Temple Grandin recommends I work in retail.
Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg at Journeys with Autism has written an extraordinary piece that does a better job than anything else I have ever read of expresing one of my most basic feelings about autism, as it affects both me and others. She writes that it is misleading to think of autism mainly in terms of deficits, the things we don't have, because it is the overabundance of feeling and sensation that defines us:
She continues to explain that what appears as rigidity to other people feels like excessive empathy from the inside:
So, for example, if one were to ask whether I hold tenaciously to my own feelings and ideas, it might appear that I have difficulty seeing multiple points of view. But part of the reason I am so tenacious is that I’ve gone through a process of looking at things from so many different points of view that I would drown in the sea of other people’s perceptions if I didn’t make a judgment as to where I stand and what I believe. In arriving at a conclusion, I file through an immense number of possibilities and, once I’ve gone through the process, I generally form a strong opinion. It doesn’t mean that my mind is closed; it means that I’m not going to be convinced out of an idea or a feeling simply for the sake of social form or expectation.
Apparently, because I hold firmly to my conclusions, I can appear to be unempathetic to those who do not think as I do. If people only knew how intuitively I bounce from one person’s perception to another, how intensely I feel other people’s feelings, and how much mental and emotional discipline it takes to parse experiences that aren’t even on most people’s radar, they would see that my way of thinking is anything but inflexible—or easy.
This is the best description of what my difficulties with conversation feel like that I have ever read. And yet. . .
I wish I could deny that part of my autism is deficits. My spatial reasoning is so poor I never really understood any math after Algebra I. I cannot find my way around without the support of a GPS, and even with one I get lost all the time.
And, worse, I really do have limited emotional and social capacities. I mentioned on Facebook that the Ingenious Minds episode on Temple Grandin made me sad, and part of the reason is watching how Dr. Grandin's extraordinary strengths still accompany genuine disabilites. I don't know if she felt lonely when she was trying to keep talking about her brain to scientists who were clearly eager to move on, but the image of her trailing them, talking about how she thinks while their minds were clearly on something else made me feel completely alone. And sort of hopeless.
Because most of my conversations feel a little like that. In part because of the investment in my ideas that Rachel descibes, I love them and know how dearly they are formed. And it makes me incredibly sad to love them all alone.
I am a limited person. Everyone is, but my autism gives me limitations that sometimes feel crippling. There are days, like today, when I genuinely feel I am less than the people around me. And when it is impossible for me to imagine a world that is not both exhaustingly social and depressingly lonely.
Temple Grandin talks about her wardrobe.
Dr. Temple Grandin is a star. She will appear on an episode of Ingenious Minds debuting on the Science Channel tomorrow night. Her lecturres continue to sell out-- I posted a couple of complete lectures recently. She can be seen talking about her cowboy shirts above.
Temple Grandin tries to get Louisa Arts Center to turn down the lights.
Virginia's Louisa Arts Center has posted Dr. Temple Grandin's entire recent presention there on YouTube. If you have not had the chance to see Dr. Grandin's current autism lecture, I strongly recommend you take the time to watch either this lecture or her recent presentation at CSU.
One thing that made the LAC presentation especially interesting for me is the trouble that Dr. Grandin has trying to get them to make the lights sensory-friendly enough for her to do her presentation. I had never had the chance to watch her in a situation like this, and her calm firmness will be another thing I will try to imitate.
The trouble does seem to rattle her a litle, and this lecture is a little more scattered, especially early on, than the one she gave at CSU. The video and audio quality are also superior on that recording, but the LAC one allows you to see her slides. I enjoyed watching both of them, and I learned from both of them, but please-- if you are interested enough in autism to visit this website-- watch at least one.
Temple Grandin spoke at 3M's forum on "Autism and Employment." She explained that autistic people like herself need support, but can be valuable employees:
The advice, delivered tactlessly, stung. Nevertheless, in terms of improving relations with her co-workers, she soon became grateful for the lesson.
Grandin said that because the autistic learn differently, it may be important for parents to do the thing many of them least want to do: loosen the reins a bit and allow kids to amass their own archive of experiences to learn from, whether it's ordering by themselves from a restaurant menu or holding down a neighborhood job mowing lawns.
Other sucessfully employed people with autism took part in the forum:
Larry Moody, a board member with the Autism Society, said in an interview that he was successful enough as a chemical engineer to survive waves of staff cuts at various jobs and retire at age 50 with a sizable nest egg.
"I required more management than others, but I produced at a higher level, faster and more accurately," he said.