Grandin in 2011
|Born||Mary Temple Grandin
August 29, 1947
Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
|Institutions||Colorado State University|
Franklin Pierce University
Livestock industry consultancy
I was so afraid to go out west to my aunt's ranch. But the only choice my mother gave me was to go for two weeks or all summer. I wound up staying all summer. And that's where I learned about cattle. I could relate to their behavior, their fears.
The thing about being autistic is that you gradually get less and less autistic, because you keep learning, you keep learning how to behave. It's like being in a play; I'm always in a play.
It's very important for the parents of young autistic children to encourage them to talk, or for those that don't talk, to give them a way of communicating, like a picture board, where they can point to a glass of milk, or a jacket if they're cold, or the bathroom. If they want something, then they need to learn to request that thing.
What I've tried to do is combine both my personal experiences with scientific research. I like to cross the divide between the personal world and the scientific world.
Normal people have an incredible lack of empathy. They have good emotional empathy, but they don't have much empathy for the autistic kid who is screaming at the baseball game because he can't stand the sensory overload. Or the autistic kid having a meltdown in the school cafeteria because there's too much stimulation.
Some children may need a behavioral approach, whereas other children may need a sensory approach.
A treatment method or an educational method that will work for one child may not work for another child. The one common denominator for all of the young children is that early intervention does work, and it seems to improve the prognosis.
I have been on the same dose of anti-depressants for 15 years, and my nerves still go up and down in cycles; but my nerves are cycling at a lower level than they were before.
You have got to keep autistic children engaged with the world. You cannot let them tune out.
People are always looking for the single magic bullet that will totally change everything. There is no single magic bullet.
Mild autism can give you a genius like Einstein. If you have severe autism, you could remain nonverbal. You don't want people to be on the severe end of the spectrum. But if you got rid of all the autism genetics, you wouldn't have science or art. All you would have is a bunch of social 'yak yaks.'
One of my sensory problems was hearing sensitivity, where certain loud noises, such as a school bell, hurt my ears. It sounded like a dentist drill going through my ears.
When you take a drug to treat high blood pressure or diabetes, you have an objective test to measure blood pressure and the amount of sugar in the blood. It is straight-forward. With autism, you are looking for changes in behavior.
I know a number of autistic adults that are doing extremely well on Prozac.
I like to cross the divide between the personal world and the scientific world.
Costs for liability insurance are higher than costs for many procedures. There is a need to reform liability laws to stop out-of-control health care costs.
It's very important for the parents of young autistic children to encourage them to talk, or for those that don't talk, to give them a way of communicating, like a picture board, where they can point to a glass of milk, or a jacket if they're cold, or the bathroom.
From a scientific standpoint, Aspergers and autism are one syndrome. Aspergers is part of the autism spectrum, not a separate disorder.
I get satisfaction out of seeing stuff that makes real change in the real world. We need a lot more of that and a lot less abstract stuff.
I've always thought of myself as a cattle-handling specialist, a college professor first; autism is secondary.
My mind sort of works like a search engine. You ask me something, and I start seeing pictures.
Research has shown that a barren environment is much more damaging to baby animals than it is to adult animals. It does not hurt the adult animals the same way it damages babies.
Some people with autism who don't talk, all they hear are vowel sounds. Like if I said 'cup,' they might just hear 'uh.'
Some autistic children cannot stand the sound of certain voices. I have come across cases where teachers tell me that certain children have problems with their voice or another person's voice. This problem tends to be related to high-pitched ladies' voices.
And while we are on the subject of medication you always need to look at risk versus benefit.
Research is starting to show that a child should be engaged at least 20 hours a week. I do not think it matters which program you choose as long as it keeps the child actively engaged with the therapist, teacher, or parent for at least 20 hours a week.
Children between the ages of five to ten years are even more variable. They are going to vary from very high functioning, capable of doing normal school work, to nonverbal who have all kinds of neurological problems.
There tends to be a lot of autism around the tech centers… when you concentrate the geeks, you're concentrating the autism genetics.
I'm a visual thinker, really bad at algebra. There's others that are a pattern thinker. These are the music and math minds. They think in patterns instead of pictures. Then there's another type that's not a visual thinker at all, and they're the ones that memorize all of the sports statistics, all of the weather statistics.
