Title: The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum – Transcript
Event: Talks at Google
Speaker: Dr. Temple Grandin
Brief Description: Dr. Temple Grandin comes to Google to talk about her book: The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum.
Introducing Speaker: Please welcome Dr. Temple Grandin.
Temple Grandin – Author, Thinking in Pictures
It’s really great to be here today. I’m going to talk about a lot of different things. I was one of those kids that was kind of different growing up, bullied and teased in school. And the thing that saved me was my science teacher. I had a great science teacher that got me interested in doing all kinds of interesting projects — which brings it down to you want to get kids doing interesting stuff, you’re going to have to show them interesting stuff.
There’s a scene in the HBO movie where I got really interested in optical illusion rooms. Well, and I actually saw that optical illusion room on a Bell Labs 16 millimeter movie – now I’m showing how long ago that was — on optical illusions. So you know, got to get them out there and show them stuff.
Now the thing is, what I want to do is to get you thinking about different kinds of minds that think differently. When I was in 20s, 30s, and early 40s, I thought that everybody thought the same way that I think. Then I asked this question, and this is where I learned how thinking can be different. Access your memory on a church steeple. How does that information come into your mind? I was shocked to find out that a lot of people get this vague, generalized thing. I don’t have any vague generalized thing. I only have specific ones.
Now you might ask, why am I talking about church steeples? Why don’t I ask house or car? Well, most people are so familiar with their own home or their own car, that they’re going to see that. But I wanted to ask you something you don’t own, but they’re out there and you have to see them and everybody knows what they are. And you have to see a whole lot of them. You just can’t even drive around without seeing them. And that really started giving me some real insight that different people think differently.
So then I divided the world into people that think in words and people that think in pictures. And then I started to — well, wait a minute. There’s this other kind of person that thinks in patterns. This is more the mathematical kind of mind.
Now when does something become an abnormality? Well, you get a little bit of the autism trait, you take out some social stuff in the brain, and you get geek traits for all kinds of fun tech stuff. I think a brain can either be made more cognitive or more thinking, or a brain can be made more social. Because after all, who invented the first stone spear? It wasn’t the yack-yacks around the campfire, that’s for sure.
It was some geek out there in the back of the cave chipping away at a rock and figured out how to get it fastened to a stick and make a stone spear. You see, you get a little bit of that autism trait, you get some advantages. You get too much of the trait, you get a very, very severe handicap. Because one of the big problems that you got with the autism spectrum is it’s so huge. At one end, you have got lot of people, probably people like Tesla, who invented the power plant. You got a lot of people in Silicon Valley. There’s a lot of them that are alive. I don’t talk about live ones. I’m only going to talk about dead ones when I show their pictures. You know who all the live ones are. You can look them up in “Business Week” magazine, and it’s really, really obvious.
But you get a little bit of – you know, you get the creative people. There tends to be relatives of people that may have bipolar disorder. There’s more techies in the autism careers. Now the thing is, an autism diagnosis is not precise. And over the years they kept changing the diagnosis. In the early ’90s, they put in Asperger’s, where now just geeks and nerds with no speech delay become autistic. Then in 2013 they took that out. So now you’ve got this great big mucky autism diagnosis that goes from heads of Silicon Valley companies down to people that remain nonverbal and cannot dress themselves. So you’ve got this huge spectrum.
Okay, maybe that’s heresy that I put his picture up here. But I promised that I would only talk about dead ones and stuff I could dig off of publicly available things, like a very popular book that’s out now. Now the thing I want to get you to think about is what would happen to little Albert today. Little Albert Einstein. He had no language until he was three years old. Wasn’t very social, liked to line up blocks. He’d probably be labeled autistic spectrum today.
And little Stevie. Oh, weird loner. This is right out of publicly available information. A weird, weird loner that brought snakes to his elementary school and turned them loose. And then he was bullied and bullied and bullied and teased, and what saved him was getting out in the neighborhood computer club. This brings up a really important thing. Getting these teenagers that are kind of different, now today they’re getting addicted to video games. Sometimes getting addicted to video games and get an autism diagnosis and get paid Social Security to play video games. You have people saying I’m too much down on video games.
