TEMPLE GRANDIN: OK, I want to try to give you a glimpse into the mind of the pattern thinker. This slide shows an origami made by Robert Lang, a specialist in origami. It was published in Discover Magazine. And the praying mantis is made from a single sheet of folded paper.
Now in the background, you can see the pattern of the folding. Now there's no way I could do this. This is more abstract. It's visual, but it's more abstract. And these slides deliberately do not have any writing on them because I'm trying to get you to think in a way away from language. Just look at that pattern and imagine how you could turn that into that beautiful praying mantis. It's not cut in any way, it's just folded, square sheet of paper.
How do you learn a concept when you think in pictures? How do you form a concept? You form a concept by putting pictures into file folders or into categories? Categories is the beginning of making concepts.
And how do you teach a guide dog the concept of an intersection? So if he goes to a strange city, he's going to know what to do. If I only show the guide dog intersections made with white lines, he wouldn't know what to do if there was no painted cross walk. So what you have to do is show him intersections with white lines, intersections with no lines, stop signs, stoplights, dirt roads, curbs. You show him many, many different kinds of things. And it all goes in the intersection category in his brain, then you'll have enough different pictures that he can use as templates, so that when he sees a strange intersection, he's going to understand it.
It's bottom-up thinking, thinking by people on the spectrum, is you take all the little details, you take all little details, you put them together to form a whole. Whereas, so-called normal people, it's top down, from the frontal cortex, and you get the hypothesis first and try to stuff the information in.
Now I get better and better at doing things. As I learn more and more things, I've got more and more images I put on the internet that's inside my mind. Because my mind works just like Google for images, so the more things I have in my mind, the more things I can use my own internal search engine to search.
OK, you've got a bunch of objects-- hats, pans, videotapes, tool box. And if you say to the person on the autism spectrum, pick out the red objects, they can usually do that. But they might look at this and go, well, I'm not going to pick the red ball because the red ball has the white writing on it. So now you get into the concept of mostly red.
But play games with categories-- because further scientific research showed that people on the spectrum have a hard time making a new category, like round objects or objects that contain plastic or objects that contain metal. But let's say you told him to pick out the round objects, don't be surprised if he picks those old VHS tapes because inside the cartridge you've got a round spool that the tape goes around.
When we were little kids, we used to play that game 20 questions, where I might be thinking about a doormat, and then the other kid asks me, is it animal, plant, or mineral. And I would say, plant. And then they'd ask you, well, is it used inside the house. No. Is it used in sports. No.
Gradually keep asking questions, narrowing down the category, see if they could guess that I was thinking about a doormat in 20 questions. That's a great game to play with kids on the spectrum because it helps to teach opening new file folders, making new categories in your brain.
How about really abstract concepts like the Lord's Prayer. That's part of my speech therapy when I was very little. At one summer camp program, the goal was to learn the Lord's Prayer, which I did. The one problem is, I didn't know what it meant.
This picture shows a rainbow. And at the base of the rainbow, you've got an electric power tower. That's the power and the glory. See the thing is, with no picture, I simply just don't have any thought.
Is autistic learning just memorization and scripting? Yes, in the beginning, it is. And when I was in high school, kids used to tease me and call me tape recorder. I'd walk across the parking lot and they'd go tape recorder, because I was always sort of saying things the same way.
But as I learned more and more and I got more and more and more experience, then my language got less and less like a tape recorder, because I had more phrases I could pull out of memory and use. And then you put information into categories.
I didn't even think I could think really well until I got to be 40, because you've got to load a lot of information in here into the internet that's inside my mind in order to do good bottom-up thinking where I'm taking information that's inside here, comparing it to other information that's out there.
People on the spectrum are often really good at the hidden figure test. You've got a figure, can you see the figure inside the pink and yellow figure? And actually, this picture came from Wired magazine. They had an article a while ago that said our tech genes are causing autism. There's a lot of autism around Silicon Valley.
Well, you wouldn't have any computers if you didn't have some autistic genes. And people that are good visual thinkers-- a lot of people on the autism spectrum-- are good at this test. And when you put them in a brain scan machine, just the visual part of the brain is turned on and the rest is turned off.
So now I'm going to show you how I can use visual thinking in a much more abstract way. I call it visual symbol pictures. Well, this is a picture I cut out of an advertisement somewhere. And I don't remember where, but this little bright cabin in the wilderness is like the brain scan of the autistic person. It's like those direct internet connections, deep into the visual cortex, everything else is shut off like a snowy wilderness, a bright cabin in the middle of a snowy wilderness.
