Read Thinking in Pictures: My Life with Autism Online

Authors: Temple Grandin

Tags: #Psychopathology, #Psychology, #Cognitive Psychology, #Autism Spectrum Disorders, #Patients, #General, #United States, #Personal Memoirs, #Grandin, #Biography & Autobiography, #Autism - Patients - United States, #Personal Narratives, #Autistic Disorder, #Temple, #Autism, #Biography

Thinking in Pictures: My Life with Autism

Acclaim for Temple Grandin's
“How does a true marvel let you know it has arrived? … It's hard to imagine even an intellect as towering as Sacks's coming up with perceptions as rare and completely out of left field as Grandin herself does in this mind-blowing book.”
“Temple Grandin's window onto the subjective experience of autism is of value to all of us who hope to gain a deeper understanding of the human mind by exploring the ways in which it responds to the world's challenges.”
—The Washington Times
“Temple Grandin, the anthropologist from Mars, takes us on a journey through her inner life and, with exquisite scientific detail, offers us a near photograph of the workings of her visual mind.”
—John Ratey, coauthor of Driven to Distraction
“Temple Grandin's legacy is the invaluable gift of compassion. This is a journey of courage, determination, and, above all, worth. Society is the better for Temple Grandin having left her mark on it.”
—Alex Pacheco, President, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
“Thinking in Pictures is a beautiful book. … Grandin has created a beautifully odd and fascinating picture of her life and mind, and her abiding love of animals.”
“A tireless researcher with a bionic memory and a superb education, no one can write with Temple's authority because nobody knows as much as she does! This is an outstanding book that every parent and professional in the field of special needs will want to read, and the general reader will acquire a new appreciation of autism, its liabilities, and its formidable assets.”
—Annabel Stehli, author of he Sound of a Miracle
“Even Sacks's fine writing about autism does not really compare to writing from within autism, because autism is a disorder of interiority … Grandin has replaced the teleology of autobiography with something much closer to her heart: a diagram, in this case a diagram of her own mind.”
—Voice Literary Supplement
Temple Grandin has a Ph.D. in animal science from the University of Illinois and has designed one third of all the livestock-handling facilities in the United States, and many in other countries. She is currently an associate professor of animal sciences at Colorado State University and a frequent lecturer at autism meetings throughout the country. She lives in Fort Collins, Colorado.
Emergence: Labeled Autistic
Livestock Handling and Transport
Thinking in Pictures: And Other Reports from My Life with Autism
Genetics and the Behavior of Domestic Animals
Developing Talents
Animals in Translation