8Well, I was just down at JPL yesterday. And if you want to work at JPL all day and play video games at night, I don’t have a problem with that. What I’m getting concerned about is the kid that’s getting addicted to video games and they’re not getting a job at JPL. That concerns me very, very much. And so he was bullied. And then when he went to work for Atari, he was such a filthy slob they made him come in at night. No, being a filthy slob’s not okay. And there’s a scene in the movie where they slam down a deodorant and they said, “You stink. Use it.” That actually happened. This is where bosses are going to just have to give some instruction on how to behave at work. And being an absolutely filthy, dirty slob I don’t think is going to be very acceptable here either. It’s just too gross.
Now I like to look at personality differences sort of like a music mixing board. It’s not black and white. If I get a diagnosis for tuberculosis, that’s definite. I either got tuberculosis or I don’t. Or I’ve either had tuberculosis or I didn’t. So when I check the Australian customs form, which I did two months ago, I can check “I have never had tuberculosis.” That’s definite. When you see autism, that’s a much more gray area.
Geeks and nerds, when does that turn into mild autism? No black or white dividing line. It’s a continuous trait. And if you got rid of this trait completely, you won’t have any new employees. It’s just that simple.
Now I am a total visual thinker. I think in photo-realistic pictures. I don’t think in words. So when I think about designing something, I can test run it and see it in my head in 3D. Before 3D virtual reality computer programs were invented, I could sit in a conference room and they could try stuff. And I could say, well yeah, if you do that, that’s not going to work.
And you might wonder why is the chute curved? Well, as the cattle come on around the bend, they think they’re going back to where they came from. And that’s one of the reasons why that works. I always get asked all the time questions like, do cows know they’re going to get slaughtered? I had to answer that question very early in my career. And I found they behaved exactly the same way at a slaughter plant as they behaved going up a chute for the veterinarian. It’s not stress free. But the amount of stress they have in both of those places is approximately the same.
In fact, I just updated that literature for my class slides and it’s still the same. They tell us to do blood samples in both places. Yeah, it can vary from very little stress to higher stress, but it’s about the same in the two different places. Well, when you’re a weird geek, one of the things I’ve found is that the way that I had to sell myself was by showing off my work. You sell your work rather than yourself. So I put portfolios together. Okay, I’d say the quality of this projector’s about medium good. I’ve had ones where it’s shown up better than this.
Now the thing is when I first started out, I’d go to the AG engineering meeting and they thought I was really weird. No one wanted to talk to me. And then I whipped out a big foldout drawing. Then I started to get respect. That’s selling your work. And the thing I learned about my portfolio, you want to make a portfolio where someone looks at it and 30 seconds later it’s “wow!” Don’t put too much junk in a portfolio. You just put enough stuff in there so look at it really quickly, wow this person really can do some stuff.
Now I used to joke around that I had huge internet access to my visual cortex. Well, turns out I’ve got a pretty big circuit there. And that’s probably in the top 10% or so of circuits going from the frontal cortex all the way deep to the back of the visual cortex where the graphics files are stored.
Now Walter Schneider at the University of Pittsburgh has a new scanning technology, which I’m sure some Asperger people had to develop the computer to enable this scanner to track white matter fibers. So your brain’s got the gray matter on the outside. And the inside of the brain is all white matter, big long axons that go all the way across the brain that form cable bundles. And this new technology can actually dissect out the cable bundles. It can tell the difference between a bridge that cross each other or an intersection. And that took a lot of computer power, and they can fit it inside a box that Walter can pick up. And so I’m an associative thinker, so start thinking about that song. You can get eight great tomatoes in that itty-bitty can. That’s an ancient old ad for tomato sauce. So that came up. You can get lots of computing in an itty-bitty box. That’s sort of how my mind works.
Okay, now this is the cable bundle for speak what you see. And it goes from the visual cortex up to the language area. That’s the normal one. And that’s mine. And those branches, you can see they’ve been truncated there on that rendering, they actually go all over the brain. So I basically have got a search engine — it’s a lot like Google for images – where you type in keywords and I get lots of pictures. And they are specific! The thing I find so fascinating about search engines is they work just like how my mind works.
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.
