Thinking In Pictures: My Life With Autism Book Review

>> Monday, November 9, 2009

Temple Gradin is a remarkable women with autism. She is proud to be autistic because it helps her in her work. Temple Gradin has designed one-third of all the livestock- handling facilities in America. She designs equipment so that the animals are kept comfortable during all types of procedures, and she especially likes working with cattle. During college she studied animal science which helped her to understand the behavior’s of the animals she works with.

Temple Gradin is also the author of Thinking In Pictures: and other Reports From My Life With Autism. She also tours the country speaking about autism to others. In her book, she describes her life with autism, work, and the science behind her condition. Temple thinks in pictures in which words are like a second language. She can translate spoken and written words into full-color movies, complete with sound which runs like a VCR tape inside of her visual thinking abilities. She has learned how to draw engineering designs by observing others work that they have done. This made it to where she was able to trace visual images of her imagination at work on to paper as she designed equipment. Slowing down was her key to success when drawing. Tor Temple, she used concrete symbols to understand concepts such as getting along with others. In order for her to make the transition from high school to college she had to act it out by going through an actual door, window or gate. Autistics usually have problems transitioning between routines. In Chapter one she describes situations related to herself and visual thought among autistics in a personal and scientific way.

In Chapter two, Temple describes diagnosing autism and her early years as a child. As explained, diagnosing autism has to start in early childhood by the time the child is two or three, with the most obvious symptoms starting at ages one and two years of age. The child may stiffen up and resists being held and cuddled. They may pull away from you and scream because they are sensitive to touch. The classic symptoms of autism include, but are not limited to no speech, poor eye contact, tantrums, appearance of deafness, no interest in people and constant problem of staring into space.

Because of behavioral criteria being continuously changed, it is hard to diagnose autism. Some consider the autism categories to be true separate entities, and others believe that they lie on an autistic continuum, and there is no definite distinction between them. A child would be labeled autistic if he or she lacked both social relatedness and speech, or had abnormal speech. This is also known as Kanner’s syndrome in which Leo Kanner described as a form of autism in 1943. These children usually learn to talk, but remain severely handicapped because of extremely rigid thinking, poor ability to generalize, and no common sense. They have little or no flexibility of thinking or behavior. For example eating ice cream from a cone could be strange and terrifying for a child because he or she is used to eating it with a spoon. He or she just doesn’t know what to do with it. The lack of common sense refers to learning how to do something, but have no idea of what to do next if something does go wrong.

Those with Asperger’s syndrome tent to be less handicapped than those with Kanner’s autism. They tend to do better of tests of flexible problem-solving. Many of those with Asperger’s syndrome never get fully diagnosed, and often hold jobs and live independently. Sometimes high functioning autism is labeled Asperger’s. Asperger's syndrome child tend to be more clumsy than Kanner’s autism. Disintegrative disorder usually occurs when regression of speech and social behavior is lost after age two when they were once developing normally. Many never regain their speech and have difficulty in caring for a home, so therefore they require supervised living arrangements their entire lives.
“ It appears that at one end of the spectrum, autism is primarily a sensory processing disorder. At the severely impaired sensory processing end, many children may be diagnosed as having disintegrative disorder. At a midpoint along the spectrum, autistic symptoms appear to be caused by equal amounts of cognitive and sensory problems. There can be mild and severe cases at all points along the continuum.

In Chapter three, sensory issues are addressed. Puberty can make sensory issues more difficult because the hormones sensitize and inflame an over aroused nervous system. Medications such as beta-blockers and Clonodine are often helpful because they calm an over aroused sympathetic nervous system. Those with autism having severe sensory problems that sometimes engage in self-injurious behavior such as biting themselves or hitting their heads. Because their sensory sensations are so disordered, they do not realize they are hurting themselves.

Autistics usually have sensory problems and can be in a variety of areas. Pressure is a way to relieve sensory distress for those with autism sensitivities.