And then I found this advertisement for a lamp store. And I thought this is a great visual symbol picture for the brain scan of the normal person. We've got so many lamps turned on in this store that we don't know which one is the visual part.
You see, language can interfere with the visual thinking that's going on beneath it. I want to try to get you to enter a world without words. I've had some people complain that these slides have no words. Well, I'm trying to get you away from thinking in words.
Now why would I put this picture of this skeletal building up here-- again, to remind me to talk about the interconnectedness of brain systems. And one of the big problems you have in the autism spectrum is the interconnections between the different departments in my symbolic corporate office headquarters of the brain, the interoffice connections are poor.
One set of offices, my graphic design, gets lots of circuits. And then our human resources and our sales department, they don't get hardly any. We don't need those social folks. There's more interesting things to do.
PET scan research has shown that when you hear a word, you see a word, you speak a word, or you think about a word, different parts of the brain light up. In fact, it's a very old slide. It's over 20 years old.
There actually is a lot known about the brain. In a normal brain, you have all kinds of interconnections between the different brain circuits. The research of Dr. Bruce Miller, which has been published in the Journal of Neurology really gives an insight into how the brain works, and maybe how the autistic savant brain works, because there's a type of Alzheimer's called frontotemporal lobe dementia, which wrecks the language parts of the brain. And then as the language parts of the brain get wrecked, art talent, like these horses in this painting that was published in the Journal of Neurology, looks a lot like savant art, very photo realistic.
And he said, as the language parts got more wrecked, the pictures got more photo realistic. And also, in some of the patients, music talent also came out. Real interesting. And here's another painting by one of these Alzheimer's patients. And strip away the language, you had art ability coming out of like a tape deck installer, somebody that had no previous interest in art.
You've got to make teaching mathematics concrete. There are a number of different companies that you can get little blocks from, that were different lengths of blocks, relate to different numbers, like 10. Number 1 blocks fit in the space of the number 10 block. I had a set of these when I was a kid. It really made a difference.
You've got to make it concrete. You want to teach multiplication-- 5 times 6 equals 30. Well, then put five pennies across this way, six pennies down this way. And then fill out your whole entire grid. And then the child can see that multiplication is a form of adding. Then it makes sense.
Get little game pieces that you can handle. Here's 4 plus 5 equals 9. And they can actually touch the little pieces. It makes numbers concrete.
And I thought this was super clever from the TEACH Program. You have 5 minus 1 equals 4. And when they took away the piece, they bagged it in a baggie because you took it away. Here is 6 minus 5 equals 1. You've got one piece left on the board and five are now bagged in a baggie. This teaches the concept of taking away.
Now, you might wonder why, when I want to talk about emotions and social life, that I put a bunch of boxes on fork pallets in here. Well, quite a few years ago, our library at Colorado State University got flooded. I was very upset about books being wrecked because knowledge was being destroyed.
See the thing is, I am what I do. One of the reasons why I put so much emphasis on the need to get good careers is because having a good career makes life worthwhile. I get social interaction through shared interests.
These kids that are getting teased, we need to get them into things that they can have a good time with other people, things like Drama Club, Journalism Club, that would work really well for the verbal thinkers, Music Club, Chess Club, for the music and math minds, and art things and graphic arts things for the visual thinkers.
The best times I had was when I was doing things with other people, like riding horses, or Mr. Carlock's Model Rocket Club. Those were times where I was not teased and I was having a really good time.
Now Nancy Minshew did another brain scan on me. And she found that I was interested more in things, in looking at pictures of things, rather than looking at pictures of faces.
And one of the reasons why I was interested in looking at pictures of things is they had all this funky old video that must have come from the '70s. And I was trying to figure out where they got it from by looking at pictures of cars. There would be glimpses of cars in it. I wanted to find out where it came from, where did you get these videos, These old scratchy VHS and they dubbed it over onto the computer.
And I had no idea why they were showing me these pictures. Had we dumb blind. But the thing is, you need to have people in the world that are interested in things, or you're not even going to have any studio to record Cyber Tower in.
Think about back in the caveman days. Who do you think made the first stone spear. It wasn't all those social people yakking around the campfire. It was some Asperger guy making the first stone spear.
Another test is where you look at big letters with little letters inside them. And like many people on the autism spectrum, I am quicker at identifying the small letters compared to the big letters. The autistic brain tends to look at the details.