Now a third kind of thinker is the verbal facts thinker. They know everything about whatever their favorite subject is and they’re a verbal thinker. Now so-called normal people, they are mixtures of these different kinds of thinking. But I’m finding, when you get into autism programs, there’s an awful lot of smart kids that ought to get headed down a track towards Google or JPL, that the teachers and the schools are having a hard time shifting gears 8on how to deal with the nonverbal kids and they got smart, geeky, kids in that same class. It’s a really, really big problem. Because I can think of kids I went to school with when I was in college that I know are on the spectrum today. But the problem that the parents of little kids have and the schools have, in order to get a service, you have to have a label.
Now I don’t think it hurts a kid when he’s three to put a label on him to get speech therapy. But then you get the kid that’s 10 or 12 years old getting bullied in school, and he gets a label because you get bullied in school. And Steve Jobs was one of the kids with — well, they had to take him out of one school, put him in another school in Cupertino. And fortunately, he had a dad that had a machine shop. That was another thing that was his salvation. He was doing hands-on things.
Now I know that Steve Jobs may not be the best thing to be mentioning here. But I only can talk about the dead ones where I have information I’ve gotten off of publicly available things like books and “Business Week” magazine, which I’ve read carefully. Now in “The Autistic Brain” book, I now show evidence that these two kinds of visualizers actually do exist. Today the schools are all about evidence based. Well, Marie Kozhevnikof’s work. Surfing the internet, three o’clock in the morning, I, found her stuff about the two kinds of visualizers. This PET brain scan study show that these two kinds of visualizers exist. I was so happy when I found this. Because I had just observed these things just on my own.
And when I did my TED talk, I hadn’t found these references yet. And they weren’t very easy to find. There’s kind of a bias about innate ability. No, everyone’s not the same. Yes, there’s a lot of plasticity. You got a lot of people here in the middle. You can get them pretty good at programming up to here or whatever, but you probably won’t get them to here. They can move back and forth in the middle. That gray matter’s got a lot of plasticity. But then you’ve got these great big huge white matter cables.
Well, you’re kind of born with those things. Okay, there’s two ways you can do the math. You can do it the verbal way, or you can do it the more visual spatial way. And there’s kids that can just do the math in their head. And the school says well, you can’t do that. They don’t get it that he thinks differently. Well, I’m saying let him do it in his head. But we will take some precautions against cheating. So we’re going to put him in a room stripped of everything electronic, and if he can do it, then just absolutely fine.
Now I just want to show you something that’s definitely not my mind. That praying mantis is made out of a single sheet of folded paper. No cutting, no tape. And what you see in the background, that is the folding pattern. And people look at that and go, wow. Well, there’s no way I could start with a square piece of paper and make it into a praying mantis. That’s not my mind. And here are some great little origami stars that some kids gave me. Well, they need to be in the advanced math class. Now my thing was art. And when I was in elementary school, my ability in art was always encouraged. And I was encouraged to do lots of different things. So I wasn’t just drawing the same horse head over and over again. You got to take the things they’re fixated on and broaden it out, because you’ve got to learn how to do stuff other people are going to want. I always like to show my drawings off again.
And here’s a beautiful bridge that Jessy Park drew. She was more moderate. Well, her favorite thing used to be electric blanket controls. Well, we had to get her off of that. And while on the subject of bridges, I think our governments are going crazy when you’ve got a governor and his aides are deliberately creating traffic jams on a bridge. The one that looks just like this. This is absolutely ridiculous! They’re getting totally separated from reality. We have great things going on with private industry docking with the space station. But instead we have a stupid thing on the news this morning about government officials messing up traffic on purpose on a bridge, and some dumb thing about I think sports players getting scared by their own mascot. I mean, that was on the news this morning when I was having breakfast. I think there’s more important things to have on the news than that. And these people, as far as causing a traffic jam on a bridge, that’s the kind of mindset of about an eight year-old. It’s also something that I would have learned when I was eight years old that you don’t do stuff like that because it inconveniences other people.
You don’t do those kind of things because you wouldn’t like if you were in that traffic jam. It’s just that simple. There’s some other gorgeous artwork made by a person that was at mid-level on their autism spectrum.
