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Autism Ideas - Part 1: The Brainy Ms Grandin
By Mary W Maxwell, PhD
When I was in college, my classmate Ginny told me that her 16-year-old brother had autism. One of the telltale signs, she said, was that in a restaurant he would give the waitress his order by reading out the menu item in full. "Eight ounces of juicy New York Sirloin, cooked to your liking, accompanied by fluffy potatoes and served with a fresh garden salad."
I'll bet I formed a subconscious prejudice as soon as Ginny told me that. Okay. I was young and stupid, thinking "How awful that a man-sized boy would say something so silly, so 'off.'" In retrospect I realize that I must have gone on for years harboring a mild dislike for anyone who was autistic. The only saving grace was that I saw a TV show ­ perhaps three decades ago ­ called "Joshua." It conveyed the plight of the parents of a boy with that name who screamed non-stop.
Not long ago I was introduced to the book "Animals in Translation" by Temple Grandin. Some book! It led me to buy her earlier book "Thinking in Pictures"(1995), and quite recently I found her first publication, "Emergence."(1986?) Suffice it to say that I now like and admire autistic people. Ms Grandin is quite the lady. Like myself, she was born in Boston in 1947 -- but has spent most of her adult life on cattle ranches.
Some people who are not autistic (definition to be provided below) may have one or more traits that feature in autism. Temple points out that some of her relatives have these. For instance her mother is skilled at visualization, her father had a way of fixating on a goal, a nephew is having trouble learning to read. Amazingly, her grandmother told Temple that she, in her own childhood, had found the sound of coal going down the chute to be 'torture' ­ which is just the way some noises affect an autistic person.
In her three books, and on the lecture circuit (where she mainly helps "high-functioning autistics"), Temple has made it clear that the person inside the shell is just like us. At least that is how I take her message. I also take the message to be that I am like her. Any talent she has, such as for excellent memory, or the ability to empathize with animals, must be something that all of us are capable of. God did not invent a special kind of brain for a few oddballs.
Apparently Temple was normal until age six months. The developmental disorder known as autism does not usually begin at birth. Age 18 months is a common time ­ the baby is doing fine, walking and talking, and then starts to lose speech and seems to withdraw into a shell. Since Temple had not started to talk anyway, she did not lose speech. She lost the ability top accept a hug from her mother when she was 6 months old. Typically, the autistic child does not hug.
Temple, who made it back into the world in more or less miraculous fashion, reveals that the child in the shell often wants a hug, even craves it, but has to pull away because touch has become painful. Indeed she says, the tactile sense is the big sense. Tasting and smelling are very big too, whilst the other two senses that most of us consider the biggies ­ sight and sound ­ are tossed aside.
The name of the game is sensory overload. Loud noises are horrible, the fall of water on the skin in the shower may be painful (can you imagine such a thing!), and focusing on two things at once is more or less impossible. Temple credits her mother with seeing to it that she received all the help possible to overcome her handicaps.
She also credits luck. At one point during adolescence she took a ride on the Roro at an amusement park. It's the one where you stand against the inside of a huge barrel that whirls around and holds you by centrifugal force. This seems to have jogged Temple out of her state of chronic fear, perhaps by creating a new terror. (The floor of the barrel falls away during the ride!) She was grateful that the situation provided her no way to escape so she had to 'deal with it.'
Ms Grandin's maternal grandfather is the man who invented autopilot for airplanes. So it is not too surprising that she became an inventor. Her first production of a machine was one that she desperately needed for her own use. She already had the idea of it before she encountered a cattle chute on her aunt's ranch, but that clinched the deal. She had noticed that body pressure, if delivered uniformly, was comforting and calming. So she created a 'squeeze machine' that she could climb into, and take naps in.
During college, Temple switched her major from psychology to animal science and has made a living as an advisor to livestock owners. Her main contribution (a national and worldwide contribution) has been the invention of devices that eliminate some of the cruelty to animals that goes on in slaughterhouses. More than anyone I know, this lady thinks about, and does something about, improving the quality of life of farm animals.
Don't be fooled by the casual way in which Temple Grandin, in her three books, spits out facts about the human brain. She has done exhaustive research and knows the score as well as any professor. The following is a quote from her book "Emergence" (pp. 20-24):
"I had a fixation on spinning objects, a preference to be alone, destructive behavior, and my intense interest in odors. I started to speak at 3 and a half. Before that I could understand what was being said. Screaming and flapping hands was my only way to communicate. Spinning was another favorite. I'd sit on the floor and twirl around. This self-stimulatory behavior made me feel powerful, in control.
