The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum by Dr. Temple Grandin (Full Transcript)

Well, who made search engines? Some people that are much more linear in their thinking don’t like the way the search engine works. I like the way it works just fine. And one of the things I got to teach my students is, you got to use all the different keywords.

All right, let’s just take cattle, for example. There’s bulls, cows, cattle, bovines, calf, calves. You got to use all those different words. That’s really obvious to me. And I find if you use all the different words, you find a lot of papers you wouldn’t find otherwise. Now the price I paid for this circuit is I have less bandwidth for the speak what you see. So I had speech delay. Didn’t talk until age four. And I couldn’t get my words out. See, there’s always a price. This scanner was originally paid for by the Defense Department to look at veterans’ head injuries. And if this had been an injured circuit, it would look like dried spaghetti and went crunch and broke about half of them. I’ll tell you, the football players doesn’t look very pretty.

Okay, now this is another scan that was done at the University of Utah and presented at the Neuroscience Meeting. And the blue part is basically full of cerebrospinal fluid. It’s full of water. And you can see, I’ve got a big asymmetry there. I got visual thinking and my math department got trashed. See, where I think innate differences make the biggest difference is either in real deficit in something or an extreme ability in something. Yes, there’s brain plasticity. But that’s happening in the gray matter out on the edges. Those big white fiber bundles, I don’t think you grow those big axons back. I mean, they’re that long.

Malcolm Gladwell says if you have enough practice and you have enough access to services, anyone can learn anything. Well, back in ’68, Bill Gates and I had access to this exact same computer system. I wanted to learn how to program it, it was just hopeless. Algebra, just hopeless. I wanted to become an expert skier. I could never keep them together. I could get to the good intermediate stage. I mean, I could ski recreationally. But get really good? There were other kids, one winter they’d be experts. Well, I just couldn’t do computer programming, no matter how hard I tried. I agree with Gladwell about the practice, and of course, the access to the teaching. You know, you have to develop abilities. This is probably one of my most important slides. The different kinds of minds slide.

I am a photo-realistic visual thinker. An object visualizer. Lot of people in programming are a pattern visualizer, a spatial visualizer. See, in your brain you have circuits for what is something? That’s me. And then you got circuits for where is something? And people that are super good at the where is something located in space tend to not be so good at the object visualization. And the pattern thinkers are also often good at math. These kids often have trouble with reading. I hear stories where they’re having handwriting problems and they won’t let them type a laptop. That’s just stupid.

Another thing that I hear that’s really bad — political correctness gone crazy– is you’ve got a fourth grader bored doing baby math. And they make them do baby math and they don’t give them the more advanced book. That’s just ridiculous. You can get into a situation where a kid may be gifted in math but need special ed in reading.

Now I like to bust out of the silos. Everybody tends to get inside their own box. There’s a text box. There’s a farm and ranch box. There’s a gifted box. And there’s an autism box or silos. And I like to pick out my speaking engagements so I like to get a little mixture of all these different things. Because I’m seeing something that kind of disturbs me. I go to an autism meeting and a geeky little 10 year-old walks up to me, a real smart little 10 year-old, and he’s fixated on his autism. And sometimes they get kind of a handicap mentality and they’re not learning basic stuff, like saying please and thank you.

Learning just basic skills. Kind of get over protected. Then I go to a gifted meeting. The same little geeky kid comes up to me, but he wants to tell me about what he saw under the Brock Magiscope, which is a really cool little children’s microscope. And then I go to a place like this, all full of undiagnosed little bit on the spectrum. Avoid the labels like the plague, because it might hold you back.

Now where learning about autism can really help some of you guys here is in your relationships. You don’t need to go out and get diagnosed, but just reading about it, that can help you out. And then I go over to the farm and ranch and the meat world, and I go to this big huge meatpacking plant. And there’s this old gray haired hippie and he runs the maintenance shop. And he’s out there playing with the giant LEGOs putting up a new cooler. Big huge concrete LEGOs, you use a crane to put them up. And he’s pure spectrum, but he had welding in high school.

The worst things they’ve done in the high schools is taken the hands-on classes. In fact, at JPL they make all the metal parts of something like the Mars lander, they make them there in shops. And they’re having problems finding who’s going to replace the machinists when they retire.

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