All right, now I’m going to tell you math people why you need to have us art minds. One of the things that really worries me, with all the STEM emphasis– and we’re going to have to have algebra now. How could I get through college with algebra? Know how I got through college? Because thank goodness for the educational fads of 1967. And in 1967, the required math class was finite math. Probability, matrices, and statistics. Bit more visual, tons of tutoring. I managed to get through it. But the engineering mind does need the art mind. Because I’ve learned there’s certain things the engineering mind doesn’t see.
Now what’s there? I don’t know if that came from — I got a satellite image. I don’t know if it’s Google’s or not. I did get that off the internet. I certainly wasn’t going to fly over it and get my own picture of the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Not something you want to get very, very near, that’s for sure. Because sometimes the most obvious is the least obvious. So I was getting all these newspapers, all this stuff, and reading about it on a plane because I find this stuff interesting.
And when I found out why this happened, I’m going how could you do this? I can’t design a nuclear reactor, there’s no way. But if I had been drawing the concrete work for the plant and doing my site elevation drawings, there’s no way I would have made a mistake they made. All I have to know about a nuclear reactor is if the emergency pump fails to work after you’ve scrammed it– see it doesn’t quite get turned off all the way – it burns up and you’re in so much trouble it’s not funny. That’s all I have to know about it.
Well okay, earthquake broke all the power lines and everything. There’s no electric power to run the main stuff, so they had to scram it. And what happened is the emergency generators that ran the emergency equipment were in a non-waterproof basement. How could you make a mistake that basic? Now when I was young, I used to think, well stupidity. No. I found the mathematical mind doesn’t see it. I could see the water smashing out the baby blue louvers. This plant was painted baby blue, of all colors, with little clouds on the top of the boxes, make it look innocent and pretty. See those baby blue louvers getting busted out. And two seconds later, those big generators, all the electric panels under water, and it’s not going to work. There’s no way I would have done that.
I mean, I would’ve been going to every shipbuilding company that there was and say, I want catalogs on all your waterproof doors. I want to try out all your waterproof doors. I want to find waterproof doors that are really easy to open, don’t have to have training to open and close them, close really tight, obvious when they’re closed. And it wouldn’t have happened. This is why you really need all the different kinds of minds.
Now I’ve been thinking about a lot of other things too. You see, because I can visualize ways that it can break. Especially anything mechanical sort of stuff. Okay, Steve Jobs went to college. And he also did a calligraphy class, which he didn’t pay for. But it really influenced computing, and all the computers have nice fonts as a result of that. And he was an artist. He developed the interface for the phones. Oh, and I know there’s a lot of bad blood going on with the lawsuits. I read all about that. Steve wanted to go thermonuclear on Android. I know all about that kind of stuff. But again, I can only talk about the dead ones. So that’s the reason why I have these slides.
But one of the points I’m trying to get across is he wasn’t an engineer. This is where you need to have the art mind and the engineering minds working together on projects. They have complementary skills. Well, there’s a big debate right now that maybe humanities programs are just useless in colleges. I was at a state about two years ago that’ll remain nameless. But their governor said they wanted to charge extra tuition at the state university for humanities classes. And so the “Chronicle of Higher Education” David Barash said that the connection between Steve Jobs and so-called useless humanities programs, such as calligraphy, cannot be ignored.
Now one thing about calligraphy is it’s a hands-on class. You actually have to do it. And there is a need for humanities. I thought this was really interesting. You want evidence based? “Science,” the premiere journal, that when students read serious literary fiction, helps them with some of their social skills, rather than just reading the latest Steven King or something like that, or Michael Chrichton. I have to say, those are the kind of books I like when I’m on a long airplane flight and it’s really boring.
Okay, some of the other work I’ve done with livestock was to look at the things that they’re scared of. They’re going up a chute in a strange place, meat plant for example. They were afraid of a lot of little things. Shadows, reflections, chains hanging down, seeing people standing up ahead. Things that we tend to not notice. And if you take those distractions out, maybe change a light to get rid of a reflection, add a light because they don’t like going to a dark hole, then they would move through the chute more easily, especially when it was in a strange place.
