Dr. Temple Grandin Brings Crowd to its Feet at Innovations in Practice 2019 Conference

Approximately 450 participants recently gathered in Edmonton to hear renowned author, educator and speaker Dr. Temple Grandin, among other experts, address the mental health challenges of those living with Developmental Disabilities, Intellectual Disabilities and Autism Spectrum Disorder.

01 October 2019

Approximately 450 participants recently gathered in Edmonton to hear renowned author, educator and speaker Dr. Temple Grandin, among other experts, address the mental health challenges of those living with Developmental Disabilities, Intellectual Disabilities and Autism Spectrum Disorder.

The Innovations in Practice 2019 Conference - held Oct 9-10 at the Edmonton Inn & Conference Centre - attracted an enthusiastic and engaged crowd of Psychiatrists, General Practitioners, frontline Addiction and Mental Health clinicians, Teachers, support workers, families and individuals with lived experiences from across Canada.

It followed the inaugural Innovations in Practice Conference last year - the first such gathering of its kind ever held in Western Canada - which drew some 300 participants to Edmonton.

"This is one of the biggest conferences in the country in the field of Developmental Disabilities and mental health. It was a wonderful forum to learn about the most innovative practices in the field and it provided a great opportunity for people to network with their peers," says Conference Chair Dr. Yogesh Thakker, a Clinical Lecturer in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Alberta (U of A).

"We had very positive feedback. Many people are asking if we can host this conference every year. But for logistical reasons, that would be difficult. It's a lot of hard work to put the conference together, so we plan on holding it every 18 months to two years," adds Dr. Thakker, who also serves as Lead Psychiatrist for Alberta Health Services' (AHS's) Community Outreach Assessment and Support Team (COAST).

Other members of the Innovations in Practice Conference organizing committee included Mr. Scott Phillips, Assistant Chair, Department of Psychiatry, University of Alberta (U of A); Conference Co-Chair Dr. Pierre Chue, Professor, Department of Psychiatry, U of A; Dr. Keith Goulden, Associate Professor, Department of Pediatrics, U of A; Mr. Clayton Kleparchuk, Program Manager, Tertiary & Residential Services, Alberta Hospital Edmonton; Ms. Crystal Grunling, Conference Coordinator; Ms. Jennifer Sadowski, Clinical Supervisor, COAST; and Ms. Donna Brothers-Palfrey, Behavioural Consultant, COAST.

Dr. Grandin, the keynote speaker on day two of the conference, was severely Autistic and unable to speak at age two. But she overcame many early life social and academic challenges, and went on to earn a PhD in Animal Science from the University of Illinois in 1989. She is currently a Professor at Colorado State University.

Dr. Grandin, who was greeted with a standing ovation at the conference, is also a prolific author. Her book, Animals in Translation, made The New York Times best-seller list. Other popular books authored by Dr. Grandin include Thinking in Pictures, Emergence Labeled Autistic, Animals Make us Human, Improving Animal Welfare: A Practical Approach, The Way I See It, and The Autistic Brain.

She has been the subject of dozens of articles in major media outlets, and a movie about Dr. Grandin's early life and career with the livestock industry earned seven Emmy Awards. In 2016, Dr. Grandin was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and in 2010 she was named by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

In her keynote address, Dr. Grandin - who describes herself as a "photo realistic visual thinker" - highlighted the differences between those who see the world in pictures, like herself, and "pattern thinkers" who excel at mathematical concepts or "verbal thinkers" who love facts and history.

Many students who do poorly in conventional classrooms may well be "visual thinkers" who are on the Autistic Spectrum, she argues, and would benefit from traditional shop or carpentry classes that offer a more hands-on approach to learning.

"One of the biggest problems I'm seeing right now in the schools is we've taken out all the hands-on stuff. That's why we're locking kids up in seclusion rooms. We've got to get hands-on classes back in the schools," she told the audience.

"I know a guy right now who is in his 60s. He's dyslexic, he's ADHD, he's very Autistic acting, and he was a terrible student in school. Then he took a welding class. Now he owns a metal fabrication company - and it's a big metal fabrication company. We're paying a price right now by taking skilled trades out of the schools. We've got to put this stuff back in."

Indeed, she noted that many of the world's most successful inventors, pioneers and creative types - from Thomas Edison to Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein and Steven Spielberg - were social misfits who overcame learning disabilities or behavioural challenges.

"Jane Goodall, when she did her famous work studying chimpanzees, had a two-year secretarial degree. Would that be possible today?" she asked. "Stephen Spielberg was dyslexic and bullied in school. Einstein had no speech until age three. What would happen to him today?"

By valuing only conceptual or mathematical thinkers, and by failing to recognize the importance of "bottom up" thinkers who see the world in more tangible terms, huge engineering mistakes sometimes occur.

"With the Boeing 737 Max (grounded by Boeing following several crashes) the first mistake they made was a visual thinking mistake in trusting a single, very delicate little fragile sensor that sticks out of the plane that was wired directly into the flight computer. The plane thought it was stalling when it wasn't, and it kept shoving the nose down," she says.

"Why would you trust a single, physically fragile sensor, especially when your company already makes another plane for the military that uses two sensors, and Airbus uses three sensors? Why would you do that? That was the first mistake. If that first mistake hadn't been made those planes would still be flying."

Dr. Ross Greene, who delivered the keynote address on the opening day of the conference, was on the faculty at Harvard Medical School for over 20 years and is now a member of the clinical faculty in the Department of Psychology at Virginia Tech. He is also the founding director of a nonprofit organization called Lives in the Balance (www.livesinthebalance.org), through which his advocacy work occurs.

He is also the author of such best-selling books as The Explosive Child and Lost at School, and is an outspoken advocate for the compassionate understanding and treatment of kids with behavioural challenges.

Dr. Greene's innovative, research-based Collaborative & Proactive Solutions (CPS) approach posits that challenging behavior is the result of lagging skills rather than lagging motivation, and he emphasizes solving problems collaboratively rather than using motivational procedures. His approach has been adopted by hundreds of general and special education schools, inpatient units, and residential and juvenile detention facilities.

In his address - titled Collaborative & Proactive Solutions: Understanding and Helping Kids with Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Challenges - Dr. Greene objected strongly to the use of seclusion rooms in schools, saying the evidence shows they do not make teachers and students safer, but quite the opposite.

Instead of banishing kids who misbehave to seclusion rooms, he argues that educators must learn to detect and respond to the issues that lead to misbehavior before classroom confrontations occur.

"Defusing is late, de-escalating is late, restraining and secluding is late," he told the audience. "Where does it begin? All restraints and seclusions begin with an expectation the kid is having difficulty meeting, and that unmet expectation - we call them unsolved problems in the CPS model - is highly predictable. The kid has probably been having difficulty meeting that unmet expectation for a very long time. If you want to provide good care you want to be early, not late."