My children have sensory issues as well. My oldest is the worst of the two. His sensory issue can turn into violent tantrums, and usually takes a distraction or allowance to do something special to calm him down. As a young child we did compressions on his joints to stabilize his sensory issues. As for today he will not allow that to much, so I try to calm him with my voice and a back rub. A lot of coaxing comes into play as well. Sometimes, I wish we had sensory materials at home to desensitize their bodies: especially for homework sometimes, and getting them to do it can lead to a complete breakdown.

Some autistics use their sensory processing to learn how to interact with their environment just as a blind man would or a non-verbal child. Overly sensitive skin can also be a problem. Anything, certain things, or everything can provide a potential hurtful reaction. Wearing clothes of certain fabrics is one example. My oldest will not wear blue jeans or blue jean shorts, but he can tolerate soft fabrics only. My youngest does not wear sweatpants or long sleeve shirts. It is just to much for them.

Auditory problems can also be a big problem. Loud noises bother some and sooth others. Children with autism can appear to be deaf. While they respond to some sounds, they may not respond to others. Some are deaf to particular pitches and frequencies. Temple describes her own auditory and sensory problems from clothing to hearing issues. Losing her train of thought when distracting noises occur is a problem for her.

Scientific research studies have shown that rapid shifting of attention between two different stimuli is very difficult for people with autism. When Temple is listening to two different people at the same time she can only hear one at a time. She describes that a noisy room makes it hard for her to understand speech because she can not screen out the background noise. Her ability to process and attend to one voice against the background of another voice is severely impaired. The binaural fusion test showed that she had a distinct deficiency in timing sound input between her ears. To her words would sound like this: “woodchuck” became “workshop” , “doormat” became “floor lamp” and so on. Face recognition can also be a problem with autistics. Fluorescent lighting cause a sixty-cycle flicker that can create a severe problem with those with autism.

They also may have taste and smell sensitivities. Many autistics smell things since it provides more reliable information about what is around them in their environment. My oldest used to smell my clothes while my youngest smells teddy bears and blankets. Children with autism are picky eaters. Tolerating texture, smell, taste, and/or sounds of food in their mouth can be difficult.

Sensory mixing occurs in people with severe processing deficits, vision, hearing and other senses. They tend to have a hard time trying to figure out reality. Temple recalls not fitting in socially because she was not aware that her method of visual thinking and overly sensitive senses were the cause of her difficulty in relating to and interacting with other people.

Sensory integration is offered by an occupational therapist and can help most children with autism. Deep pressure and swinging calm and relax an over-sensitive child. They help to stabilize abnormal sensory processing and usually needs to be done everyday. Temple had designed the squeeze machine to embrace the body while delivering soothing pressure to the body.

Chapter four focuses on emotions and empathy. These have to be learned for autistics. Using her squeeze machine, Temple was able to hold an animal gently and also maker her a kinder and gentler person. As she describes, being held takes away negative thoughts. She believes that the brain needs comforting sensory input. Gentle touching teaches kindness. She tells of how she could sense a cows feelings and would touch them to calm them down. Her whole life were the animals that she made comfortable during procedures of all kinds. In order for the cow to stay calm, Temple had to as well. Pressure on the body teaches the brain how to be touched.

Autism is caused by neurological abnormalities that shut the child off from normal touching and hugging. Abnormalities of the cerebellum and the limbic systems may cause sensory problems and abnormal emotional responses by immature neuron development.

For some autistics, fear is a dominate emotion for them. Some childhood tantrums are not expressions of emotions but more like a circuit overload. Temple describes how fear and anxiety became her emotions, priorities, and how she overcame the worst. She only understands simple emotions, such as fear, anger, happiness, and sadness. She does not understand complex emotions such as loving one minute and hating the next in a relationship. She tells stories of different people with different emotional understandings. She explains how people need guides to teach them how to survive a social world.

In Chapter five, “The Ways of The World” is a story of learning the rules that come with that of surrounding environments. Dr. Kanner noted that an autistic person’s fixations can be their way to achieve some social life and friends. Autistic persons need rules because they concentrate intensely on how things are done. Temple uses pure logic to guide her behavior. Still even after college she needed the guidance of others, and luckily she had those. Temple has always strived for social skills, and determination is what kept her going.

