My hair wasn’t brushed, neither were my teeth.
I wondered down zombie-like to the hotel’s continental breakfast. My eyes weren’t really working yet, but it wasn’t hard to discern that Temple Grandin was sitting in the lobby on the phone.
If you aren’t familiar with Temple Grandin, she’s sort of a patron saint of the autism community. Born with autism, Temple has been able to make an impact seeing the world from a different perspective. She was played by Claire Danes in a movie and is a rockstar speaker at events across the country.
SHE IS A BIG DEAL, especially to parents like me with a child on the autism spectrum.
I didn’t want to lurk. Lurking is creepy, so I went in to eat breakfast. A few minutes later Temple came in, and I asked if I could join her at the table.
She was spending the day at Cal-Poly Pomona (where I talked to first year students the night before) talking with Vet Science classes. A couple of filmmakers following her day were also at the table.
The filmmakers asked me what I was doing there, and I gave the briefest version of “what I do” that I’ve ever given. I didn’t want to talk. I wanted to listen.
“Temple,” I said. “As a father with a child on the spectrum, I just want to thank you for your work. You give me and so many others hope.”
She nodded in thanks and then said, “Tell me about your son.”
“How many hours of one-on-one therapy does he get a week?” She asked.
Since Griffin has a speech delay she focused on speech and rattled off things we should be doing or trying: talk slow, give him time to respond, do a lot of turn-taking play.
She had a lot to give. And that is what was absolutely amazing. Our conversation wasn’t caught up in what I do or what she does or about the weather or hotel. It was about Griffin. She genuinely wanted to help me help him.
Lucky for her, I had to cut our conversation short because I was late for a Skype chat with a class reading WEARING in Pennsylvania. I could’ve sat there all day.
And then she gave me this gift (not an exact quote): “You’ve got to push him. I didn’t start speaking until I was four. At his age I had severe autistic symptoms. He sounds like he is doing a lot of great things.”