Grandin lecture offers an inside look at autism

On March 9, Dr. Temple Grandin came to Millersville University and lectured to a large crowd of students and members of the community at Pucillo gymnasium. Dr. Grandin is an author, speaker, and professor of Animal Science. This is especially impressive considering she has autism, which is characterized by impairments in social interaction and communication, and repetitive behaviors. Dr. Grandin’s intimate knowledge of autism is particularly useful to teachers, psychologists, because she is able to communicate very clearly aspects of autism that many individuals with autism cannot because of the communication deficits inherent in the disorder.

Sensory abnormalities are common in individuals with autism, as well as those with other disorders. Dr. Grandin stressed the importance of understanding this and accommodating for it. Individuals with autism may be extremely sensitive to high pitched sounds, flickering lights, or even fluorescent lighting. She offers simple fixes for these problems, such as giving a student with autism a seat by the window for natural light. Also, reading may be a problem because of the black type on a white background. This can be altered by wearing colored glasses, or using pastel colored paper. Small changes like these may allow for a better learning experience for students with autism.

According to Dr. Grandin, individuals with autism learn and store information differently than those without autism. She, and others with autism, use “bottom-up thinking” opposed to “top-down thinking” Since she uses bottom-up thinking, she needs many specific and concrete facts to make up the schema of an idea. For example, instead of having a general idea of what being rude is, and then fitting certain behaviors under the category of being rude, individuals with autism need many concrete and specific examples of actions that are “rude” in order to eventually understand the concept of being rude.

Another difference Dr. Grandin believes she, and other autistic individuals, have is that they think in pictures. Thinking is very visual and specific for Dr. Grandin which enabled her to think like the livestock she works with, because animals think in pictures also.

Along with describing aspects of autism, Dr. Grandin also shared personal stories about growing up with autism, and what she believes helped lessen the severity of the disorder for her. Much of this was based around growing up in the 1950s. Rudeness and sloppiness was not tolerated. She was taught many specific rules so that she eventually understood the concept of being rude. When she grew up, board games were popular, which taught her to strategize. Lack of exercise was not a problem for children like it is today, and Dr. Grandin spoke highly of having children with autism and other disorders exercise and eat healthy.

Dr. Grandin also talked about work and getting a job, which was relevant to any college student who attended the lecture. She underlined the importance of acquiring and selling a skill that others want, not just something you want to do. For example, she had a job painting a shed as a teenager. Instead of painting horses and cows on it, like she wanted to, she painted what her employer wanted her to paint.