Temple Grandin Keynote Speaker at Artists With Autism Event in April

On Wednesday, April 16, Pace University in lower Manhattan held an event, “Training the Talent of Artists with Autism,” with

Photo from left, Stuart Flaum, Vice President of Strokes of Genius, Inc.; Dr. Rosa C. Martinez, President of Strokes of Genius, Inc.; Dr. Temple Grandin, Professor of Animal Sciences at Colorado State University and autistic activist; Dr. Mary Riggs Cohen, Director of OASIS Program; and Stephen J. Friedman, President of Pace University. Photo/Pace University

keynote speaker Temple Grandin, PhD, at the Michael Schimmel Center for the Arts.  More than 250 students, faculty, staff and community members attended the event.

Grandin is one of the most accomplished and well-known adults with autism in the world. She is a best-selling author, an activist for issues relating to autism, a consultant to the livestock industry on animal behavior, and an engineer who was the

subject of an award-winning biographical film starring Claire Danes.

The event was hosted by Pace’s Ongoing Academic and Social Instructional Support (OASIS) program in the School of Education which provides assistance to college students on the autistic spectrum, and Strokes of Genius, an organization that develops artistic talents through professional art studio experiences and workshops.

“When Strokes of Genius approached Pace’s OASIS program and asked us to co-sponsor this event, they picked a perfect partner,” said Pace President Stephen J. Friedman. “Dr. Mary Riggs Cohen and the OASIS staff empower our students and help them conquer both the academic and social challenges of college.”

OASIS has become a model of best practices for college support programs and was a template for programs recently established in California and Arkansas.

“Pace’s OASIS program is an example of inclusion at its best,” said Andrea Spencer, Dean of Pace’s School of Education. “The program is strengths-focused, appreciative and supportive of the richness of individual talents as our students experience college in their transition to promising futures.”

Included in the event was an art auction, with a familiar auctioneer—SOE professor Sharon Medow. Artwork by individuals with autism was displayed in the Schimmel Theater Lobby at Pace through April 20.

The event had a meaningful impact on SOE candidates in attendance, some of whom got to meet Dr. Grandin and the artists from Strokes of Genius. “I personally met with each one of the artists, all whom were on the autistic spectrum. It was an honor and a pleasure to meet these young, talented individuals,” says Christina Esposito, MST Childhood & Childhood Special Education ’15. She called Dr. Grandin’s lecture “inspiring, informative and engaging.” The program was also very relevant to her field of study, she says. “As a special educator, I think it is important to stay current and be involved in the community.”

For Elayne Castillo, MST Childhood & Childhood Special Education ’14, the event was a remarkable opportunity to meet an influential figure in the autism community. “I was very intrigued by her informative lecture on children with autism spectrum disorders and the importance of tapping into their unique learning styles,” Castillo says. “As a future special educator, I believe that we should be able to build the talents and realize our students’ full potential.”

The evening’s events powerfully emphasized this lesson, one that our future educators will take to classes of their students for many years to come. “The evening was inspirational and clearly demonstrated the importance of a strengths-based approach to autism,” said Mary Riggs-Cohen, PhD, Director of the School of Education’s TARA Center and OASIS Program. “The incredible accomplishments of Dr. Grandin coupled with the artists magnificent artwork sent a clear message: Neurodiversity enhances our world.”

-- Cara Cea, University Media Relations, with additional reporting by Sofia Dupi