Now how many people here noticed this animal is locked onto that sunbeam like radar? Raise your hand if you noticed that. Okay, we’re doing pretty good here. JPL a little bit better than here. Well see, that’s purely the visual thinking sort of stuff. Well I know there’s some people interested in animal issues, so I think I’ll talk a little bit about some of the things I’ve done.
When I was young, I used to think I could fix everything with equipment. If I could just build the right magic system, everything would be perfect. What I found is equipment’s only half the equation. The other half is management, and management wanting to do things right. Now I have a saying. Heat softens steel. And then people like me who want to reform things can now shape it and bend it into pretty grill work. And when McDonald’s, back in 1997, decided that they were going to do something about bad stuff going on in slaughterhouses, that resulted in a lot of change. And it was my job to implement it. And I came up with a very simple scoring system that was like traffic rules for slaughter houses. And if you didn’t follow certain rules and make certain numbers, you failed the McDonald’s audit. 95% of the cattle dead on the first shot or you fail the audit. You’ve got to get them all dead before you hang them up. Only three animals are allowed to moo and bellow in the stunning area. Only 1% falling.
And if you want a real excellent score, only 5% can get hit with the electric prod if you want excellent score. Simple, very simple. You see, these are outcome measures. I’m not telling you how to build the plant. They are very simple outcome measures. And it worked because it was very objective and very, very simple. When big customers say that something’s got to be changed, then things are going to be changed. Walmart has just come out with a big statement they came out with two days ago on putting video cameras in swine houses to make sure people aren’t beating the pigs up with gate rods or throwing up piglets or doing some other really nasty thing like that. I’m sure you’ve all seen that show “Undercover Boss.” I think that’s a great show. I saw those kind of bosses’ eyes opened up moments when I took some of the executives from some of the large hamburger restaurants on their first trip to farms and slaughterhouses.
I remember the day — this was back in 1999 or 1998, around that time — when one of the executives saw a half-dead dairy cow go into their product. Boy, that was a real undercover boss moment. I’d like to do another show called “Undercover Legislature.”
Okay, let’s take people who do things like deliberately cause traffic jams. And we’ve got a real, real special trailer set up for them. It’s about 10 miles from the local Walmart. And we’re going to drop him off there. He’ll just have his license in his wallet, that’s all. There’ll be a $50 debit card on the counter, a Walmart pen, couple of beans on the shelf, this much gas in the car. Okay, you report to work tomorrow at Walmart. You’re going to be there for two months. And we’ve taken away your medical insurance card. Let’s let them get a taste of what some people are actually up against. Living in a total rarefied world.
Now look at how the horse and the zebra put an ear on each other. And then the other ear is on me. Watch, animals it’s all about details. All about details. Well, there’s what the entrance to a slaughter plant looks like. In fact, I saw your great Google Earth thing there. Think I’ll go Google Earth a few of my jobs. That’s always fun. And I show this slide to my students and I’ll say, okay now tell me what I can improve here, what is bad here. Well, with one thing that’s good is inside the tunnel, I got white translucent plastic. So they’re not going into a dark hole. But the bad thing is — and I’d say about half my students don’t notice it — is you’ve got three people standing right where they should not be standing.
Then sometimes the most obvious is the least obvious. Now there’s evidence that in the normal human brain, language covers up art and mathematics. Because there’s a type of Alzheimer’s that when the language parts of the brain get wrecked, art comes out for about three or four years. And when van Gogh was painting “Starry Night,” I don’t think he realized he was putting mathematics on it. And there’s going to be a new book coming out on a guy who got in a bar fight and got bashed on the head. And now he’s a mathematician studying physics. Sort of got his inner mathematician turned loose. Yep, there’s a lot of things that we don’t know about the brain.
Now an important thing, understanding someone who thinks the way I do, is I’m a bottom up thinker. My approach to things, it was my same approach on developing equipment for livestock, was to go around and look at all of the state of the art. You go download, you’d get all the patents. Well, we couldn’t download them when I was doing it. We had to write to the Patent Office and get them. It was a real pain. But you’d get all the patents, you’d get all the state of the art. Go around, visit all these places and try to get the good ideas, chuck out the bad ideas. In other words, it’s bottom up thinking rather than top down.
