"A house without books is like a room without windows." -Horace Mann

Monday, March 19, 2012

Thinking in Pictures

by Temple Grandin

If you have not seen the movie "Temple Grandin" yet, you need to go see it.  Claire Daines plays the title character, who is a young lady with autism.  The movie shows the process of her learning to interact with the world, and her mother's determination to keep her out of an institution.  She is a woman who sees the world in a very different way from many of the rest of us who consider ourselves "normal".  Because of this different way of seeing the world, she discovers an interesting passion and calling in life. 

It's a movie that is hopeful, funny, and very helpful for seeing a different perspective on the world and perhaps helping us understand a little more people who are autistic.  I thought Daines did a spectacular job of becoming this character, which is based on a true story.

So, to the book.  I came across this book somewhat randomly, but figured it would be worth a try since it's written by this same Temple Grandin and I was intrigued to learn more about her unique perspective of the world, and of her own struggles with autism.  Much of this book was fascinating, informative, mind-opening, and funny.  Some of it was a bit of a drag.  But for me it was still worth the read, though I did skim through a number of sections rather quickly.

The reason for the skimming is mostly because Grandin admits herself that 1) she leans heavily towards extreme detail and exact description, and 2) because she is a scientist, and some of her focus in the book goes into scientific detail that is not my cup of tea.

Grandin begins by talking a little of her childhood, but mostly about how various forms of autism manifest themselves and how they change the perception of the world for an autistic child.  The idea of thinking in pictures instead of thinking in words is something that is pretty foreign to me, but it was interesting to read about and try to imagine how different I would be if my brain worked that way.

I also appreciated much of the practical advice Grandin gives about how to work with autistic children, how to discipline them, and how to stimulate and guide their brains to work the way they work best.  She is a prime example of an amazing mother who never gave up on her, but also didn't let her get away with things that simply weren't appropriate.  Even parents of children who don't have autism could probably be reminded of these things.

The scientific sections, especially the details regarding medication, etc. is where I skimmed the mostly.  It would be a good reference tool for someone who might need to consider that possibility, but for me it was not interesting, so I skipped ahead.

Closer to the end of the book, Grandin gets into her real passion, which is working with animals.  I don't want to give too much away, especially if you plan to see the movie because its so much fun to watch it all unfold there.  However, her connection and concern for animals, which she admits is probably deeper than her ability to connect with humans, is touching and it shows her true humanity.

As for the technical writing of the book, at times it does feel a little heavy-handed, but I think that is because Grandin is not a word-oriented person, so writing is not always easy for her.  But I am really impressed by her ability to put her thoughts and analysis into a book that does come across, for the most part, as very personable and fairly easy to read.  I think some of her early chapters especially would be a very important read for any parent, teacher, or caretaker that may have the opportunity to teach a child with autism. It certainly helped me be more aware of how other people around me might not always think the way I do, and how it really is amazing that we manage to find ways to communicate as well as we do.

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