Temple Grandin Talks about Autism and Social Success

“Don’t focus so much on autism that you forget everything else,” Temple says. She certainly follows her own advice. Although she’s been an important model for educators and parents, those with mild autism and has explained autism from the inside too countless people, her autism remains secondary.

Temple is concerned that people with high-functioning autism or Asperger’s have suitable jobs. “In my travels to many autism meetings,m I have observed that high-functioning people with autism or Asperger’s who make the best adjustments in life are the ones who have satisfying jobs,” said Temple.( Temple Grandin, Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships, p. 26)

Temple says that although basic social skills are essential, being the life of the party isn’t. She says that for some “emotional relatedness may be much more limited than we would like it to be, but that’s all right.” Emotional relatedness may develop over time.

Temple said her mother didn’t try to make her a social success. “Mother’s eyes were on a bigger prize–giving me the skills and nurturing the talents that would allow me to graduate from school and live independently,” said Temple. (Ibid, 48)

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Temple Grandin as Scientist

“For a scientist, the lack of knowledge is thrilling. A new field to explore. A chance to do fundamental, big-picture research before the field gets really narrow and specialized! Questions that lead to other questions! What could be more fun? asked Temple. ( Temple Grandin, Autistic Brain, 53)

Though she may not have called it that, science has fascinated Temple since childhood. In grade school she flew kites behind her bicycle she had cut from a single sheet of heavy drawing paper. She discovered that bending the tips of the wings up made the kite fly higher. “Thirty years later this same design started appearing in commercial airplanes. (Temple Grandin, Thinking in Pictures, 20)

In high school, she used science to develop the squeeze machine after researching principle of sensory integration. Her science teacher, Mr. Carlock, encouraged her to go to the library to do the research. She’s been intrigued with science since then. She considers herself a totally logical and scientific person.

Use Your Brain!

The idea of plasticity in the brain–that your brain can create new connections throughout your whole life, not just in childhood–is still quite new.

“A study led by Eleanor Maguire, a British neuroscientist looked at MRIs of the hippocampi of sixteen licensed London cabbies. The hippocampus is believed to house three types of cells that help navigate: place cells, head directions cells and grid cells. What Maguire found was that the hippocampi of drivers who had mastered the Knowledge–the location of every nook in the city and the quickest way to get there–were larger than those of control subjects.” (Temple Grandin,Autistic Brain, 175)

When the driver leaves the job, his hippocampus returns to normal. “The brain behaves like a muscle,” Maguire said. “Use brains and they grow.” (Ibid, 175)

Dr. Michael Merzenich, a neuroscientist from the University of California at San Francisco Medical Center gave a Technology/Entertainment/Design (TED) talk in February 2004. He said:

“You can do things tomorrow that you can’t do today. Individual skills and abilities are shaped by the environment, constructed from a wealth of experiences. The brain has a powerful ability to change itself well into adulthood.

“What you pay attention to is why you are a specialist in your skills. Your brain is very different from the brain of someone 100 years ago and certainly 1000 years ago,” said Dr. Merzenich

Child with Autism is Individual

I met Natalie, a slim, tanned, seven-year-old in a sundress in a waiting at a busy restaurant. She flitted from person to person hugging everybody and sometimes saying, “I love you.” Reactions varied.

I asked her how old she was and where would she be in school. No answer. Her mother volunteered that she would be in first grade in an autism class.

Natalie doesn’t answer direct questions. Her father is in Washington state. She doesn’t see him. Her mother saved letters written to Natalie by her now deceased grandparents. Her mother is divorced and remarried. Natalie lives with her mother and stepfather. No siblings.

It was refreshing to meet a child with autism who hugs everybody and has no tantrums, at least in that situation.

Ellen Notbam has a son with autism. In her August 2014 newsletter, she wrote a favorite mantra, “If you’ve met one child with autism, you’ve met one child with autism.”

She also wrote that one of her son’s favorite teachers said, “I don’t see students with autism as a population. I look at each one individually to determine what they need.”

Smart teacher.

Listening is a Valuable Skill

The ear is an important part of listening, but it is only one component. The eye, heart and undivided, undistracted attention all combine with the ear to help with this full-contact sport of listening.

Truly listening is hard work! Until each of us engage the ear, eye, heart and a sense of compassion, true listening does not happen. The art of listening takes practice. It can be exhausting.

Active listening involves three main activities: paying attention, asking questions, and reflecting.

Paying attention to others helps them feel valued. It helps them know that someone cares so much that he or she puts aside everything else and focuses only on the person talking. When you pay attention, it enables him or her to tell you about thoughts, feelings, fears, joys and hopes. Paying attention is the only way to really hear what the other person is saying.(<emStephen Ministry Trainers Manual)

Ask questions. Reporters and therapists learn quickly to ask open-ended questions rather than questions that can be answered with one or two words.

Reflecting means listening to the other person and then summarizing in your own words what you heard.

Ears are busy. A listening, caring, available ear is difficult to find. Many people are searching to be heard. Relationships would benefit from more and more careful listening.

Shakespeare said, “Lend every man thy ear, but few thy voice.”

Autistic Shadow Traits in Relatives

Now we know autistic shadow traits may appear in relatives of persons with autism. These are mild traits that wouldn’t have been recognized a generation ago, but now can be acknowledged as characteristics similar to those with autism. For instance, I tend to take things too literally and consequently am considered gullible. I always say what I mean and have had to learn to soften my bluntness. I concentrate intensely, especially when reading, an obsession of mine.

Recently when I was reading a magazine in a beauty shop, one of the workers keeled over. Paramedics were called. They came in and hauled out the worker. I was reading and had no idea what had happened until my beauty operator told me. It made me wonder how often I was unaware of what was happening around me. Perhaps there were many such events when I was a child.

I have begun to see my shadow syndrome in my preference for solitary activities and in my need for sameness in certain aspects of my life. When I was a child, my cousin pointed out that I always eat my meat first, then my vegetables. I keep them separate on my plate.

As an adult, my sociability has definitely grown. Though I still prefer one friend at a time, I participate in small groups and usually enjoy them. Toastmasters has definitely helped me be more social. Toastmasters is billed as a group to learn public speaking, but it’s really about communication skills.

We Use Too Many Antibiotics

We’ve heard a lot from medical authorities about only using antibiotics when necessary so they’ll work when we really need them.

“In September of 2013 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released sobering estimates that more than 23,000 people a year are dying from drug-resistant infections.” ( “FDA Takes Steps to Phase Out Antibiotics in Meat,” Mary Clare Jalonick, 12/11/13, Associated Press)

Most of these are diseases acquired when in the hospital.No one knows how much use of antibiotics in meat is related to these deaths, but it is better to err on the side of caution. “We need to be selective about the drugs we use in animals and when we use them,” said William Flynn of FDA’s Center of Veterinary Medicine. “Antimicrobal resistance may not be completely preventable, but we need to do what we can to eliminate them.” (Ibid)

As individuals, we need to use common sense when offered antibiotics.After I had struggled with a respiratory virus for two weeks, my doctor offered me an antibiotic. I had just seen a horrifying documentary on PBS on drug-resistant diseases. Since there were signs I was getting well, I refused.

I got well. If I had taken the antibiotic, I would have credited the medicine with my recovery.

Antibiotics have saved thousands, if not millions, of lives. Now thousands of people are dying because of antibiotic-resistant infections. Take antibiotics with caution.