The negative associations with having autism are vehemently disregarded in CSU professor Temple Grandin’s book, “The Autistic Mind: Helping Different Kinds of Minds Succeed,” published this year in April.
Grandin finds autism is in what nature (or genetics) gave you.
To grow up feeling normal, thinking normally, and then being unable to communicate your own sensory reality must be agonizing. In today’s socially-powered world, the term “autism” comes with negative weight. Grandin’s advice is to work with what is possible; with what type of work you excel at.
We all have areas of hyper and lower activity in our brains; it is why some people (like me) become fuzzy looking at a math or physics problem, others, while reading a book.
Grandin invites us to nurture what nature gave you by working with strengths to overcome shortcomings.
This is augmented through hypersensitivity and pattern-finding in autistic people, Grandin said. These qualities remind me of when I was a child. As a kid you see less of the overall picture and more of specific patterns and details. The color of a door, the sound of footsteps on carpeted floor, how you jitter in the chair your mother put you in and told you to “stay still.”
Rather than seeing the individual, “label-locked” people only see through the rose-colored glasses of the negative and at times life-encompassing label of “autistic.” To label-locked people, Grandin proposes looking at the positive traits of the autistic people in their lives.
She also combats the negativity surrounding the label by approaching it genetically. She comments on how there is a difference between thinking you have bad motor control because you’re autistic versus having a small cerebrum.
Grandin asks if the characteristics are not a product of bad wiring, but simply the products of wiring, neither good nor bad.
Voluntarily used numerous times as a guinea pig to brain-probing technology, Grandin uses her own anecdotes to color the conclusions of scientific research on the autistic mind.
The book is full of practical solutions to combat hypersensitivity, but there is little in respect to actual genetic cause. Instead, she notes how this frustrating lack of cause is the main motivator in scientific research, including neuroimaging and “dark matter” or “noncoding DNA” and whether they play a critical role in how cells, organs and other tissues behave.
This bottom-up way of working from the outside-in to the situation is similar to the way an autistic brain works. Hopefully soon, the full pattern will reveal itself like a complete origami sculpture, an eight-pointed multicolored star, and finally the root of autism will be revealed.
It’s finding your best form of communication and nurturing it. What makes us individuals is our abnormalities, and working with them is especially essential in the life of an autistic person, who may spend their life trying to fit a round peg into a square hole when they only need to change their environment, not themselves.
My main takeaway from Grandin’s book recalls a certain Dr. Seuss quote; “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life believing it is stupid.”
Collegian Columnist Sierra Cymes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org