Well today what’s happening, especially in those government stuff, too much top down. Very vague things. But concepts are formed by specific examples. When I was a young child, cats and dogs. Okay, all the cat pictures in this file, all the dog pictures in this file. Well, when I was very young, I could sort cats from dogs by size. Until our next door neighbor got a daschund. Okay, now I can no longer use size as a visual criterion for cat versus dog. So then I noticed they all had the same nose shape if they were dogs. So that was a visual feature that every dog has got. Everything’s learned by specific example.
So how do I learn what being nice or being bad is? Well, my mother would just correct me. Forgot to say please? Well, say please. That’s nice behavior. You wait politely in line at the movie theater. That’s nice behavior. You want to teach something like up or down, got to use a lot of different examples. Because there’s some kids with autism where if you say, put that in, just goes in the garbage. They need to learn that could be put that in the drawer, in the cupboard, in something else. Not necessarily in the garbage can. So up can walk up the stairs, I lifted up a cup, the plane flew up in the air. Lot of different examples.
My thinking is associative, just like how a search engine works. So if I’m at the Chicago airport — there quite often– I’ll look at that. Now I can start looking through Google for images of my head. A glass structure category, start going through that. Or I could start off in an airport category. There are no generalized pictures. This was something that was really a breakthrough in my thinking when I did the church steeple as my question rather than house or a car. Something that people weren’t quite so familiar with. Okay, glass structure. Biosphere in Arizona, Crystal Palace, greenhouse at Colorado State.
Now when I’m on this subject, I now am seeing a building that’s now under construction. Now I’m seeing other buildings that were under construction and the contractors used up 25 of our super valuable parking spaces for their trailers. Okay, so that’s how I got from glass structures to contractor trailers. Real sore point with me. I wasn’t home when they did that. I think I would have walked out there like I owned the place and told them to move their trailers. But once they got established, then you’re just stuck with it.
Did they ask permission to put those trailers there? I’m sure they did not. Okay, airport category. Now when you think about really big amounts of money, let’s start thinking about it in something the public can understand. This is worth $5 billion. And they’re building a new light rail and a new Westin. I got to get the price for that because that’s going to be quite a lot more than $5 billion when that’s done. But if we start thinking about some of these big amounts of money in something real like airport units, then people can really put it in perspective.
So you got Denver Airport, Dallas-Fort Worth, Minneapolis, Atlanta. And you’ve got the grungy old terminal at LaGuardia. And it’d be fun to explore that place. And when I asked an astrophysicist about the church steeples, he saw a motion of people singing and praying. I go, oh wow. Trippy. That is definitely not my mind. Now cattle will make a category. If they get used to being handled by a man on a horse, they’ve learned that’s safe. The first time they see the man on the ground, they panic. You see, it’s different. It’s a different picture. I’ve learned man on the horse is safe. Man on the ground’s new and scary. I can also learn that man on the ground is safe. But that’s something totally novel.
You see, most people wouldn’t think the man on the ground is something novel. Now I find when you’re trying to categorize problems, a lot of people have trouble categorizing where’s a problem coming from? Okay, if I got something wrong in a factory, is there’s something wrong with the equipment or something wrong with how people are operating that equipment? I find people often don’t make that differentiation. If it’s equipment problem, is it a glitch? Course with the meat plant– and I’ve done a lot of work with them – stuck trolley. Or is it a fundamental design problem? They don’t make that differentiation. I’ve got a problem with a kid in school. Does he have a biological problem? Maybe his tummy hurts so much that he can’t pay attention in school. Or does he just not want to do the work? It’s just strictly behavior?
Top down thinkers tend to overgeneralize, especially when they’re not doing practical things anymore. Well, I got this out of one of the tech magazines about dog fooding. You know, you got to use the stuff that you make. Then you really find out if it actually works. Policymakers need to be directly experience the consequences of their policies. And if you want to mess up traffic and cause a traffic jam, then you need to be stuck in the middle of the worst traffic jam. Well, there are the guys up at JPL. It was very cool to get to meet them. You know, kind of unconventional. t’s Okay to be eccentric. That’s OK.