Temple is a believer in biochemistry and describes in Chapter six. After years of anxiety and fear that caused havoc on her nervous system, she felt she needed to do something for it. She explains that by the time she was thirty her panic attacks were destroying her life and causing serious stress- related heath problems. She became desperate for help and the biochemistry she was interested in finally gave her some relief. Panic attacks and anxiety are very common with those who are autistic. It is said that half of high functioning autistic adults have severe anxiety and panic attacks. In this chapter she talks about the different kinds of medicines that can be used and the results that have occurred.

In Chapter seven, autism and relationships are described. Temple has remained unmarried because she just does not understand personal relationships very well. She has learned that the autistic people who adapt most successfully in personal relationships either choose celibacy or marry a person with similar disabilities. Physical closeness is as much a problem as not understanding basic social behaviors. She describes other’s relationships and how difficult it was for them to maintain.

Chapter eight, “ A Cow’s Eye View” talks about her life connecting with the animals she works with. She had to get down to the eyes of a cow to really understand what and how they see. This helped her visualize how to design the equipment to keep the animals stress down.
Chapter nine is about an understanding of animal thought. “Many people have been fascinated by the terrific feats of memorization of savants. According to Bernard Rimland, of the Autism Research Institute in San Diego, approximately 9 to 10 percent of people with autism have savant skills.” Savants can be impaired in socializing, but can remember incredible amounts of information. Their memory skills exceed those of normal people, but their cognitive deficits are great. When a savant’s concentration is locked onto one thing, it is difficult for him or her to switch their attention. Temple describes how animals “think” and generalize about their surroundings. Temple says, “ When a well-respected animal scientist told me that animals do not think, I replied that if this were true, then I would have to conclude that I was unable to think. He could not imagine thinking in pictures, nor assign it the validity of real thought. Mine is a world of thinking that many language-based thinkers do not comprehend.”

Chapter ten talks about the link between autism and genius. "In the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, Sukhdev Narayan and his colleagues wrote that the intelligence and educational achievements of the parents of an autistic child with good language skills are often greater than those of similar parents without any autistic children. Three different studies reported in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders and one in the American Journal of Medical Genetics indicate that there is a relationship between autism and depression, or affective disorder in families. Mild autistic traits often show up in the parents and relatives of children with autism."

Another study published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, by G.R. Delong and J.T. Dwyer, indicated that over two thirds of families with a high- functioning autistic child had a first or second degree relative who had Asperger’s syndrome, the mild form of autism. People with autism run a greater risk that others of having a child with autism. Learning difficulties, or developmental problems. Family history studies by Edward Ritvoe and his colleagues at UCLA have shown that the siblings of an autistic have almost no increased risk of having an autistic child, although they do run an increased risk of having children with learning disabilities or mild autistic traits. Many researchers speculate that the cluster of interacting genes may cause a variety of disorders such as depression, dyslexia, schizophrenia, manic depression, and learning disabilities.

Chapter eleven: Religion and Beliefs a Stairway to Heaven. Temple describes her beliefs in this chapter. She writes in her journal, “ I develop my views from the existing pool of knowledge and I will adapt my views when I learn more. The only permanent view that I have is that there is a God. My views are based on the basic fundamental laws of nature and physics that I am now aware of. As man learns more about his environment I will change my theory to accommodate the knew knowledge. Religion should by dynamic and always advancing, not in a state of stagnation.” June 14, 1968. With the Stairway to Heaven completed on September 9, 1974, she wrote, "I believe that a person goes on to somewhere else after they die. I do not know where. How a person conducts themselves on Earth during their life will have an effect on the next life. I became convinced that some sort of an afterlife exists after I discovered Got at the top of the Stairway to Heaven. The Swift Plant (cow plant) was a place where beliefs were tested in reality. It was not just intellectual talk. I watched the cattle die and even killed some of them myself. If a black void truly exists at the top of the Stairway to Heaven then a person would have no motivation to be virtuous."(September 1977)

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