"Mechanism in the inner ear controls balance and integrates visual and vestibular input. Through a series of nerve connections the eyes, after some amount of spinning, will start jumping about, and the stomach gets queasy. Autistic kids demand more spinning as a kind of corrective factor in their immature nervous system. When I was preoccupied with a spinning coin, I saw nothing and heard nothing. It was as if I were deaf.
"Autistic kids are over-responsive to some stimuli and under-sensitive to other stimuli. Could this be due to an inability to integrate incoming sensory input and choose which stimulus to attend to?" The answer is yes and it is an important answer. It has led Temple Grandin to advise families to call on the services of sensory integration specialists who can help the child make some progress.
I am writing this series of articles on Autism Ideas in conjunction with a larger theme I have been working on, and which is described in my book "Prosecution for Treason" (free, online, to all comers!). Its subtitle is "Weather War, Epidemics, and Mind Control." The key word here is "Epidemics." I consider it settled that the AIDS epidemic is a well-planned genocide. Could autism, too, be something that was deliberately leashed on the population?
Reading the online magazine "Age of Autism" has also stimulated my interest. I am duly furious about what has been going on, with doctors and government making families of autistics look like baddies. The parents' 'bad behavior' has consisted both of looking for new treatments ­ now more correctly called 'interventions' ­ for their children, such as vitamins and art therapy, and for taking a position (rightly or wrongly) against vaccinations. Some of them have become activists -- God forbid.
Here is an example of the crazy put-downs by doctors that demoralize citizens here in Australia (and demoralize many doctors too).This is from the Channel 7show 'Sunrise':
Channel 7:Well, heated debate continues over plans to vaccinate a million Australians against Meningococcal disease. Some groups say it could even cost more lives than it saves.. Here with us from Lismore is Meryl Dorey from the [activist] Australian Vaccination Network. And from Adelaide we're joined by Doctor Trevor Mudge from the Australian Medical Association.
Meryl, just to start with you, why are you against the (meningococcal) vaccination process? DOREY: Well, I believe that this vaccination has not been investigated thoroughly by the government. If you look at the information from the manufacturer, it says specifically that this vaccination has never been tested for effectiveness. And when we look at what's happened overseas with this vaccination, we see that when they used it in the United Kingdom they had over 16,000 serious adverse reactions.
Channel 7: Trevor, some frightening statistics that Meryl's just given us there. 16,000 adverse reactions. What's your comment? MUDGE: Well, I haven't seen that data, but the history of the anti-vaccination movement is that the science doesn't hold up. Their claims really have never had any scientific veracity, and I doubt very much if this one has either.
Channel 7: So do you not see the vaccination as any more dangerous than any other? MUDGE: There's absolutely no reason in theory, or indeed in the wide experience in the UK, to suggest that it does anything other than save lives.
DOREY: Well, I find that absolutely shocking, I've got to say. Because all of the statements that my [Meryl Dorey's] organization issues are backed by references. And almost always from medical journals. And I have the papers on 16,000 serious adverse reactions and I have faxed that around to quite a few news media. We simply rely on overseas testing and many times that testing is funded lock, stock and barrel by the very same companies that actually release the vaccines to market.
Channel 7: Trevor, are you saying that Meryl's claim could be responsible for more damage than the vaccines could? [Note: I take that to be a planted question.] MUDGE: Oh, absolutely. Look, I think if you look worldwide the anti-vaccine movement has been responsible for a number of deaths and I think that they really should not be given any scientific veracity at all.
In my opinion, Mudge was probably programmed to answer the way he did. I tend to judge who is programmed according to the (small) amount of embarrassment they show when delivering foolish talk. Many evince no embarrassment at all. Now consider the fact that the Australian Medical Association is so proud of Dr Mudge's performance that it has published the entire Channel 7 interview. (It's at ama.com.au/node/583.) Would you say we are in trouble?
The mission I'm on (yes, mission) is to not let those things pass uncriticized. My general approach is "It doesn't have to be like this." I hope you agree!
Please stay tuned for further episodes in my little series of articles about autism. The next one, entitled, "Offit, Come Off It," reviews a book by pediatrician Paul Offit, who seems to think the within-science censorship of anti-vaccine research is quite acceptable. Fancy that. The article after that one will be about "Finding the Causes of Autism."
Mary W Maxwell, PhD, is the editor of "The Sociobiological Imagination." She can be found at credosbooks.com. As for Ms Grandin, she is the subject of a new Home Box Office movie. If you don't have access to that, you can see her 'author's video;' at Amazon.com.
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