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Autistic scientist and thinking in pictures(6 Posts)
Have any of you read this article in the Guardian Science supplement about an autistic scientist in America, called Temple Grandin, who specialises in cattle management? Here's a bit:
Autistic people, she explains, see the detail, not the general, and often miss the small linkages between elements that "normal" people take for granted.
"If I read something," she says, "it just goes right into pictures and I skip all the 'thes' and the 'ands', because you just have to say them to make conversation sound right."
The disconnect, which manifests itself in many aspects of her life, makes learning a foreign language close to impossible. But it also explains her peculiar gift with animals. Her great realisation, one that has fuelled her remarkable career and groundbreaking work, is that autistic people think in the same way as animals. They think in pictures.
"To understand animals you've got to get away from language, because they don't think in language," she says.
Her book, Animals in Translation, explains this insight through anecdotes, telling of the hundreds of casual discoveries she has made visiting farms and slaughterhouses. Her method is to put herself in the position of the animal, to walk the route the animal takes, to see what the animal sees.
"I was at one place where there was a little piece of metal at the entrance to the stun box that shook like this," she says, shaking her hand. "So I took a stick and held it so it wouldn't shake and then they went right in. These things are minor to us. They're not minor to the cattle."
Grandin has reached some simple yet startling conclusions through this method. Cattle are unnerved by yellow, they will not walk from sunlight into a darkened shed, they are scared of light reflected in water, they will shy away from the smallest piece of clanking metal. The book has sold 100,000 copies in the US since it was published at the beginning of the year.
She is also a tireless speaker and campaigner on autism, writing a remarkable careers guide for people with autism and Asperger's syndrome.
"I think if you got rid of all the autism and all the bipolar and things like that you'd have a bunch of social yakety-yaks that don't do anything," she says. "You'd get rid of all the creativity. We'd be in caves if you got rid of all those people."
She talks with rare insight of the way brains function, using the analogy of a dysfunctional office for the autistic brain, a place where emails get lost in the system, where finance is unable to phone the marketing department.
She also likes to use the terminology of technology to refer to her own brain, as if it were some piece of software. "Google works just like how my mind works," she says. "The reason why I use computer analogies is that's how my mind works. Autistic thinking is detail to general. You put the details together to form general principles. So as I keep adding more and more data to my database" - she taps the side of her head - "then I get better and better at being able to do things."
She speaks of her mind and the memories it contains in terms of files, files to be opened as the occasion demands. Autistic people, she says, learn behaviour and procedures, especially social niceties, almost by rote.
If I could do a link I would - but even with instruction I can't. It's at http://www.guardian.co.uk/life/feature/story/0,13026,1496687,00.html.
This is so interesting.
My DS1 is only mildly autistic, but a lot of what she says is I think true of him too.
I have seen her speak at conferences twice. She is a great speaker and very interesting. One thing she says is that her mother never let her sit in a corner and stim, she was constantly engaged by family members or people they hired. After one talk I queued up with others to get her to sign one of her books (I've posted this before on MN) and it was funny, each person did a wriggle, made a noise or said something and looked at her as they got to the front of the queue and she just kept on signing, didn't look up, didn't acknowledge anyone, just kept going
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