Newsletter – March, 2001

**Companion Resources Newsletter**

edited by Paul D. Leichty

Volume 3, No. 3 March 2001

The human brain is a wondrous mystery. Scientists in many different fields are constantly coming out with fascinating studies. In this computer age in which we live, there is an ever-increasing temptation to use the model of a computer to try to describe what is going on in the brain. While there are some helpful aspects to drawing on that analogy, I’ve been struck with how much we can learn simply by listening to those who are sometimes labeled “brain-damaged,” “retarded,” or “developmentally delayed.” I’d like to explore that a little this month.

The news in my area of the world is about a women’s basketball team from the University of Notre Dame. However, last Wednesday, about a dozen persons connected with our community here at Goldenrod joined hundreds of others to pack out a large lecture hall at Notre Dame for a very different kind of activity.

The occasion was a Disability Awareness Week lecture by a woman who is world-famous, but whom I had no knowledge of until I came to Goldenrod a year ago. Her name is Dr. Temple Grandin and she is assistant professor of animal sciences at Colorado State University. She has also revolutionized the field of design of animal handling facilities. Currently, almost half of the cattle in North America are handled in a center track restrainer system that she designed for meat plants.

What is most remarkable about Temple Grandin is that she lives with autism. Not only has she revolutionized animal handling, but she has revolutionized the way that many of us actually think about autism. Grandin has been able to paint pictures with words that describe how her mind works. In doing so, she has not only given the world insight into how autistic persons think, but also provided the kind of comparisons that help all of us understand how our brains work.

Temple Grandin’s insights come not only from living with autism, but from applying her subjective knowledge to the world of animals. In understanding how language ability in human beings covers up or filters some other ways in which our brains work, we can begin to understand some of the behaviors in both the animal world and among persons with autism. Grandin’s insights help explain both the fears associated with such things as flickering lights or high-pitched noises, as well as the amazing abilities of some autistic “savants” like herself.

Temple Grandin says that she thinks in pictures and only uses words as a “second language.” She has amazing skills to remember and visualize objects in her mind. Other persons with autism are able to remember audio sounds much better than video ones. That’s probably the reason why one young man I know is constantly singing phrases of songs he has heard, even though he can hardly string together a four-word sentence to answer a question.

I was thoroughly fascinated to hear Temple Grandin in person. Her ability to rise above what most of us perceive as a “disability” and turn her differences into a courageous, humane career makes her a true hero and role model.

I have revised the Companion Resources home page on autism (https://companionresources.org/Learning/Autism to provide you with the best links to material by and about Temple Grandin. There are also links that will allow you to order two significant books she has written. Here are two sample links to whet your appetite:

Chapter 1: Autism and Visual Thought from the book, *Thinking in Pictures*

http://www.grandin.com/inc/visual.thinking.html

My Mind is a Web Browser: How People with Autism Think

http://www.grandin.com/inc/mind.web.browser.html

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Understanding the differences in the way people think and the reasons that we respond as we do gives us powerful tools for caring and building community in new ways. It is never easy to put oneself into the mind of another, but it is well worth the effort.

Blessings to all,

Paul D. Leichty

The Goldenrod Community

Middlebury, Indiana

PDLeichty@cresources.org

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