The Autistic Brain is the first book by Temple Grandin that will be neither a memoir nor a book on animals. As always, Temple's ability to cut through the jungle of information and make the science clear is evident with each listen; her skills as a scientist and her original thinking offer some significant new insights into the understanding of autism. Temple Grandin teaches listeners the science of the autistic brain, and with it the history and sociology of autism. By being autistic--by being able to look from the inside out and from the outside in--the author's insights are not just unique, they're groundbreaking. According to Temple, our understanding of autism has been perhaps fundamentally wrong for the past 70 years.
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As I listened to Temple Grandin and Richard Panek’s 2013 “The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum” I realized Grandin’s book is much more than “just” a book on autism. I desperately hope this book it isn’t overlooked or undervalued because of its title.
In Grandin’s parlance, I am “neuro-typical” (not autistic), and so is my entire family. I do know people with autism and I have friends with autistic children, but I don’t have a particular passionate interest in the disorder. The Amazon reviews I’ve read make it clear that “The Autistic Brain” is an extremely important book for the autistic community who have the passionate interest I lack. I believe “The Autistic Brain” is equally important for “neuro-typicals” - especially parents.
The seachange in “The Autistic Brain” is Grandin’s hypothesis that people think in at least three different ways: in pictures, or visually, as she does; verbally, or in words, like the majority of people do; or in a new category, patterns. I know I am primarily a verbal thinker, but by concentrating, I can and do think in pictures or in patterns, for short periods of time. When I am able to do that, I often solve problems I can’t solve otherwise. Grandin proposes the idea that an autistic person’s education, skill development, likely abilities and strengths should be tailored to their type of thinking. I agree completely, and it should be taken a step further: it should apply to “neuro-typicals” too.
For parents, she talks about some important child raising tactics: for example, if you’ve got a kid who really knows math well and the kid’s in “baby math”, the kid may get bored and act out. A lot. Give the kid real math to do, and you may have a model student. And math doesn’t have to go in the order it’s usually taught: basic math; algebra; geometry; calculus . . . and if a kid doesn’t ‘get’ algebra, try geometry, or statistics, or something else. These, and her other education recommendations, apply equally as well to “neuro-typicals.”
The book starts with a discussion of the genetic, biological and environmental causes of autism – as well as other usually less disruptive neurological conditions, such as migraine and depression. Grandin’s explanation of how and why the brain works, and some of the things that can go wrong, is the most understandable I have ever heard. By analogy, Grandin describes an engine (the brain) misfiring by describing how the engine is supposed to run, but pointing out that the engine is missing a sparkplug, has a clogged hose, or doesn’t have enough gas – or perhaps, all three.
For those of us who have long been puzzled by the actions of autistics acting out, Grandin discusses the often extreme sensory problems autistics can have. I realized I actually knew what that was like. Twenty years ago, I had a case of the flu so severe that I lost the ability to screen out noises in other apartments in my building, and I could only wear the softest cotton clothing – and that hurt. When the landlord started refinishing the hardwood floor in the next apartment over, the noise was so excruciating all I could do was put my hands over my ears and cry. I was only that sick for a day. Some autistic children were born that way. I will never again wonder, in annoyance, why a parent ‘can’t control’ their autistic child’s sensory tantrum again.
Grandin’s book also discusses, among so many other things: problems with even peer reviewed and published scientific studies caused by inaccurate assumptions, improper data collection, and bad analysis; the problem with diagnosing hypersensitivity or under sensitivity based on outward behavior; incorrectly applying diagnostic labels to individuals, and how that can hurt their development; how a typographic error erroneously caused a misdiagnosis of autism; why the ‘epidemic’ of autism may not really be an epidemic at all; the tablet/iPad revolution, and why it works so well for autistics; identifying sensory disorders; the number of undiagnosed autistics in Silicon Valley (she estimates 50%); what drugs may help autistics, and why; the upcoming and new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual on Mental Disorders (DSM-V) . . . and so much more.
The narration was clear and crisp, and Andrea Gallo did a good job with the scientific terms and distinguishing the authors’ voices from discussion; and with quotes.
- Cynthia "Always moving. Always listening. Always learning. "After all this time?" "Always.""
Excellent! I now have more questions to ask.
This is an amazing look into the mind and more importantly the brain of people diagnosed with Autism. We are finally finding some answers, but of more interest are the questions this book raises. Temple Grandin gives a look behind the curtain of Autism from the point of view of an eye witness. Are we missing a great resource in specialized thinking? What have we to learn about the power of our brains from the anomalies of the Autistic brain? Most fascinating might be that behind the facade of the non-verbal person with autism, might be a high functioning, communicating individual, that is trapped inside an uncooperative outer shell. Would you treat a nonverbal person with autism the same, if you knew they understood everything you said, but were just unable to get their response past the wall of their muscles and vocal cords. Being close to some people with Autism makes me attune to these questions, but I think that we all have something to gain when we have the answers to these questions and more. This book is a good place to start.