TEMPLE GRANDIN: Now there are some behaviors that a person with autism or Aspergers or PDD, which is simply another variant, that we're going to have to make some accommodations for. We just force the child into listening to the fire alarm going off, he's just not going to be able to tolerate it. If he's tantrumming in a big supermarket, it may be due to sensory overload and he's going to have to be just taken out of the supermarket. These problems get worse when the child gets tired.
I had problems with scratchy clothes, scratchy things against my skin. It was like sandpaper. My underpants just drive me crazy. A lot of individuals have problems a sloppy handwriting. This is motor control problems. Well, that's what computer keyboards are for, and you don't need to worry about handwriting.
And problems with fluorescent lighting. Now hopefully as they develop new kinds of fluorescent lighting this will get less and less of a problem, but the 60-cycle type of fluorescent lights are a very big problem for many people on the spectrum.
Now there's some behavior that's just bad behavior, and we don't have to tolerate it. Now the thing about being autistic is I had to learn all my social skills like acting in a play. Now I can learn to act in the play nicely or I can learn to act in a play bad. Now being a child of the '50s was good, because all kids were taught to sit at the table, have table manners. You have to sit through Sunday dinner at Granny's, not be rude, you must say please and thank you. You don't just walk up to other people and tell them the stupid or make comments about their appearance. I was taught those things.
Now I'm seeing people with the mild Asperger's that are 40, 50 years old, my age and generation, are all over the job market. But I'm seeing a lot of problems today with some of the younger ones. So oftentimes brilliant people, they just they just have terrible manners. They weren't taught some of these things. Table manners, that was taught.
Another thing is there was absolute consistent discipline between home and school. If I had a tantrum at school, my teacher Mrs. Deatch, would call home to my mother and she'd take TV away for one night. She didn't take it away for a week, she just took it away for one night. And the teacher and my parents worked together as a team. That's just essential.
Sloppiness, they got after me about that. Swearing, making comments about fat ladies, these were things that just weren't allowed. No, we don't accommodate this bad behavior because of Asperger's. This where the kids need to learn that it's just not all right.
Now as I said earlier, in the autistic brain skills are uneven. Some kids will be visual thinkers like me. Often times I get sent pictures in the mail from some of these kids. I got a picture from a 9-year-old that was drawn in perfect perspective. It was just amazing. Others will not be visual thinkers.
We've got to take the thing that the child is good at and build on that thing and build up the strength. Because my ability in drawing, that's what I base my career on in designing cattle handling facilities. I base my career on the thing I'm good at.
Too often in Special Ed we have too much emphasis on the deficits. I was horrible at algebra. Too much emphasis on deficits and not enough emphasis on the thing that I'm good at. Because you look at people on the spectrum that have been successful, their area of strength was built upon.
This is a picture from the Little Rain Man book from an autistic boy. And he drew movie projector reels, old-fashioned 16- millimeter movie projector reels inside his head to show how he thinks in pictures. Well, I think in pictures. I think like Google for images. I think in photorealistic pictures, even when I think about something that would be a concept.
How do I think about abstract things? Well, if I can't figure out a way to think about it in pictures, I'm not able to think about it. It has to be pictures. One time somebody asked me, oh, is capitalism a good system? Well, even that has to be thought about in pictures. And what I did is I categorized different countries, different types of governments, and I put pictures of capitalistic, capitalistic socialistic, dictatorships, war and chaos, in categories.
The brain is set up to put information into file folders. You either put it in this file folder or in this file folder. So it is possible to form a concept with visual thinking.
This is a slide of one of my cattle handling facilities out in Colorado. And when I design these things, I can test-run them in my mind, like a virtual reality computer system. Most people think in a combination of visual thinking and words, but everything for me is photorealistic pictures. And I used to think everybody could test-run things in their head. I didn't know that most people don't have virtual reality in their brain.
