Temple Grandin makes memorable visit to Benjamin’s Hope

Krista Mason, the founder and executive director of Benjamin’s Hope in Holland, says she’s been profoundly influenced by the work of Temple Grandin, an outspoken proponent of autism rights and neurodiversity movements.

So it was pretty special for Mason to have Grandin squeeze in a Saturday visit to the farmstead community for adults with autism during a trip to West Michigan for a speaking engagement. 

“My son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism in 1997,” Mason says. “Dr. Grandin’s book “Thinking in Pictures” had just been released. I remember absorbing every word she wrote. She gave me a window into Ben, helped me understand his autism, and gave me a vision for his future. I think her love of farming was the seeds of Ben’s Hope. She inspired me and gave me hope.”  

Autism ‘part of who I am’

Grandin, who was named one of TIME’s 100 most influential people in the world in 2010, didn’t speak until she was 3 1/2 years old. In 1950, she was diagnosed with autism, and her parents were told she should be institutionalized. 

Temple Grandin sits with Krista Mason, the founder and executive director of Benjamin's Hope in Holland. (Courtesy)

Today, she has her PhD, is an associate professor of animal science at Colorado State University, has designed one-third of all the livestock-handling facilities in the United States, consults for major corporations, and is a best-selling author. The HBO movie about her life, “Temple Grandin,” starring Claire Danes, won seven Emmy Awards. 

“Autism is a very important part of who I am,” Grandin says. “People ask me all the time if I could snap my fingers and not be autistic, would I do it? No. I like the logical way that I think.” 

While visiting Ben’s Hope, Grandin learned about how the men and women who live at Ben’s Hope are developing skills in caring for the animals and tending gardens. She enjoyed a farm-to-table dinner prepared by the residents. 

“Young people with autism often become fixated on their favorite subject,” Grandin said during her July 9 visit. “But the key is to take those things and expand them. You need to be able to do things with it that people want.” 

Motivation and opportunity

Anna Speet, the only certified Soma Rapid Prompting Method (RPM) practitioner in Michigan, is the director of the RPM program at Benjamin’s Hope. She says that as a freshman at Hope College, listening to a Grandin speech shaped her career focus. 

“I thought to myself, ‘This is it. I want to work with adults with autism,” she says. 

Temple Grandin talks with residents at Benjamin's Hope in Holland. (Courtesy)

For Mason, the highlight of the visit was observing up close Grandin’s “unwavering focus on identifying purposeful work for each person. Find the thing that motivates each person, and then make sure they have that opportunity.”  

Benjamin’s Hope is partnering with Zeeland Christian Schools to host Grandin for a speaking event in 2023. 

The 40-acre campus is designed to create purposeful and integrated experiences for adults with autism, their families, and the entire community. Benjamin’s Hope offers essential services such as housing and meaningful day programming, partially funded through public health care dollars and the remainder supported by giving from the community. 

Beyond residential services, hundreds of people in West Michigan participate in the Church of Ben’s Hope, Rapid Prompting Method, Club Connect, and its growing day program, NEXT. 

The programs are designed to provide vital support, respite, engagement, community, and growth, Mason says.

This article is a part of the year-long series Disability Inclusion exploring the state of West Michigan’s growing disability community. The series is made possible through a partnership with Centers for Independent Living organizations across West Michigan.