TEMPLE GRANDIN: Well, it's really good to be here today Helen Cornell on CyberTower. I think before I start my presentation on how animals think and feel I'd like to tell you a little bit about myself. I'm a professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University, and when I was three years old I had no speech. I was diagnosed autistic. I had no speech, no social contact, I would just sit and rock.
And fortunately I got very, very good early educational intervention. I can't emphasize enough the importance with young autistic children to work with them many, many hours a week. You cannot just let them sit-in a corner and rock.
And now I want to explain how being autistic and has helped me in understanding animal behavior. To understand animals, you must get away from language. Animals don't think in a language, they think and sights, sounds, smell, touch, and taste, and they think by associating these things together into categories. It is sensory-based thinking, it's not language-based thinking.
Now I think in pictures, and my mind works like Google for images. I'm sure you all have tried Google for images, and you can type in a keyword and then it kind of gets off the subject. It is associative kind of thinking, it's not linear.
I'm kind of amazed how search engines work. They seem to work just like how my mind works. People ask me, what is thinking in pictures? Well, everything I think about even something abstract I have to think about in photorealistic pictures.
Another thing about both people with autism and animals is details. I think in details. There's a famous test that's done where you have a big S made out of little H's, or an H made out of little S's. I'm better at and faster at picking out the small letters than the big letters.
Now animals notice detail. In my work with my animals, starting back in the 70s with cattle going up the vaccinating chute, I noticed that sometimes the animals refused to go through the chute. Some little thing that we wouldn't notice they noticed, like a shadow, like a chain hanging down. This is a slide that shows the entrance going into a cattle chute, and it's very dark.
You can also see a windmill, and on windy days when the wind is turning a windmill, the cattle see that. One of the things I have to do is train people to look for these visual details that they tend to overlook. Cattle don't overlook these details. They're a prey species animal. They see little things with rapid movement and objects of bright contrast that we tend to not notice.
One of the things I did when I first started is I got down in the chutes and I put my head down in the cow's eye view so I could see what the animals were seeing. Were they seeing a shadow? Were they seeing a person through the chute? Did they see vehicles going by in front of the chute? Was there a chain hanging down? Oftentimes you can improve the cattle movement by adding solid sides so you wouldn't see distractions.
Grazing animals, like cattle and horses, have wide-angle vision, eyes on the side of their head, so that when they're grazing they can always be scanning for predators. But they got lousy depth perception, so if they see a shadow, they've got to stop and put the head down. If you're out riding your horse and it hesitates, let it stop and look.
Little things we don't notice, like a yellow tape wrapped around a pipe. I do a lot of work with the meat industry. I always get asked, do the cattle know they're going to get slaughtered? They're more worried about water dripping down in the chute, there's a reflection on the water, a reflection on the floor. Sometimes you can just move a light and that's all you have to do to fix it.
Rapid movement. Rapid movement, it makes dogs chase-- that's the predator animal-- and it makes grazing animals like horses and cattle run away. Rapid movements, very stimulating to the nervous system. A rapid movement like that scares, but a steady movement like this is calming. Steady movement is calming, but don't sneak up on them and go like that. That's going to frighten.
Another little principle in working with animals is to make sure you have non-slip flooring. Don't take the puppy into the vet and then have it slide all around on the examining table. That just freaks out and scares the puppy. Put a mat on there so he doesn't feel like he's going to fall.
Another mistake that people make when they restrain an animal is to squeeze it too tight. There's an optimal pressure. Also, no jerky motion. You'll be amazed at how the animal will respond to that. Another thing is stroke it. Don't pat it like this, stroke it.
When I was little, I loved automatic doors because I was attracted to the rapid movement. Now a lot of children that have autism have sensory sensitivities. Some children have visual sensitivities, and they're going to hate these automatic doors. I was one of the ones who liked it.
In the brain in autism there's abnormalities in the circuits that go between different brain departments. Kind of imagine the brain as a big office building. You've got the CEO up at the top and then all of different offices. And then you have all the internet and communication lines between the offices. In autism, there's abnormalities in the communication lines between the different offices in the building.
I live in a world of visual detail. Dogs live in a world of smell detail. Think about all the information that the dog gets off the hydrant or he gets off a tree when he checks it out. He knows who's been there, when they was there, how long ago they were there, are they a friend or are they a foe.
