The most famous spokesperson for autism and Asperger’s that I know of is Dr. Temple Grandin, a high-functioning adult on the autism spectrum who has written many books on the subject, including The Way I See It. I was spellbound as she shared in some detail the struggles she has encountered, the knowledge she gained from studying the disorder, and the importance of the support she has received from her mother and other key persons in her life.
If you are not familiar with her story, I recommend watching the movie “Emergence” based on Grandin’s autobiographical book by the same name. You can also find her in several places on YouTube, such as this one: The World Needs All Kinds of Minds.
The book is very user friendly, particularly for parents or teachers seeking advice or help in diagnosing or dealing with a child anywhere on the spectrum. Here are just a few of the many nuggets of wisdom embellished with Grandin’s personal experience:
- DIAGNOSIS AND EARLY INTERVENTION: “The best thing a parent of a newly diagnosed child can do is to watch their child, without preconceived notions and judgments, and learn how the child functions, acts, and reacts to his or her world.” (p.2) Grandin’s mother began seeking interventions when she observed the classic symptoms of no speech, no eye contact, tantrums, and constant repetitive behavior at the age of two and a half.
- DIFFERENT TYPES OF THINKING: “Strategies that build on the child’s area of strength and appeal to their thinking patterns will be most effective.” (p. 14) Grandin believes all minds on the autism/Aspberger’s spectrum are detail-oriented, but they specialize in different ways. She notes three types of specialized thinking: Visual (thinking in pictures, like she does); Music and Math; Verbal logic.
- EDUCATION: “Interests and talents can turn into careers. It is a mistake to stamp out a child’s special interests, however odd they may seem at the time.” (p. 34) Grandin’s mother encouraged her particular interest in art. Later she became fixated on cattle squeeze chutes after she discovered that getting into one herself relieved anxiety. Today she has a highly successful career as a designer of livestock facilities.
- SENSORY ISSUES: “Sensory integration activities may help unscramble the child’s perception and enable information to get through—a prerequisite for any type of learning.” (p. 72) Grandin recalled that noises like the school bell hurt her ears to the point that it felt like “a dentist’s drill hitting a nerve. ” In the movie, “Emergence” she is depicted as a young adult being totally frightened by the sound and movement of revolving doors.
- SOCIAL FUNCTIONING: “The way I see it, a huge mistake many teachers and parents make is to try to make people with autism or Asperger’s into something they are not—turn the geeky nerd into an ungeek, for instance.” (p. 132) “The people in the world who think that social connectedness is the ultimate goal of life forget that telephones, social networking websites, text messaging, and all the other electronic vehicles that fuel their passion to socialize are made by people with some degree of autism.” (p. 139) Grandin calls herself a nerd. She has had to learn social rules, but admits she will never acquire the social emotional relatedness that most people possess. She claims that her brain does not have the neural circuits necessary for her to function in such a way.
- MEDICATIONS AND BIOMEDICAL THERAPY: “Little research exists on drug use in children. Doctors and parents need to be doubly careful and consider medications only after other behavioral/educational options have failed to alleviate the symptoms.” (p. 160) Grandin did not take any medications until her early thirties, when she went on anti-depressants to address constant anxiety and panic attacks. She also incorporates regular exercise and light therapy during the winter months. She believes she is one who will always need to take medication to counter a body chemistry that is “out of kilter.”
Dr. Temple Grandin has made and continues to make many valuable contributions to the fields of animal husbandry and autism/Asperger’s. I’ve not read her latest book, Different…..Not Less, which tracks the lives of fourteen unique individuals on the autism spectrum, but it’s at the top of my to-read list.