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

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

Well, my fear center was bigger than normal. Well, that’s controlled now with antidepressant medication. Little Prozac Us visual thinkers, panic monsters. I know a lot of visual thinkers where a little dab of Prozac in the morning, or Lexapro or Zoloft, stops the anxiety. Then you’re not getting whacked out on drugs and alcohol. Cerebellum’s smaller, so I’ve got really bad balance. Simple accommodations in the workplace. Some people have got to get away from the 60 cycle fluorescent lights. They need a quiet place to work. Open office plan and I got to do serious writing, doesn’t work.

The other thing that doesn’t work with people that are on the autism spectrum is a sudden change in work routine. They come into work and they just go okay, we’re yanking out all the office cubicles today and we’re going to move them. Okay, if we’re going to do that, let’s have some warning. Maybe a week at least of warning. And I still can’t tolerate scratchy clothes. Scratchy clothes just horrible. Like sandpaper. Some cotton itches, other cotton doesn’t itch.

Now the thing is it’s okay for geeks to cry. When the space shuttle got shut down, there were a lot of people crying on “60 Minutes.” And I got thrown out of a large girls school for throwing a book at a girl who teased me. And when I went to boarding school, I got in a fistfight in the cafeteria after a guy called name – some name. And they took horseback riding away for two weeks. I still had to clean the barn, but no horseback riding. And somehow I switched to crying. It’s okay for geeks to cry. That’s perfectly okay. And I would go and hide in the electrical room, because the tech companies don’t tolerate any violence. I have to say that it made me chuckle to look in the clean room at JPL and here’s this big giant Craftsman tool chest there. To think that bolts on the Mars lander were tightened by a tool kept in a Craftsman tools chest. But you better not throw that tool, otherwise it’s bye-bye job. It’s that simple.

It takes a village to raise a child. We got to figure out how we can all work together to make things work. Because I’m seeing too many smart kids going down the wrong road. I go to the gifted meeting, he’s going down one road. I go to the autism meeting, and you’ve got one situation where a kid that ought to be headed for Google is put in a class with kids that don’t talk. Then I go to another school system and he’s headed in the right direction really beautifully. It’s very, very, very variable. But these two silos don’t talk. Because if I look at the book table for the gifted meeting and the autism meeting, there might be a 5% overlap in the books. There should be more like a 25% overlap in the books. They’re not talking to each other. We got to get people together.

As I say, one geek goes to Google in Silicon Valley, maybe JPL. There’s another geek that goes to Hollywood and that stuff. And unfortunately, there’s a brilliant geek that is going to the basement to play video games for 10 hours a day and he gets Social Security for it. That’s not where I want him going. No. We’ve got to reach out, get to these kids. And you know what? We got to hook them in middle school. Middle school is where we got to hook them. And some states now are putting skilled trades back in.

Okay, I think that finishes up what I have to say. But I’ve got time for questions. Always like to do some questions.

Question-and-Answer Session

Audience: I’m curious over the course of your career, you’ve shared a lot of the insights you had about the experience of animals in slaughterhouses. I’m curious about what kinds of things you learned over your career. Like where maybe you can look back on some of your earlier work and see oh, this is what I understand so much more deeply now?

Dr. Temple Grandin: Well, there’s a lot of things, I mean, for one thing in the ’70s, my first professional group was the American Society of Agricultural Engineering, I thought I could fix the world with engineering. I absolutely believed that everything could be fixed with engineering. I now realize only half of it can be fixed with engineering. And I had a major equipment failure, which was a real epiphany. I was hired by a company in 1980 to run the old slaughter plants. The pigs had to walk up to the third floor in the real old plants. And they wanted me to build a conveyor system to put in the floor of the chute to take the pigs up this ramp. And I said, I’ll design that.

Well, the problem is it flipped all the pigs over backwards. And it did not work and we had to tear it out. But then I started realizing now why are some pigs not capable of walking up this ramp? Well, I start getting the ID numbers off of the different pigs and I found out that all the pigs that a problem came from one farm. And they had a genetic problem called spraddle leg, where the hips are very, very weak. What I should have done, by trying to make a conveyor, that was treating a symptom of a problem. We should have gone back to the source. For a fraction of the cost of this mess that we had, we could have bought that farm new boars — five or six new boars is all it would have taken, just a few thousand dollars — and gotten rid of that genetic problem. Would have solved it.

One thing I learned from that is you’ve got to treat problem at its source, rather than treating a symptom of a problem. Now I went into about a six month depression over that. That was not fun. But I learned a really important lesson from that.

Female Speaker: So we’re out of time now. So please everybody join me in thanking Temple Grandin for coming to Google.


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