Now the thing about the autistic mind and also the Asperger's mind-- and Asperger's is just the milder version of autism-- is it tends to specialize. Remember I talked before about the office building with all its interdepartmental connections. Well, there's problems in the white matter in the brain. That's the cables that connect up the different departments.
And it tends to not be enough cables to go around, so one set of offices gets all the cables and another set of offices gets none of the cables. Now the way my mind specialized is I'm a visual thinker. I think in photorealistic pictures, like Google for images, but terrible algebra.
Another way that an autism or an Asperger brain can specialize, this also happens with some of the dyslexics, is a music and math mind. They think in patterns. They think and patterns instead of thinking in pictures. And then there are some that are a word specialists, and often they make very good journalist.
I want to emphasize anybody working in Special Ed, we've got to work on building up the person's strengths. There's too much emphasis on deficits, not enough emphasis on building the strength area, because my career in animal behavior is based on my visual thinking.
How do you think and form a concept when you just have all these pictures in your mind? Well, the way you do that is to put the pictures in the category. In fact, neuroscience research shows that the brain sets up file folders, puts information in this file folder or in that file folder, like you do in a computer.
And then people who have real good, flexible thinking, they're able to open up new file folders. Dogs do this. They have file folders for things they're allowed to chase, things they're not allowed to chase. That is learned. That is a category. Making categories is the beginning of forming a concept.
How do you teach a guide dog to understand all the different kinds of intersections? Well, one of the ways you do this is you must show him many different intersections with many different kinds of lines, different kinds of stop signs, different kinds of traffic lights.
Because if you didn't do that, let's say only showed him intersections that had white lines, he wouldn't know what to do if you had no white lines. You've got to put enough pictures in the intersection file in the dog's brain that when he goes to a strange city, he's going to understand what he's supposed to do.
Because a common problem that I've heard about with nonverbal autistic children is the parents will say, well, he learns the rules about not running across the street at home, but he runs across the street at school or at the shopping mall. What you've got to do is teach him at the shopping mall, at the library, at school, or at Granny's, at the Jones's house. You need to teach him in many, many, many different places that you have to obey the rule that you must look before you run across the street.
I have a very interesting drawing that a young man with autism sent me to show how he sorts pictures into different boxes inside his head. He has little boxes drawn inside his head that he's sorting cat and dog pictures into different categories. In fact, it comes from a book called Little Rain Man, written by the mother of an autistic child.
So forming categories, that's a beginning of concept formation. So when I was little I differentiated dogs from cats simply by size. Dogs are bigger than cats, horses are even bigger. Now that worked fine until our next-door neighbors got a small dog. They got this little tiny dachshund. She was about this long, and I had to figure out why Rosie the dachshund was not a cat. She was the same size as a cat.
So what I did is I studied and studied and studied the dachshund, and I finally figured out a visual detail that Rosie shares with all the other dogs, so now I could open a new file folder in my brain of nose shape. Every single dog, no matter how weird he is, has exactly the same nose. You see, it's a visual category formation.
Now you could also do this with smell. Dogs and cats smell differently. You could do it with sound. Barking or meowing. You could do it by how the fur felt. It's sensory-based making categories. You know this is the fundamental thing that the nervous system does. But in the normal human brain, this is covered up by language. Language kind of obscures the sensory-based thinking that we share with the animals.
This is Irene Pepperberg with her famous parrot, and he knows lots of categories. She can say to him, pick out all the red things, pick out the blue things, the metal things, the wood things. Now parrots have full color vision. Horses and cattle and dogs are dichromats, they're most sensitive to yellowish green and bluish purple. They have good night vision, and they can see much higher contrast of light and dark.
In fact, in the '70s, when I first started working on my cattle-handling things, they used to think animals had black-and-white. So I took pictures through the chute with a black and white camera. Now we know now today they don't have black-and-white vision, but they do see contrast more clearly, and sometimes my black-and-white pictures picked up contrast that I didn't see with my full-color vision when I was just looking through it.
Interesting research that's been done by a scientist named Doctor Bruce Miller, and he's published an article in the journal Neurology, has shown that in a certain type of Alzheimer's disease as the language parts of the brain are destroyed in frontal temporal lobe dementia, art and music talent will emerge in some of these people, and they do very photorealistic paintings that look like some of the art that autistic savants make.
I think this gives insight maybe in some of the savant skills that about 10% of the people with autism have. You take away the language, and what you have left is the sensory-based thinking.
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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 5 of 8 in the Autism & Animal Behaviors series.