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Common Reading Experience explores the world of autism

The world inhabited by the autistic is like a country different from where most of us live, and one where the “natives” speak another language and see things their own way. And that can be a hard cultural divide for people to travel, in either direction.

Temple Grandin gives everyone a glimpse across that divide in her book Thinking in Pictures: My Life with Autism, this year's selection for Fort Lewis College's Common Reading Experience. Grandin will be on campus September 30 – October 1, and will present a public talk at 7 p.m., September 30, in Whalen Gymnasium. The event is free and open to the public.

The Common Reading Experience program, now in its 10th year, gives every incoming freshman a free copy of that year's book selection at the Fall Orientation. The book is then integrated into many courses, and is used as the basis for on-campus films, lectures, panel discussions, and more throughout the fall. Related events are also held in the community, expanding the conversation.

Autism is a difficult, challenging topic that arouses a range of emotions and interpretations from a spectrum of points of view. Which is exactly why Thinking in Pictures is a good choice for the Common Reading Experience: because it asks hard questions and doesn't offer easy answers. And so the book inspires reflection, analysis, and discussion.

Grandin has been featured on Lisa Davis' “It's Your Health,” ABC's “Primetime Live,” “The Today Show,” “Larry King Live,” and NPR's “Fresh Air.” She has also been written about in Time, People, Discover, Forbes, and The New York Times. She was also profiled in the BBC documentary The Woman Who Thinks Like a Cow, and was portrayed by Claire Danes in the biopic Temple Grandin.

Writing from the dual perspectives of a scientist and an autistic person, Grandin shows what it is like to live with autism, thinking, feeling, and experiencing the world in ways that are incomprehensible to those who are “neurotypical,” as she refers to the non-autistic.

Her story, though, is also about one who has overcome the many neurological impairments associated with autism. She describes her painful isolation growing up “different” and her discovery of visual symbols to interpret the “ways of the natives,” people who live in the world of autism.

As well as writing and lecturing widely on autism, Grandin is also a gifted animal scientist and a professor of animal science at Colorado State University. She has studied the anxiety behavior of cattle, for which she draws parallels to autism, and used her insights to design holding pens intended to reduce stress for animals headed to slaughter. Her work with livestock earned her an award from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals in 2004.

Common Reading Experience events include:

A Q&A session with Marcy Lawrence, Durango 9-R Schools District's Director of Exceptional Student Services, and Andrea Bogle, Coordinator of Exceptional Student Services for the San Juan Board of Cooperative Educational Services, in 130 Noble Hall, September 10, at 7 p.m.

Talk and book signing by Temple Grandin, in Whalen Gymnasium, September 30, at 7 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

Breakfast with Temple Grandin, Irene Beers Room in the Reed Library, October 1, 9 a.m. The event is free, but seating is limited to the first 40 people who RSVP.

Picnic with Temple Grandin to Celebrate our Humane-ity, Student Union Plaza, October 1, 11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 public and $7 for students.

A panel discussion, with Q&A, on "Animal Sentience and Human Interactions," in the Student Union Ballroom, October 7, at 7 p.m.

Viewing of Temple Grandin, starring Claire Danes, at the following locations:

Pine River Library, September 22, at 6 p.m.

Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Durango, September 29, 7 p.m.

Vallecito Room, Student Union, October 14, at 5 & 8 p.m.

“Making a Difference” weekly radio interviews related to the CRE, every Wednesday, 5:30 - 6 p.m., through November 19, on KDUR at 91.9 & 93.9 FM, or at kdur.org. Listen to archived shows here.

Read about the history of the Common Reading Experience by the Durango Herald. 

Learn more about the Common Reading Experience at Fort Lewis College. 

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