Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Thinking in Pictures--Temple Grandin

April 20, 2010

Temple Grandin's book, Thinking in Pictures, is one I really wanted to like, because its subject is important to me. It's a non-fiction narrative about a highly successful woman whose expertise in her field (she has a Doctorate in Animal Science and has developed mechanisms for humane cattle handling that are widely used across the United States) is likely because of her autism, rather than in spite of it. Her unique way of processing information allowed her to visualize the way in which the animals she was working with would respond to certain stimuli, and therfore enabled her to see ways in which she could make changes to the big business of cattle handling (dairies, for example) that would make the cows calm and compliant in processing.

With her expertise, and using as her examples her experiences in the cattle industry, she gives her readers a glimpse into the different ways people with autism and Asperger's process information. She doesn't just focus on her own particular way of thinking, but on several. These different ways of thinking, if we are aware of them, can help us learn to communicate more effectively--whether it be in education or simply in social situations--with those who have autism or Asperger's. I think awareness is her key impetus here, especially since she has encountered in her lifetime opposition and misunderstanding, depsite her obvious intelligence and determination. Because she had a mother and a couple of key teachers who understood her way of thinking and encouraged her, she was able to capitalize on those differences and succeed.

The book is at times a bit disjointed and often repetitive, but I suppose that it's somewhat illustrative of the very thing she's talking about--this idea of seeing in pictures, or snapshots, or images. Sometimes when we flip through a photo album, we see we may have taken several that are quite similar, with the only variance being a slight shift in the body or a shade of change in the brow or the curve of the mouth. Rather than melding them all into one general description of the picture's subject, Grandin painstakingly describes each photo in her mental album, each image she sees, to detail her unique perspective. Unfortunately for the reader, it is often without segue, or without an explanation for how or why each photo is different, when it seems so similar on the surface. I suppose in that way we can see a little more clearly how her brain processes information. It did, however, make it a bit difficult for me to wade through the book (that, and my general lack of interest in cattle), being not possessed of a brain that processes information in this way. This, too, gives us insight though, as we get a little glimpse of how different it must feel for those with autism or Asperger's to make their way through each and every day in a world not geared towards their ways of thinking.


1 comment:

  1. Nice review, honest and thorough. It is so interesting to see how different people think. I think with autism and asperger's becoming more talked about these days this is a really cool book to at least have out there. You are so right when you talk about how the world is just geared differently than the way a lot of people think.