My interview with Dr. Temple Grandin about her new book 'The Autistic Brain'
ring ring....ring ring....(Sorry, lets jump forward a bit)
Me: Professor Grandin, thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk with me!
Temple Grandin: Okay, great great, good we've got a good signal right now. Let start right in to the interview while we have good signal. On this road the signal goes in and out
Me: That sounds great. One of the things I noticed while reading your new book 'The Autistic Brain' & with your other books as well but this new one most of all has a very conversational tone to it. One of the first things my wife & I said to each other after reading through it was that it seemed like you were sitting across from us talking instead of reading like stereo instructions like allot of other books on the subject do. Was that something you were actively trying to accomplish or just how the book turned out?
Temple Grandin: I worked with Richard Panek who is a super super good, very well known, science writer and he was really able to get my voice. How we did the book was really just doing hours upon hours of interviews.
Me: Back and forth between the two of you then he put them all down and laid them out into the books format?
Temple Grandin: Yes, that's right. Then I would get the articles, like in the section of the book where I talk about different kinds of minds, the very important papers that show there are two different kinds of visual thinking the object visual thinking and then the mathematical kind. I found the papers that backed that up that those really do exist.
Me: That's interesting. It was really refreshing how it was laid out, easy to jump around and find the information you need.
Temple Grandin: Yes, well, I have to give Richard the credit for that. One of the things about me is being such a visual thinker, the way I am, I tend to be very associative in how I think. In some of my earlier books like 'Thinking In Pictures' series of chapters and things like that my editor, Beth, wanted to tear her hair out trying to organize it. I've gotten a whole lot better at organization, I know make outlines and things like that.
Me: In the book you talk at length about getting brain scans and MRIs from the start of when that technology was available. You talked about how during the first MRI the technicians told you what was going to happen to try and prepare you for the sitting still and loud noises.
Temple Grandin: I can remember the very first one I ever did, it was out at Eric Courchesne's lab in California. The technology was very very new, there were very few MRI machines in the whole world when I did that. Why do it!?! You know it comes down to exploring! I got to watch the most wonderful music video shot from space shuttle, I don't know if you've seen it or not, of the astronauts singing the David Bowie song. It had really gorgeous pictures! You know, why even have a space station? It's exploring! You know, I want to find out whats inside my brain! It's the same reason you want to go into outer space, you want to find out whats there. Why did people climb Mount Everest originally? It's exploring. You know, I like to call it a journey to the center of my mind. As each new technology came out I found researchers that were using them & I'd seek them out. Why did I do it? Well...I just wanted to look!
Me: You mentioned in the book that the technicians explained what was going to happen while in the MRI. It being loud & having to stay perfectly still.
Temple Grandin: You have to lay absolutely still or it completely wrecks the scan. If you move you wreck the scan. They said I was really really good at that, laying completely still, they said I was one of the best!
Me: You talk, in the book, about teaching traditional manners & not letting a diagnosis be an allowance to skirt around having manners.
Temple Grandin: Yes! You have to learn to take turns. A lot of these kids are very impulsive. These things were taught to me with board games. That was taught to ever kid in the 50's & board games were the way it was taught. "You have to wait your turn!" That was taught to me with a Parcheesi board. They've got to learn how to wait their turn. They also have to learn things like if the family goes out every Saturday and does some recreation thing & the autistic kid likes miniature golf, they can't do miniature golf every weekend because the other kids like to do skateboarding. That all comes down to taking turns. So, you do miniature golf every 3rd Saturday, when it's your turn to pick the activity. They have to learn that basic kind of stuff.
Me: That is one of the things I loved! Sometimes it seems as if there is a push the other direction & letting to much of the diagnosis rule, that seems counter intuitive at times.
Temple Grandin: Yes, but you also have to be careful & no surprises! I think they need to be pushed to try new things but not brought on as a surprise. That causes panic. You have to look at and take into account some of the sensory problems. Some kids can not stand florescent lights. At my birthday parties we didn't have noise makers. You know, it's things like that.
Me: Something I hear from readers & struggle with a lot having a child on the high functioning end of the spectrum is 'What is 9 year old boy & What is Autism?' Sometimes it a fine line between pushing them in the right direction & not over stimulating them.
