviting Dr. Temple Grandin, a woman with autism who has spent much of her professional life bridging the gap between people with autism and the neurotypical world, to a new episode of Xavier Riddle and the Secret Museum. Grandin, who was the subject of a 2010 biographical film starring Claire Danes, is also an advocate for more humane animal husbandry, having worked as an expert in the field after studying animal science. In Monday’s episode, his cartoon avatar will talk to Xavier Riddle and his friends about autism, sensory issues and how to deal with people struggling with disabilities you can’t see.

In this episode, Xavier and the others meet a new boy who they want to be friends with, but they accidentally scare him. The child turns out to be autistic, and the loud, chaotic noises of three enthusiastic new friends are more disturbing than welcome.

The studio came to me, Grandin said. People come up to me all the time and I tell them: That’s great. Do it! It’s great that Xavier Riddle has helped raise awareness of the sensory issues of autism, that a sound that doesn’t disturb you can disturb [people with autism] and cause pain and anxiety.

For Brad Meltzer, whose I. Xavier Riddle, producer of the series, explained that when they knew they wanted to make an episode that would help their young audience learn about autism, there was little doubt that Ms. Grandin would be an excellent candidate.

It’s important that kids know it’s okay to look at things differently and that there’s something to celebrate – and we knew one of the best people to teach that was the amazing Temple Grandin, says Meltzer. When we started the show, we never thought it would get its own episode. It was one of the best prices.

While much attention is paid to the social aspects of autism, much less is said about the sensory issues that shape the daily interactions of many people with autism with neurotypicals in the realm of pop culture.

I think it’s good to teach kids that other kids can be different too. One of the things that helped me not get bullied when I was in elementary school was that teachers explained to my classmates that I had a disability, but it wasn’t like crutches or a wheelchair that you could see, Grandin said. I think all children on the spectrum have sensory issues, but they vary in severity. ….Some kids can’t stand bright light; I haven’t had any problems with that. My problem was noise and touchiness. Another child may have problems with sensitivity to sounds and smells. Therefore, they vary in severity, they may also vary in the system of meaning they affect.

When Grandin spoke with Xavier Riddle about the possibility of her appearing in one of the Meltzer/Chris Eliopoulous picture books, she said she would be open to the idea and support anything they can do to educate children about the idea that there may be people in their classrooms who are affected in different ways by the world around them.

Some kids are afraid of dogs because you never know when they’re going to bark, and other kids love dogs, Grandin said. That’s where there is a real variable, but the sensory problems are real, and there are scientific studies to prove it. There are also scientific studies that show very clearly that this loud sound deactivates the fear circuits in the brain of a delinquent child, while this does not happen in a normal child.

Grandin also liked that the episode focused on trying to make friends with a new child, because many autistic children are very prone to making friends based on a common interest, as they can become very cranky and fascinated by the things they like.

I thought it was very good. I think it’s fun, and I think it’s a good show, and it will help educate kids about sensory issues, Grandin said, noting that sensory issues are related to social issues, which tend to get more attention.

Many of the social problems some of these children have stem from sensory issues, because many social spaces are noisy, Grandin said.

Xavier Riddle and the secret museum in the next episode of I am Grandin Temple, airing on Monday the 5th. April, as well as an episode of I Am James Naismith will air on PBS Kids.

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