I dedicate this book to my mother

Her love, dedication, and insight

enabled me to succeed

I would like to thank Diedra Enwright for typing the manuscript and Rosalie Winard for photography. I would also like to thank Betsy Lerner, my editor, for being patient and helping me organize my thoughts. Sequencing and organization are difficult for a visual thinker who has pictures for thoughts. I am also extremely grateful for the wonderful support from Dr. Oliver Sacks. Other people who have made this project possible were Pat Breinin, my agent, and Brandon Saltz, editorial assistant at Doubleday I would like to conclude by thanking Mark Deesing, Mary Tanner, and Julie Struthers for library research.
In the ten years since the initial publication of
Thinking in Pictures
our understanding of autism has changed a great deal. The Asperger's Syndrome diagnosis was rarely used in the United States, and now has become much more frequent. Our understanding of medications was not as advanced. There were fewer scientific references available. We have also learned a great deal about different kinds of autistic thinkers—not all autistic individuals are visual thinkers. In an effort to keep
Thinking in Pictures
as up-to-date and useful as possible I have taken into consideration the new studies, diagnoses, and treatments for autism and written updates following each chapter. The original text has not been changed. The updated sections are clearly marked. I have also added ninety new references and many new resources and useful Web sites.
Temple Grandin
August 4, 2005
Oliver Sacks
IN 1986 a quite extraordinary, unprecedented and, in a way, unthinkable book was published, Temple Grandin's
Emergence: Labeled Autistic
. Unprecedented because there had never before been an “inside narrative” of autism; unthinkable because it had been medical dogma for forty years or more that there
no “inside,” no inner life, in the autistic, or that if there was it would be forever denied access or expression; extraordinary because of its extreme (and strange) directness and clarity Temple Grandin's voice came from a place which had never had a voice, never been granted real existence, before—and she spoke not only for herself, but for thousands of other, often highly gifted, autistic adults in our midst. She provided a glimpse, and indeed a revelation, that there might be people, no less human than ourselves, who constructed their worlds, lived their lives, in almost unimaginably different ways.
The word “autism” still conveys a fixed and dreadful meaning to most people—they visualize a child mute, rocking, screaming, inaccessible, cut off from human contact. And we almost always speak of autistic children, never of autistic adults, as if such children never grew up, or were somehow mysteriously spirited off the planet, out of society. Or else we think of an autistic “savant,” a strange being with bizarre mannerisms and stereotypies, still cut off from normal life, but with uncanny powers of calculation, memory, drawing, whatever—like the savant portrayed in
Rain Man
. These pictures are not wholly false, but they fail to indicate that there are forms of autism which (while they may indeed go with ways of thinking and perceiving very different from the “normal”) do not incapacitate in the same way, but may (especially if there is high intelligence, and understanding, and education) allow lives that are full of event and achievement, and a special sort of insight and courage too.
This was well realized by Hans Asperger, who described these “higher” forms of autism in 1944—but Asperger's paper, published in German, was virtually ignored for forty years. Then, in 1986, came Temple's startling book,
. If her book, as a case history, was to have a sharp and salutary effect on medical and scientific thinking, allowing (indeed requiring) a broader and more generous concept of what it might mean to be “autistic,” it was immensely appealing, too, as a human document.
Ten years have passed since Temple wrote her first book, ten years in which she has pursued her odd, solitary, stubborn, dedicated life—defining her own place as a professor of animal behavior and designer of livestock equipment, struggling for the understanding and humane treatment of animals, struggling for a deeper understanding of autism, struggling with the power of images and words, struggling not least to understand that odd species—
—and to define her own worth, her role, in a world that is not autistic. And now she has once more ventured into book-length writing (she has written scores of scientific papers and lectures in the interim) and given us a new, much more deeply pondered and integrated narrative-essay,
Thinking in Pictures
Here we can see, and relive, what it was like for Temple as a child—the overwhelming sensations of smell and sound and touch she could not blot out; how she would scream, or rock, endlessly, disconnected from others; or, in a sudden tantrum, fling feces around; or (with uncanny concentration, and a complete shutting out of the world) fix her attention for hours on a few sand grains, or the whorls of her fingers. We feel the chaos and terror of this fearful childhood, the looming sense that she might have to be institutionalized, confined, for her whole life. We seem to acquire, with her, the first, inchoate beginnings of speech, the sense of language as an almost miraculous power by which she might gain some mastery of herself, some contact with others, some intercourse with the world. We relive her schooldays with her—her total failure to understand or be understood by other children; her intense desire for, but fear of, contact; her bizarre daydreams—of a magic machine that could give her the contact, the “hugging” she craved, but in a way she could entirely control; and the impact of a remarkable science teacher who was able, behind all the bizarreness, the pathology, to recognize the unusual potential of this strange student, and to channel her obsessions into the opening of a scientific life.
We can also share, even if we cannot wholly understand, the extraordinary passion and understanding for cattle which consume Temple, and which have made her, by degrees, a world-renowned expert on cattle psychology and behavior, an inventor of devices and facilities for handling them, and a passionate advocate of their humane treatment. (Her original title for this book was
A Cow's Eye View