Let's get into talking about how autism is similar animal behavior. The thing is I don't think in a language, and animals don't think in a language. It's sensory based thinking, thinking in pictures, thinking in smells, thinking in touches. It's putting these sensory based memories into categories.
Language just gradually came in, one or two stressed words a time. Before then, I would just scream. I couldn't talk. I couldn't get my words out. So the only way I could tell someone what I wanted was to scream. If I didn't want to wear a hat, the only way I knew to communicate was screaming and throwing it on the floor.
The squeeze machine is not going to cure anybody, but it may help them relax; and a relaxed person will usually have better behavior.
I had problems getting my words out. If people spoke directly to me, I understood what they said. But when the grownups got to yakking really fast by themselves, it just sounded like 'oi oi.' I thought grownups had a separate language. I've now figured out I was not hearing the hard consonant sounds.
Language for me narrates the pictures in my mind. When I work on designing livestock equipment I can test run that equipment in my head like 3-D virtual reality. In fact, when I was in college I used to think that everybody was able to do that.
My mind works like Google for images. You put in a key word; it brings up pictures.
I would never talk just to be social. Now, to sit down with a bunch of engineers and talk about the latest concrete forming systems, that's really interesting. Talking with animal behaviorists or with someone who likes to sail, that's interesting. Information is interesting to me. But talking for the sake of talking, I find that quite boring.
My grandfather was an engineer who invented the automatic pilot for airplanes.
My problems are sort of more on a nuisance level. I can't stand scratchy clothes, I've got to have soft kinds of cotton against my skin, and I don't know why some 100% cotton t-shirts itch and others don't; it has something to do with the weave.
Autistic children are very difficult to take care of, especially severely autistic ones. When I was 4, I had almost no language; when I was 3, I had none at all.
I think sometimes parents and teachers fail to stretch kids. My mother had a very good sense of how to stretch me just slightly outside my comfort zone.
It's much more work for the mother of an autistic child to have a job, because working with an autistic child is such a hassle until they go to school.
I think that autistic brains tend to be specialized brains. Autistic people tend to be less social. It takes a ton of processor space in the brain to have all the social circuits.
As you may know, some of the stereotyped behaviors exhibited by autistic children are also found in zoo animals who are raised in a barren environment.
If you have autism in the family history, you still vaccinate. Delay it a bit, space them out.
Some teachers just have a knack for working with autistic children. Other teachers do not have it.
I think the core criterion is the social awkwardness, but the sensory issues are a serious problem in many, many cases of autism, and they make it impossible to operate in the environment where you're supposed to be social.
If you start using a medication in a person with autism, you should see an obvious improvement in behavior in a short period of time. If you do not see an obvious improvement, they probably should not be taking the stuff. It is that simple.
Who do you think made the first stone spears? The Asperger guy. If you were to get rid of all the autism genetics, there would be no more Silicon Valley.
I had people in my life who didn't give up on me: my mother, my aunt, my science teacher. I had one-on-one speech therapy. I had a nanny who spent all day playing turn-taking games with me.
I've worked with tons of people that I know who are on the spectrum – but now I think severe autism has really increased.
Autism is a neurological disorder. It's not caused by bad parenting. It's caused by, you know, abnormal development in the brain. The emotional circuits in the brain are abnormal. And there also are differences in the white matter, which is the brain's computer cables that hook up the different brain departments.
I'm a visual thinker, not a language-based thinker. My brain is like Google Images.
When I was in high school and college, I thought everybody could think in pictures. And my first inkling to my thinking was even different was when I was in college and I read an article about, you know, some scientist said that the caveman could not have designed tools until they had language.
One big question that's come up is: Has autism increased on the mild side of things? I don't think so – they've always been here. Some of this is increased detection.
I can remember the frustration of not being able to talk. I knew what I wanted to say, but I could not get the words out, so I would just scream.
Some teachers just have a knack for working with autistic children. Other teachers do not have it.
I am much less autistic now, compared to when I was young. I remember some behaviors like picking carpet fuzz and watching spinning plates for hours. I didn't want to be touched. I couldn't shut out background noise. I didn't talk until I was about 4 years old. I screamed. I hummed. But as I grew up, I improved.
Computerized medical records will enable statistical analysis to be used to determine which treatments are most effective.