Temple Grandin: Sensory issues are something you really have to watch. Like me, I can't stand scratchy fabrics in cloths. Old Navy changed the vendor on their black khakis & the new ones I can't stand. The ones I've got on right now are getting kind of raggedy and I've got to find another brand of pants I can way. Shirts, I have to ware t-shirts under them but pants are to hot to ware long underwear under them. So, I still have a problem with that. You have got to figure out ways to get around that kind of problem. There was an autistic kid who lost his job at a book store for not warring a tie. That's just really stupid because you can make ties so loose you can't event feel them. Get a shirt with a bigger collar and you put the tie on so you don't even know you have it on! I mean, to lose a job because of not being able to ware a tie is just like, get a bigger tie!
Me: Talk about the new DSM & tossing out Aspergers, which is crazy, I wanted to know if you saw any positives in the future break down into more succinct categories of autism.
Temple Grandin: I think that the break down into just two categories, two types. You have the non verbal & the verbal. I think as genetics & things like that get more advanced you will see a more specific subgroups of autism. The thing is when the kids are still little & you have speech delay at around two a lot are all the same but when you add early intervention therapy you see differences. Some start to become verbal. The Aspergers kids, in the old DSMs Aspergers had no speech delay. Now they have kind of muddied the waters on whether or not there is a speech delay. They have in a way made it less Persis. I would still be diagnosed as autistic with the new guide because of speech delay & I had many symptoms that are in the new DSM. You see the problem is that these new diagnostic things are not precis. There are other controversies about other categories as well. I was reading in the paper yesterday about to many kids being diagnosed with ADHD. What about little boys who just run around & wiggle anyway!?! These kids are not getting outside & exercising. My mom used to say 'Go outside & run the energy out of you!'
Me: That's right, that's why we bought a trampoline for our boys!
Temple Grandin: Yes, we were always out playing in the creek & building stuff or things like that when I was a kid.
Me: Is the gradual hope that with new technologies being introduced & advances with MRI or brain scans that we can have a more precis medical/genetic diagnosis procedure for autism.
Temple Grandin: Well, one of the scans that is around & has been around for the last 15 years is a scan of the social areas of the brain. You know, facial recognition areas. You can see those problems & the scan is not even that high tech anymore as far as they go. It's just not being used. There's hundreds of papers on it.
Me: In preparing for this interview one of the questions I wanted to ask & a question some readers suggested I ask was are there still time you have problems even after all the progress, I know you say in the book that you take a low dose anti-depressants, & with everything you know now are there still obstacles you have to consciously work to over come because of your autism?
Temple Grandin: One of the biggest things is that I've been on a very low does anti-depressant for 35 years because I had terrible panic attacks. Anti-depressants save me. Then on the other hand there are way to many drugs being handed out to 5 year olds & its just disgusting.
Me: I totally agree.
Temple Grandin: Sometimes I have to go over things in my head before head still.
Me: Well, we only have a min left I just wanted to tell you what an honor it was speaking with you.
Temple Grandin: I just want to end by saying that people need to play to the kids strengths. One of the big things we have to do with these kids is teach job skills. The kids get to college but don't have any job skills. They have to learn about showing up on time. That kind of thing needs to start, I think, at about 12. Now that paper routs are gone maybe walking dogs is a good thing. They have to know that it has to be done every day! There is a discipline to that. Walk that dog every day whether you want to or not. The other part of the book that I think is important is where I talk about the different types of minds. Visual thinkers, mathematical thinkers, all of those you have to develop the strengths. Build up on that strength area. Things that you can turn into careers. That's a big message of the book. I want to see these kids today go somewhere & accomplish things. Autism is a big spectrum. You have these kids that are going to remain non verbal but you have these others that should be working in silicon valley but I'm seeing them play video games all day & not going anywhere. Now, if they want to learn how to program those games I'd be all for that!
Me: I think that's why the book struck such a chord with my wife & I is because its put so plainly, so easy to read. There's no medical jargon like a lot of other books.
Temple Grandin: Well, I can say for sure, anything I have to do with will never have jargon in it! I just go through & cut all the jargon out. I hate jargon!
Me: Well, thank you so very much for taking the time to talk with me today!
Temple Grandin: Thank you. I'm happy we could talk about it.
The book is amazing! A straight forward understanding & answers book about Autism. It's the book I wish I had on the day my son was diagnosed with autism!
You can get your copy over at Amazon. You can also see all the latest going on with Temple on her site TempleGrandin.com