.) And we get a glimpse—this perhaps the least imaginable of all—of her total bewilderment about other people's minds, her inability to decipher their expressions and intentions, along with her determination to study them, study
, our alien behaviors, scientifically and systematically, as if (in her own words) she were “an anthropologist on Mars.”
We sense all this despite (or perhaps partly because of) the touching simplicity and ingenuousness of Temple's writing, her curious lack of either modesty or immodesty, her incapacity for evasion or artifice of any kind.
It is fascinating to compare
Thinking in Pictures
. The intervening ten years have been years of increasing professional recognition and fulfillment for Temple—she travels, consults, lectures continually, and her devices are now used for cattle management and corrals all over the world—and of increasing authority too in the field of autism (half her lectures and publications are dedicated to this). Writing did not come easily to her at first, not because she lacked verbal facility, but because she lacked an imagination of other minds, of the fact that her listeners were different from her, were not privy to the experiences, the associations, the background information in her own mind. There were strange discontinuities (people injected suddenly into the narrative without warning, for instance); casual reference to incidents of which the reader had no knowledge; and sudden, perplexing changes of topic. It is said by cognitive psychologists that autistic people lack “theory of mind”—any direct perception or idea of other minds, or other states of mind—and that this lies at the heart of their difficulties. What is remarkable is that Temple, now in her fifth decade,
developed some genuine appreciation of other people and other minds, their sensibilities and idiosyncrasies, in the ten years which have passed since writing
. And it is this which now shows itself in
Thinking in Pictures
, and lends it a warmth and color rarely seen in her earlier book.
Indeed, when I first met Temple, in August of 1993, I found her so “normal” at first (or so adept in simulating normality) that I had difficulty realizing that she
autistic—but during the course of a weekend together this was to come through in innumerable ways. When we went for a stroll she confessed that she had never been able to “get” Romeo and Juliet (“I never knew what they were up to”), that she was stumped by complex human emotions of all sorts (of one man, a spiteful colleague, who tried to sabotage her work: “I had to learn to be suspicious, I had to learn it cognitively … I couldn't
the jealous look on his face”).
She spoke repeatedly of the android in “Star Trek,” Data, and how she identified with him as a “pure logical being”—but how, too, like him she was wistful about being human. But many sorts of humanness have become available for Temple in the past ten years. Not least among these is a capacity for humor and even subterfuge which one would have thought impossible in someone who is autistic. Thus, when she wanted to show me one of the plants she designed, she had me put on a hard hat and overalls (“You look just like a sanitary engineer now!”), and smuggled me gleefully past the security guards.
I was struck by her rapport with, her great understanding of, cattle—the happy, loving look she wore when she was with them—and her great awkwardness, by contrast, in many human situations. I was also struck, when we walked together, by her seeming inability to feel some of the simplest emotions. “The mountains are pretty,” she said, “but they don't give me a special feeling, the feeling you seem to enjoy … You look at the brook, the flowers, I see what great pleasure you get out of it. I'm denied that.”
And I was awed, as we drove to the airport before my departure, by a sudden revelation of moral and spiritual depths which I had thought no autistic person would have. Temple was driving, when suddenly she faltered and wept, and said, “I don't want my thoughts to die with me. I want to have done something … I want to know that my life has meaning … I'm talking about things at the very core of my existence.”
Thus, in my brief (but very full) few days with Temple, I had a revelation of how, while in many ways so flat and constricted, her life was in other ways full of health, of depth, of deep human strivings.
Temple, now forty-seven, has never ceased to ponder and explore her own nature, which she feels is quintessentially concrete and visual (with the great strengths, and the weaknesses, which may go with this). She feels that “thinking in pictures” gives her a special rapport with cattle, and that her mode of thinking is, albeit at a much higher level, akin to their own mode of thinking—that she sees the world, in a sense, with a cow's eye. Thus though Temple often compares her own mind to a computer, she roots herself, and her own way of thought and feeling, in the creaturely and the organic. Her audacious chapters on sensation and autism, emotion and autism, relationships and autism, genius and autism, religion and autism, might seem strangely juxtaposed with her chapters on “connecting with animals,” and “understanding animal thought”—but for Temple, clearly, there is a continuum of experience extending from the animal to the spiritual, from the bovine to the transcendent.
Thinking in pictures, she feels, represents a mode of perception, of feeling and thought and being, which we may call “primitive” if we wish, but not “pathological.”
Temple does not romanticize autism, nor does she downplay how much her autism has cut her off from the social whirl, the pleasures, the rewards, the companionships, that for the rest of us may define much of life. But she has a strong, positive sense of her own being and worth, and how autism, paradoxically, may have contributed to this. At a recent lecture, she ended by saying, “If I could snap my fingers and be nonautistic, I would not—because then I wouldn't be me. Autism is part of who I am.” If Temple is profoundly different from most of us, she is no less human for being so, but, rather, human in another way.
Thinking in Pictures
is finally a study of identity, the “who-ness” no less than the “what-ness” of a most gifted autistic person. It is a deeply moving and fascinating book because it provides a bridge between our world and hers, and allows us a glimpse into a quite other sort of mind.

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