TLC brings ‘The Loving Push’ to Canyon


courtesy of Bree Holbrook

Teachers Bree Holbrook and Anne Skalsky meet Dr. Temple Grandin at an autism convention in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

They watch and listen from the audience, jammed amid a slew of parents and educators. As the speaker, clad in a signature western shirt, speaks in her clear, precise manner, the room is nearly silent, paying rapt attention to her presentation. Everyone here either is or has assisted an individual who falls on the autism spectrum. To many, handling autism or helping those with it is a part of every day. To some, helping those with autism is a calling.

The Learning Center teachers attended an autism conference Friday, Sept. 1, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The conference speakers included Dr. Temple Grandin, a Colorado State University professor of animal science. Grandin, diagnosed with autism as a child, has authored or co-authored at least a dozen books on autism and regularly tours the country speaking about living with autism and assisting those who do.

“She’s very straightforward,” TLC teacher Bree Holbrook said. “She gets her point across. She’s very adamant about young adults with autism not being in their parents’ basements playing video games, that they are out being members of the community and working.”

The TLC program at Canyon High emphasizes teaching enrolled students “soft skills,” social interaction abilities sought after in the workplace because of those skills’ value in customer interaction.

“Their morning is commensurate to other students’ for the most part,” Holbrook said. “They have their core academics, but their afternoon is more life skills and vocational based. You see them down in the cafeteria, but they’re also at the bus barn. They’re at our central office. They’re at Hil’s. They’re in all these places doing hands-on vocational training.”

They’ve got such a high potential, and we’re the ones that fail if they go nowhere.

— Anne Skalsky, TLC teacher

Grandin published her most recent book, “The Loving Push: How Parents and Professionals Can Help Spectrum Kids Become Successful Adults,” in May 2016. Grandin co-wrote “The Loving Push” with psychologist Deborah Moore to assist parents and teachers in guiding teenagers on the spectrum.

“The neat thing is she said people with autism want to be pushed,” Holbrook said. “Even though they push back, they want to. They just don’t know how to communicate that properly.”

TLC teacher Anne Skalsky said she and her colleagues help give their students a push by treating them with similar expectations to other high school students.

“We have high expectations–we expect them to act like high school students, to learn,” Skalsky said. “There’s so much more than we think they can do. You know that they’ve got such a high potential, and we’re the ones that fail if they go nowhere.”

Holbrook said the TLC teachers’ greatest challenge is helping students overcome the stigmas surrounding their needs.

“They’re not special needs kids, they’re not wheelchair kids, they’re not autistic kids, they’re not Down Syndrome kids,” Holbrook said. “They are people with disabilities, people with special needs. You always put the disability after the person.”

Despite the challenges her job brings, Holbrook said she finds her work rewarding.

You always put the disability after the person.

— Bree Holbrook, TLC teacher

“If I didn’t have to do paperwork, I would have the best job in the world,” Holbrook said. “One of my favorites is when I have a kid grow up, walk across the stage and into the work environment, and I go that summer, and they’re working at Ace and doing awesome.”

Holbrook said TLC teachers fill many roles to ensure their students’ success.

“We do your generalized lesson plans and things,” Holbrook said. “But we’re also the kids’ social coach, we’re their counselor, we’re their support. We have to teach that fine line that we’re not their parents, which is hard, but they know that they can lean on us for those other roles.”

Skalsky said the amount of time TLC teachers spend with their students allows a deep emotional bond to form.

“These kids–they all touch your heart,” Skalsky said. “It’s probably like any other teacher in the school, but we’ve got these kids eight hours a day, and they become your world.”