We've got to work on helping these kids get socialized through shared interaction, shared interests. You can also get a situation where you have uneven skills, where you might have a sixth grader that could do 12th-grade math. Well, he needs to be doing 12th-grade math. He may need special ed reading. Or we may have a child to send to junior high school that ought to be taking a college class.
And there's all kinds of great things online now. There's really great things out in the community colleges. I'm really really saddened that a lot of high schools are short of science teachers.
But a lot of those good science teachers are out at the community colleges. And we need to be working on finding mentors because, when I look at some of the successful Aspergers, they're out in Silicon Valley.
The parents apprenticed them into the computer industry. Starting at about age 8, they start teaching them programming. Then by the time they're 12, they're doing professional-level programming. Or another case might be a boy's dad is an auto mechanic. He teaches his kid auto mechanics. And That's a great field, they're not going to export that job to China. And there's a shortage of good auto mechanics right now.
We've got to think about, what can they do when they grow up. People need to be getting job skills when they're young. So they start learning things, like being on time. Sometimes you do have to do what the boss tells you to do. There's a lot of interesting things out there in the world. And we need to be getting kids exposed to interesting things that can be career effects.
I mean, I found server farms really fascinating because there are electronic libraries where all the world's knowledge is, so all these computers in a big building. I read about those in a magazine. It just turned me on so much.
Another child's parents might work on a farm. Well, a lot of students today don't even know anything about a farm. You've got to get kids exposed to interesting things to stimulate their mind.
The journal Science has an excellent thing called Net Watch where every week they review two or three or four excellent, beautiful websites that would help get a student interested in science. After reading about these server farms-- they had an article about it in Fortune magazine-- I've said it really turned me on, the idea of the electronic library. Because to me, preserving knowledge is a really, really important thing.
And we still have some things we've got to work on. These server farms eat up a tremendous amount of power. We need work on how to get them a whole lot more energy efficient. And it's going to take an Asperger mind to figure out how to make the electronic library not be such an energy pig.
Some of the best social life I ever had was when I worked on construction. When I work on designing things and then I go out there, help supervise the construction, and we talk about building things-- it's just so interesting to spend three hours talking about concrete-forming systems, or get together with people that are interested in animal behavior and to discuss animal behavior.
We've got to have people that are interested in things, or we're not even going to have any technology. All the social people out there, you like all the latest telephones and computer things. Well, the real social people are not the people that make these things.
Students need to be reading things like Businessweek magazine. I am just amazed at the amount of people on the Asperger's spectrum, they're profiled in Businessweek. They're not diagnosed, but boy, they are Asperger, a lot of people in the tech fields.
I'm really concerned today that people on the spectrum are seeing too much really bad behavior. Sports figures behaving badly. When I was a child, I didn't watch grown ups behaving badly on TV.
The thing is, in a way, I'm more of a product of my environment. I can learn to be a good person or I can learn to be a bad person. I was not a good sport when I was a child. I had to be taught turn taking, I had to be taught sportsmanship. In the '50s, you played a lot of these little board games that require turn taking. These children need to learn how to take turns.
When I was a young child, yeah, I had my problems, but I was included in the sports things. And recently, I saw a video tape of a young boy that was having a lot of problems. And he walked up to the other children the basketball court and he just told them that they were stupid. He used a bad word that I don't want to use on Cyber Tower. So I'm going to just say he called them stupid.
Well, I wouldn't have done that. I had learned when I was really young that if you want to be included in a basketball game, you don't go up and say something rude to the other kids.
A lot of movies today don't have clear cut values. I'm concerned about all the violent video games. Some of these kids get addicted to video games. I would have been one of them addicted to video games, especially the rapid movement, shoot 'em up things. That kind of video game, an hour a day is enough.
I was allowed to have an hour a day after lunch where I could [INAUDIBLE] and spin this little brass thing around. And if video games had been around, that would have been limited to an hour a day.
Now there are some people smart enough to program them. That's fine. If the kid wants to program a game, that's just fine. Playing them for hours a day-- that's not fine. I'm not smart enough in match to program a video game. Getting addicted to video games wouldn't have helped me get into a field that I was good at-- designing the cattle handling facilities.
Also, students need to learn that you've got to do work that other people want. People don't want me talking endlessly about cattle chutes. They want me to design them. And sometimes I have to design them the way other people want them.
When it comes to religion, teach positive things in a very concrete way, like the golden rule in a concrete way. You don't steal other kids toys because you wouldn't like it if he stole yours. And do something nice, share your toys, because you liked it when another child shared your toys.
