I myself had very little interest in autism, Asperger's syndrome and such behavioral and brain conditions until April 2012 when I heard the father of a 25 year old low-functioning autistic son give a talk on the subject to my Asheville-Blue Ridge Torch Club. It was a brilliant presentation by a professor of biology, telling of over two decades of concern and care for a child by the speaker and his wife who is a cardiac surgeon. They moved from Florida to North Carolina after discovering that better care for their son was available in the Tarheel State. The non-autistic parents and their several non-autistic other children had their lives changed forever as seven or eight different treatments of their son were tried one after another, usually at no little expense and with heartbreaking results.
This was the first family that my wife and I had ever known face-to-face who lived with and raised into virtually non-functioning adulthood an autistic child. Let me make two points.
-- My first point is: I am a newcomer to this field.
-- My second point is that Mary Temple Grandin is not writing for "beginners" like me in her soon to be published THE AUTISTIC BRAIN: THINKING ACROSS THE SPECTRUM. Her natural readers are autistic or have family members who are. I found Grandin's book a fascinating but in many parts an unusually tough read. My personal unfamiliarity going in to this book with definitions, scientific jargon from different fields and with real-life autistic people will not, I think, be so much a problem for the thousands of readers already familiar with Grandin's other ten published, co-authored works on her life of learning to cope with personal high-functioning autism.
It did not take long for even novices like my wife and me to run across Temple Grandin, PhD. You can read about her latest book on her own web site. You will find much more about her simply by googling. You can watch via netflix.com or otherwise the 2010 biopic of her life: Temple Grandin, starring Emmy winner Claire Danes as Mary Temple Grandin. She is a striking, very original, tenacious and creative human being.
There are several ways for to read THE AUTISTIC BRAIN -- depending on how much you already know about either the author or about autism and Asperger's.
-- (1) If you know little of author Grandin, then skim through the whole book, picking up snippets of her challenged life and her dogged responses. You will meet her mother who brought Mary Temple at age five to a neurologist for evaluation. You will meet Temple's seminal high school teacher and mentor who made her believe that she could become a scientist. You will learn her strengths and weaknesses and how she learned to build on the one and work around the other. See Temple Grandin becoming a livestock professional after summers at her grandmother's ranch. See her mind develop in universities and through targeted reading, discussions, debates, conversations with other autistics and through lecturing.
-- (2) If you already know much about the author, have read her books closely or have gone beyond all that to becoming a devoted, grateful fan, probably autistic yourself or in a family with a member with autism or Asperger's syndrome, then read what Temple Grandin and her science writer co-author Richard Panek have to say about neurology, psychology, psychiatry, brain scans, genetics and much more. I was impressed with the survey of dozens of pieces of scientific literature in each of these and other specialities, with some of the book's citations having been published as late as 2012. She dates the sciences of autism from 1943 in Austria and 1944 at Johns Hopkins University. And Temple Grandin leads us along the histories of "the autism spectrum" disciplines decade by accelerating and exciting decade right through 2012.
--- (3) Regarding autistics and Asperger people, learn the salient features, sometimes rather fuzzy, characterizing people located at various points along the autism spectrum as well as what distinguishes the distinctly different Asperger's community. Find out the revolutions in education and treatment that Dr Grandin sees as part of the coming "third age" in autism science and pedagogy. Flexibility is required. Just because a rigid high school curriculum demands that algebra be studied before plane geometry, don't force a youngster who, like Grandin herself, cannot do algebra, to do algebra! Let her instead do plane geometry right NOW. She may prove to be brilliant at it.
Temple Grandin is now 65. She has been consciously wrestling with autistic behavior and its causes for six decades. She professes modestly to have "at least a little insight" into autism and Asperger's (Ch. 8). She slowly comes to see autism as a brain problem, not a mind or will-power problem. Every human brain is unique. And rapidly advancing scanning and testing techniques lead the author to expect a future in which autism and related human conditions will be studied brain by brain. And austistic people will be treated one by one, neither as "afflicted ones" to be pitied nor as statistical abstractions. Touch-screen computers, iPADs and the like are opening new worlds to "Aspies" and autistics. There are jobs "out there" for autistics and Aspies who must first be socialized into politeness and team work. Learn to "see past the social awkwardness to the hidden talents" of people like Temple Grandin (Ch. 8)
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