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by Temple Grandin

The Way I See It

I went to a wonderful Mini-Maker Faire called STEAM Fest in Boulder, Colorado. STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math. The emphasis was on making things, ranging from high-tech robots to low-tech cardboard boxes. There were a number of kids at this event that had autism; however, they had a great time cutting up large cardboard boxes and making forts.

To safely cut the heavy corrugated cardboard, a mini-saw was made from a halved hacksaw blade and a duct tape handle. This creative tool was much safer than a knife, and it still sawed the cardboard effectively.

Many of the high-tech robotics activities involved computers, but the kids were more interested in making the physical robot do something. The STEAM Fest even had booths for doing simple, fun stuff like cutting paper snowflakes and making things from popsicle sticks, string, glue, and tape— much like the craft projects I did in elementary school!


For budding mathematicians, STEAM Fest had a cool game for making hundreds of mathematical patterns called FRACTILES. The designs one can create are infinite. I would have been thrilled by this as a child! A caution: FRACTILES have small pieces, making them unsuitable for young children who may swallow them.

I saw children constructing catapults that launched soft sponge balls. This was a fun activity where elementary aged kids were given short pieces of lumber, bungee cords, plastic pans, and lots of duct tape. They had to figure out how to make the catapult, and their parents were instructed to let them. Participating in this activity enabled kids to learn from their mistakes. If one way failed, they had to try another. To keep this activity safe, adults watched to prevent the use of rocks and other dangerous materials.

It was great to see kids who were not glued to a screen. Since children on the autism spectrum sometimes get addicted to video games, my advice is to avoid giving them as gifts this holiday season. What I loved about the Mini-Maker Faire was that children were being creative. Children will put the screens away if they have hands-on activities. Instead of playing the Minecraft video game, kids played with giant blocks made from boxes labeled “Minecraft Blocks.”

The kids were having the most fun with simple stuff, such as cardboard boxes, tape, and scrap wood. Making houses and forts from cardboard boxes was more popular than the 3D pictures on a large screen television. When I was a child, I was given gifts for making stuff and exploring the world, like carpentry tools, a toy sewing machine (it really worked!), and a microscope. The next door neighbor had an Erector Set.

We never followed the directions, we just built stuff!

Temple Grandin, Ph.D., is an

internationally respected specialist

in designing livestock handling

systems. She is the most noted highly

functioning person with autism in the

world today. For more information,

visit her at www.templegrandin.com.

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