This is another one of my facilities down in Brazil that I'm really, really pleased that people in other countries are building some of the things that I've designed. And I really like this picture because I like to fantasize about what the archaeologists are going to think it's for when they dig it up in the future.
This is another picture from the same little boy, and he drew little boxes in his head to show how he sorts dogs and cats in two different categories. And when I was little, I sorted dogs and cats by size. But you see it's putting pictures into boxes inside the brain.
In fact, neuroscience research has shown that the brain actually sets up file folders. You can put information in this file or that file or this file or that file. And one of the things the Nancy Minshew has found is that people on the spectrum have a hard time creating new file folders. Now we can work with them to help them to be more flexible in their thinking.
Well, dogs are bigger than cats, so that's how I sorted them. That works just fine until our next-door neighbors bought a dachshund. And they got a dachshund about this long, and that was the size of a cat. And I tried to figure out why that was not a dog.
So now I had to make a new file folder. And I looked at the dachshund and I looked at the dachshund, and I go, how is she different than a cat? What is a visual feature that dachshunds have got that big dogs also have? And after studying and studying and studying the dachshund, I finally figured out that every dog, no matter how weird, has the same nose. So I was able now to sort dogs by nose shape.
Now other ways you could do it would be sound, barking or meowing, or by smell-- dogs and cats have a different smell. It's sensory-based putting information into categories.
Well, I always used to joke around about how my brain probably has a bigger high-speed internet connection into the visual cortex. Well, Dr. Nancy Minshew and her colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh did state-of-the-art brain scanning on me where they could map the large trunk lines, like the large internet trunk lines in the brain. And this brain scan, my brain shows that my internet connections going into the visual cortex I got more high-speed lines than my sex and age matched control has got.
And then they took another slice out of a further up in the brain and I got a really big one on the right side. And I don't have much of one on the left side. There's still a lot of things that need to be learned, but the research that Dr. Minshew and the whole research group at Pittsburgh has shown is that sensory-based thinking of the visual cortex is very much involved in the thinking of people on the spectrum.
Now what about people have all these visual processing problems? What tends to happen with those people is they become auditory thinkers. And of course that visual cortex doesn't lay unused. It's going to get filled up with auditory stuff. But it's not word-based, it's sound-based. We've got to try to get away from language. Then you're going to understand how some of these people think.
Now in interviewing lots of people on the spectrum, reading lots of books on first-person accounts, I've seen how my thinking is different from other people's thinking. When I did my book Thinking in Pictures, I thought everybody on the spectrum, when I did this back in 1995, was a visual thinker who thinks in photorealistic pictures like me and is really bad at algebra.
And after talking to a lot of people and writing to a lot of people and reading other personal accounts, I figured out there's some other specialized brain types. The autistic Asperger brain is a specialist brain, good at one thing, bad at something else.
Now there's another kind of brain where the internet wiring tends to go down to the math department. These people often are good at math, oftentimes good at music. They are pattern thinkers. They're pattern thinkers. It's a type of visual thinking, but it's patterns. Think chessboards, think things like that. It's pattern thinking.
And then a third type I call the verbal thinker. These are the ones that know all the sports statistics. They love the history and they're like a language specialist. They are going to be poor at drawing.
Now all types of autism have the same problem with rigid thinking and flexibility of thinking. Now we can work with people to make them better at flexible thinking, but the ones that are successful, we take their area of strength and build it into a really great hobby. Or even better yet, we're going to build it into a really great career. And that's what I did with my visual thinking.
I also want to emphasize the importance of mentors. I had a great science teacher. I was goofing around in school. High school was the worst part of my life, getting teased, but I could go down to the science lab and nobody was teasing in the science lab. And Mr. Carlock, my science teacher, gave me a reason to study and now a new goal I wanted to become a scientist.
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Join Dr. Temple Grandin as she offers new insights on life with autism and how this unique perspective has helped her to develop award-winning techniques for handling livestock.
This video is part 2 of 8 in the Autism & Animal Behaviors series.