This guest post is from Ron Sandison who works full time in the medical field and is a professor of theology at Destiny School of Ministry. This post is part of an initiative on our site called “In Our Own Words: Living on the Spectrum,” which highlights the experiences of individuals with autism from their perspectives. Have a story you want to share? Email us at InOurOwnWords@autismspeaks.org!
Entering the Ballroom of Detroit Marriot Troy at 7 am for the continental breakfast and my first cup of Java—Temple Grandin was standing in the back corner next to the stage. All the vendors and presenters were bustling to setup his or her tables for the Metro Parenting Living Autism Conference. The 3,840-square-foot auditorium was empty except for Temple and I.
Reaching out my hand, “Hi, Temple, I am Ron Sandison. I have autism and I will be presenting on Building Social Skills & Confidence in Those with Autism.”
“Do you have a job?” Temple responded with a stern mechanical voice.
“Yes, I have been working full-time nine-years at Havenwyck Hospital and fourteen years part-time as a professor of theology at Destiny School of Ministry. I am also married and have a one-year-old daughter, Makayla Marie.”
“Way too many young adults with autism and Asperger’s have never had a job or only make a living speaking on autism without real life work-experience. What type of work do you do at the hospital?”
“I am a psychiatric care specialist. I lead mental health groups—working one-on-one with psych patients.”
“Since you are autistic and have a career—I will come and listen to your breakout secession." I introduced Temple to my mascot Prairie Pup and honey badger—a crowd had now encircled us. As the host of the event snapped Temple and my picture with my furry companions.
Later in the afternoon, I was thrilled to see Temple setting in the backrow, listening intently to my breakout secession—making me nervous.
Hearing Temple live—I was amazing at her practical advice—reminding me of my own journey. I loved her quote, “Talent attracts mentors.”
This quote was true for my success. My gift of memorizing over 10,000 Scriptures lead to me mentoring and interning under internationally known TV evangelist Dr. Jack Van Impe—the walking Bible. Through this internship I learned the skills required for operating an international ministry and was able to develop my interpersonal skills. Dr. Jack Van Impe shared with me his struggles in his early days of ministry as a traveling evangelist and the miracle provision from God to establish an international ministry.
My internship for Dr. Jack Van Impe’s ministry was one of the defining moments of my life. Through this internship, I developed self-confidence and also learned the important skills of working with others.
I also loved her quote, “Young adults with autism—need to get their butts out of the house and get a job! Work experience can start small walking dogs in the neighborhood or mowing lawns.” When I was fifteen-years-old my dad helped me get a job as a dishwasher at Bell Knapps. I developed social skills and manors by working in the hospitality industry.
A couple of humorous quotes Temple shared were, “Being a woman in a man’s world was harder than autism.” And “Don’t try to de-geek the geek.”
The final insight, I gained from Dr. Grandin was build areas of your strengths not weaknesses. In her message she continually stressed that individuals with autism, academic skills will be uneven. This was especially true for me. I was unable to learn anything phonetically. I received a D in Spanish (a phonetically taught language) and I did poorly in math. My reading comprehension and memory ability as a visual learner were off the chart. During my master of divinity, I took three years of Koine Greek and earned a 4.0 GPA. Koine Greek, unlike Spanish, is a dead language and therefore taught visually using flashcards.
I was greatly blessed by meeting Dr. Temple Grandin—I hope to hear her again soon. She provides hope for us on the spectrum as a role model by her accomplishments, integrity, and work ethics.