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Review: The Autistic Brain

May 7, 2014

When Temple Grandin was diagnosed with autism, her parents were told she should be institutionalised. They didn’t choose that route- and what a loss it may have been to the world of autism, and the world in general, if they had.

Today, Temple Grandin is one of the most accomplished adults with autism in the world. She is a bestselling author of several books. She is a university professor of animal science, however in The Autistic Brain she goes back to her roots and attempts to explore ‘the strength of a different kind of mind,’ one attached to an autistic brain.

Temple Grandin’s sense of humour shines out at readers from the very first sentence of the book, in which she offers to be our ‘guide on a tour of the autistic brain.’ She uses both her personal experiences, gained over a life with autism, and insights from various brain scans she has undergone during her life so far.

The first chapter of the book explains the meanings of autism, and the signs that could suggest the disorder. In the late 1940s, as a young child, Temple Grandin was tested for epilepsy and deafness before her diagnosis. Although she could hear, she had difficulty understanding some consonant sounds, ‘such as ‘the “c” in cup.’ But, she explains, speech therapy, and patience from the adults in her home life, were a great help.

The second chapter ‘lights up’ the autistic brain for readers, by explaining MRI scans experienced by the author herself. The third continues the theme of science, by sequencing the autistic brain. The fourth explains sensory problems in detail, particularly sensitivity to sound, which Temple Grandin experiences herself.

In the second part of the book, which begins with the fifth chapter, the author attempts to rethink the autistic brain. She considers how to look past the label of autism as a reason for a symptom, or for something an autistic person finds challenging, to the biological cause of that symptom or challenge.

Chapter six contains useful tips for people with autism about ‘knowing your own strengths.’ This focuses on the characteristics exhibited by autistic people ‘that we would call strengths if they belonged to a normal person.’

The seventh chapter focuses on visual processing, We learn in this chapter that Temple Grandin thinks in pictures, as do several, but importantly not all, other people with autism.

The final chapter gives useful tips to autistic people on how to go ‘from the margins to the mainstream.’ The book ends with a very useful graphic for people with autism, in which Temple Grandin suggests suitable jobs, based on the kind of thinker the person is- picture, like the author, word-fact, (journalist) or pattern (computer programmer.)

This book is undoubtedly aimed first and foremost at people with autism and their family members. However it also makes a very interesting and informative read for people with other disabilities, or people with no disability, who simply wish to learn more about the very unique workings of that very unique body part- the autistic brain.

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