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A Book Review (that is really a book report) of Temple Grandin's 2nd edition of The Way I See It: A Personal Look at Autism and
on April 12, 2011
While attempting to write a review of Temple Grandin's new book, I found myself unwilling to let my sentences snap into a condensed `book review' mode because I felt I might deprive those who have not read any of her books yet of one of the most exciting aspects of her work: the ability to almost experience the world through the senses of a person with autism. To that end, I confess that my review below is really a kind of book report.
If you were to step into the world that people with autism experience, you could discover that the sound of a school fire alarm bell is so loud that it is genuinely painful. A trip to the mall could create sensory bombardment severe enough to shut down your ability to react to it. You might discover that the seams on your socks cause the contact skin area to feel like it is burning. Visually, you might see the face of a friend or relative appear like a two-dimensional Picasso-like mosaic. With autism, it's possible to experience the seemingly impossible - like seeing the color of an object before its shape can be identified or seeing black print on a white page jiggle and vibrate. Imagine being unable to see and hear at the same time - you may end up comprehending only parts of words in a string of words.
These are just some of the experiences of autistic people that are successfully communicated to "nuerotypicals" (those of us without autism) by Dr. Temple Grandin, (who is autistic) in this book. Made up of articles she has written, the text also shares her wisdom with those who care about (and for) people on the autism spectrum (i.e., the range - from mild to severe).
The causes of autism are now emerging with the help of modern technology, and Dr. Grandin explains that we now know that brains with autism show an early overgrowth of white matter (a part of the brain that functions like computer cables by linking the "processing" parts of the brain together). The overgrowth of white matter causes poor information processing that seems to express itself in three basic categories: sensory oversensitivity, perceptual problems, and difficulties organizing information. Needless to say, those on the autism spectrum not only have difficulties dealing with their immediate environments at times, but they also have problems socializing with others.
One of the most exciting new findings concerns a new way for screening for the disorder. It appears that measuring the circumference of an infant's head (before 12 months) can help detect abnormal enlargement which can be from the early overgrowth found in children who develop autism. She advises parents who may be concerned that that their child may be autistic to watch their child closely and take note of their reactions to the environment. She assures parents who do this that behavior patterns will give them helpful information. She warns parents with a newly diagnosed child to be careful about companies willing to promise them things that are not possible - as some are fraudulent, and they exploit the emotions of a distressed family. She opens up the world of autism in a learning context too, and we discover that behavior can be modified. We can now make some distinctions between autistic behavior - and rudeness, for example. She notes that rudeness is inexcusable, and she shares some amusing (but important) recollections of corrections to her own behavior.
Her articles about medication promote a common-sense strategy for parents and caregivers. She emphasizes the importance of being observant when it comes to medication, and she urges families to try non-medication methods first. (Sometimes improvement can come from a very simple idea). If medicine is introduced, she suggests giving one at a time so the effect can be judged. It is also important that benefits outweigh the risks. One of the most vital warnings that she offers reflects her experience: "newer is not better" when it comes to medicine and care strategies.
Until I read her articles, I did not realize that service dogs were available for companions and safety. (She gives contact information on this amazing service). I did not realize that new types of eyeglasses exist that can help with visual challenges and needs. (She strongly recommends the use of a developmental optometrist for the best results.)
Dedicated to those on the spectrum, Dr. Grandin's collection of articles offers a wealth of information to "neurotypicals" (a word which should be added to everyone's dictionary) and those on the spectrum. Her articles about social challenges offer excellent explanations for the reasons they can be a major concern, and she offers insightful strategies for coping with behavior issues.
The only weakness of the book is repetition on some topics because many articles cover similar ground in order for her to make certain points. Being patient through those infrequent dry patches, however, is worth it.
Dr. Grandin's recent induction into the Cowgirl Hall of Fame (described in the closing of The Way I See It) adds another award to many that she has justifiably earned. She has written several books about autism, and she often includes information (and web links) to help others. You can learn more about her at [...] or you can see a small clip of her speaking at [...]. This is an excellent book, and worth every minute spent reading it. Thanks for tolerating my book report mode!