When you get older, maybe work on building Habitat for Humanity or something like that, where that's doing a good deed for somebody else. Stay away from the negative things.
It's really important to work on the sensory things. The occupational therapists-- they've been doing this for years and years and years. And pressure is calming to the nervous system. Pressure really calms down the nervous system.
There's a lot of problems with sensory scrambling. Whereas, with some of these individuals that remain nonverbal, their hearing is like a terrible cell phone with a terrible connection. And you do something like pressure, like this therapist is doing right here, then you can work on some of your speech therapy or some of the applied behavior analysis therapy. And the signal gets through. It's like getting over by the window, holding that cell phone close to the window. And speech will get through.
Other activities that are really helpful are slow swinging, 10 or 12 cycles a minute, and balancing things, things like sitting on a ball. Because an activity of having to balance sometimes helps the brain to stabilize the signals. Nobody really knows how these things work, but there's abnormalities in the vestibular and the balance parts of the brain.
When I got into puberty, I started having horrible anxiety attacks, tremendous anxiety attacks. It's like looking for predators all the time. Any little thing, get really anxious, really scared over it.
And I watched cattle going in a squeeze chute out at a ranch, the next door neighbor's range. And I noticed that sometimes when they put the cattle in a squeeze chute for their vaccinations, they just relaxed. So I went and tried the squeeze chute. And then I built this squeezing machine for myself to help myself to calm down.
Many people on the autistic spectrum are attracted deep pressure over wide parts of the body. They're going to get under sofa cushions, wrap themselves up in mats. Other things that are helpful are things like a weighted vest. You wear that for 20 minutes on, then you take it off for a while. Otherwise, you're going to get habituated.
As I went through my 20's, the anxiety attacks got worse and worse and worse. I was one of the ones that needed medication. I've been on low dose antidepressants for over 25 years. And it stopped the constant panic.
Now the mistake that's often made with antidepressants is giving too high a dose. People on the spectrum often need a much lower dose of antidepressant medication, sometimes only one-third to one-fourth the starter dose. Others don't need anything. See, this is where it's very variable. Some need it, others don't.
And I started on it when I was in my early 30's. There's a front view, a picture of the squeezing machine. And the person that's inside the machine can control it. It's very important that the individual have control of the stimulus.
And sometimes with sound sensitivity, you can reduce that by taking the dreaded fire alarm and put it on a recording device. And then the child can initiate that sound really quietly, and then gradually make it louder and louder. But he turns it on, it's not shoved in this face.
I think it's very important to desensitize young autistic children that don't want to be touched. And you can do it with deep pressure. Because that nice feeling of being hugged helps you to have nicer thoughts. There's a lot of lower down circuits.
I wanted to feel that nice feeling of being hugged, but it was just too overwhelming. I think it's very important that part of a good program is to work on the sensory things with an occupational therapist.
One of the problems in the autism field is people get too hung up on just one educational method. Everybody agrees that little kids need lots of one-to-ones. And they fight over which therapy. The important thing is having the right teacher.
But working on the sensory things is really important. And if you do some of these sensory things at the same time you do speech therapy or your ABA therapy or whatever therapy you're doing, that can help stabilize the brain and help the signal to get through.
This is a rule system I still use today. I took all the rules in the world and I cataloged them into four categories. If you want to have a civilized society, you've got to have control on really bad things, things like murder, destroying things, arson, burning down buildings, and war and chaos. If you don't control that, you're not going to have a civilized society. And if you want to live in a civilized society, we've got to control the really bad things.
Then there's the courtesy rules, saying please and thank you. Every society has courtesy rules. They help people to get along. It's like table manners, and you don't push in line, and no rudeness, things like that.
But then I've got to have a place where I can break some rules. That's Illegal but Not Bad. And a good example of Illegal but Not Bad is circumventing ridiculous school bureaucracy things, like maybe you have a child that's slightly under age to be at the community college. We'll enroll him anyway. But he's got to realize that that's a grown-up privilege and he can't do things like interrupt in class.
I was able to rise to the occasion on certain things that were grown-up privilege, like using my aunt's professional oil paints. I was very, very careful with those oil paints. I knew that that was a grown-up privilege.
Then, in every society of the world, there are certain things that, if you do them, you're going to be in so much trouble. It's just terrible. I call that the Sins of the System. Some places, like one drug offense-- you're in jail forever. In Holland, it's legal. Sins of the System are not logical. Don't touch them. They get you into tons and tons and tons of trouble. Just don't touch them.
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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 3 of 8 in the Autism & Animal Behaviors series.