Dr. Temple Grandin's recent commencement speech at her alma mater, Franklin Pierce University, proves again that she is not only intelligent-- she is wise:
I'm a child of the 50s. Republicans built the highway system. The Democrats went to the moon. We did stuff! We've got to get back to doing real stuff! One thing you definitely should not be doing is being the inventor of the next credit default swap. We need to be doing real stuff that makes real change and avoid abstractification.
Dr. Temple Grandin talks about cats with Jenny of Floppycats.com. Litterbox tips! But my favorite part is when she recommends the best kind of dog for autistic kids:
Well the dog that is the most is the a Labrador retrievers because they tolerate kids tugging on them and things better than other dogs. They are a real good natured. They’re also real calm and sometimes when working with autistic children that’s probably more popular dog breed – now there are different ways to use service animals. So there are three basic ways, one is just to be companion person and I’m thinking now more of autistic kids not somebody in a wheelchair or the dog belongs to a therapist and then it’s used as an ice breaker to get the kid talking and get the kid interacting. Then there’s severely autistic kids where the dog is actually tied to the kid, so that the kid cannot run off. And you’ve got to be careful with that type of dog to make sure that the dog doesn’t get too stressed. Basically when it comes to autistic kids and animals there’s kind of three ways that they work, some of them are instant best buddies, they understand a cat, they understand a dog – they’re best studies with it, they just know how to communicate with it. Then there’s other kids that begin with a little bit of fear of the cat or the dog, but then they begin to like it and then there are other kids where you have a sensory problem – the cat meows and it hurts their ears, so they want to stay away from the cat because you never know when he might meow.
See-- even Temple Grandin agrees-- my dog is an autism treatment miracle!
Although imperfect, this NPR story on the progress researchers have made toward understanding the autistic brain is state of the art reporting. It includes the voice of an autistic person and is based on years of proven research, not the latest fad.
Jeff Hudale has been working with researchers since the 1980s, when he was first diagnosed with autism at the age of 13:
"When I first started learning what this is really about I thought — if I can get some benefit to help my health out that would be great," he says. "But now I realized this not only helps me, but it can help other people with similar troubles, and I'm all for it."
So Hudale said yes to just about every scientist who asked him to participate in an autism study.
What researchers are learning, and what most informs my personal understanding, is that autism is a difference in how brains make connections. This science began when it became possible for people like Marcel Just to observe which parts of the brain were active when it performed different sorts of activities.
Just says scans of people without autism have showed him that in a typical brain, the activity in areas near the front is synchronized with the activity in certain areas toward the back.
"It was obvious that they were working together," says Just. "I mean we all knew in some vague way that the different parts of the brain would work together, but to find this sort of beautiful rhythmic dance together was a very eye opening moment."
When he began to study the brains of people with autism, Just realized that beautiful rhythm wasn't always there.
"There was this lack of synchrony between the frontal areas and posterior areas," he says.
You also see there a problem with the reporting-- a seemingly unquestioned assumption that the neurotypical brain makes beautiful music and that mine does not. The most beautiful thing in my world is the music of my brain. The connections in my brain are different from those of most people, but it is rude, and not completely accurate, to call them, as reporter Jon Hamilton does "just not good enough":
Just and his colleagues soon came to believe that the problem could be traced to fiber tracts that connect key areas in the front of the brain to key areas in the back. The connections just weren't good enough.
Just says it helps to think of the brain as being a bit like the Internet.
"The Internet would be nothing without cabling and wi-fi," he says. "It's the fact that we have this fabulous connectivity that lets our smartphones and computers connect to each other and get information back and forth quickly."
Hudale has a more succinct version of what's become known as the "underconnectivity theory of autism."
"Well, I'll put this to you simply, like, if I'm messed up it's because my wires are messed up," he says.
Neutral reporting avoids presuming that neurotypicality is superior.
The larger problem is with the research itself, which really has taken the MRIs and PET scans of people like Jeff much more seriously than what we have to say about how our brains work. This story is based on a study of recognizing faces, which made me think about Temple Grandin's recent comments at IMFAR:
Temple Grandin, in receipt of her Advocate Award yesterday stated “Researchers, you must do more work in sensory processing and visual thinking in order to improve our quality of life.” She noted that there are already hundreds of papers on Face Recognition.
Qualms aside, this is the sort of research I have found personally useful in my understanding of what autism is-- a difference in how our brains make connections. And the way to change connections is through education:
If connections really are the problem, there are tantalizing hints of a partial solution. A study of dyslexia has shown that when people do mental exercises that use certain fiber tracts, the connections get stronger.
Temple Grandin approves of “lean finely textured beef” (AKA "pink slime"):
“It should be on the market. It should be labeled,” she says of the meat filler. “We should not be throwing away that much beef.”
She also suggests that beef industry use citric-acid rather than ammonia for the disinfection process:
“People like the idea of lemon juice more than they like the idea of ammonia.”
Temple Grandin spoke about animals and autism May 15 at Drexel University:
A young mother then brought up the question of how to take care of a child with autism. Grandin replied: “The worst thing you can do is do nothing. Work with the child, play games, sing to him, do anything, just keep him active. Don’t ignore him.”