Some of the most creative people are really, really eccentric and they’re doing marvelous things. And in talking to the public, we need to tell the public well, what are some of the spin offs from maybe some of the JPL stuff? Not stuff from the ’60s. That’s ancient history. Let’s look at inventions in the last 10 or 15 years. How about the active pixel sensor? That’s the heart of the cell phone camera. How about coding that’s involved that will help the phone to work from one cell phone tower to another cell phone tower? How about a mass spectrometer this big? Yeah, we have mass spectrometers the size of a giant desk. Well, you can put a sample in that and it’ll tell you what chemical’s in it. Well that would have a lot of really good useful uses.
Well, I was more interested in looking at pictures of things than pictures of people. But we need people interested in things. because the social yakity-yaks aren’t going to solve some of the energy problems and stuff like that. Let’s have some of the kids that are different. I don’t care if they’re labeled gifted, they’re labeled quirky, weird, nerds, or mild autism. One thing you got to do with these kids when they’re young is you got to stretch them just outside their comfort zone.
And the other thing is we need to be learning job skills. That needs to start at age 12. We need to find paper route substitutes. Things like walking dogs for the neighbors, things like maybe setting up chairs at the community center, something like that. One place where all my teachers and everybody drew a line, I wasn’t allowed to become a recluse in my room. That was absolutely not allowed. I had to get out and do things. Kids aren’t doing free play, which teaches valuable social skills. You know, dogs need to do this too when they’re young.
39:55Because if dogs don’t do this when they’re young, then they fight other dogs really viciously because they never learned how to get along. Taking out the hands-on classes was the worst thing the schools ever did. They took out cooking, sewing, woodworking, machine shop, welding. We have a shortage of skilled trades. I mean, JPL needs people to make the wheels and stuff for the Mars lander. Oh, there’s something really cool and really geeky about the wheels of “Curiosity.” I’m going to just let you figure it out. And I don’t know if I’m supposed to tell you or not. But it’s so geeky and anti-suit, it’s just really, really cool. But they need to have those machinists. It’s not going to work without them.
The other thing that’s bad about taking out hands-on classes is we’re losing resourceful problem solving. Even something as simple with cooking. You’re missing an ingredient? Can you do it with another ingredient? Of course in the ’50s, girls were taught sewing. So I had a wonderful toy sewing machine. I was in fourth grade. And I remember one project where I cut the fabric wrong and I ruined it as I got in rush. Some of the things you learn from doing hands on things. This is the stuff that saved me. These were things that were refuges away from teasing. Kids that did the teasing were not interested in woodworking or interested in riding horses.
I was also an Estes model rocketer. I loved model rockets. I was in the model rocket club. And I was horrified go on the Estes website about a month ago, and you can buy a ready-made rocket. That is disgusting. The whole point is to build them. And I made a few points with the other kids when I made a rocket that looked like our headmaster and he was aerodynamically stable and he flew. And I didn’t do much studying, but I was in a special boarding school for gifted kids with a lot of emotional problems. And instead of studying, I was remodeling [inaudible] house. But the headmaster let me do that because I was learning work skills. And a lot of these kids are not learning work skills. I cleaned a lot of horse stalls too when I was 15. Lots and lots of them. And I was responsible for the horse barn and making sure I always closed the feed box. Got to always close the grain box because a horse dies if eats out of the grain box. You’ve got to close it. I think we need to limit screen time with little kids.
The thing that I’m finding with electronics and with little kids is yeah, little kids want to play with electronics. But we need to get that teacher in there and get them taking turns. These kids have got to learn how to take turns. Well, I think we need to start making connections, physical connections between the virtual world and the real world. And one really enterprising mom, she went to the lumber yard, got some two by fours cut up, and then she brought them all home to the driveway and had the kids paint them to make Minecraft blocks in the driveway. In other words, linking the online world to the real world. Then her little autistic kid had lots of friends coming over to play with the Minecraft blocks.
Activities with animals. Get kids involved in activities they can do with other kids. 4H, FFA, robotics clubs, maker bot, 3D printing clubs. Get them involved in these things. My ability in art was always encouraged. We need to be working on building up the area of strength. The kid’s good at math, let him do more advanced classes. Use fixations to motivate. Great online sources.
Now I was reading that on Udacity or some of these things like this, that only 4% of the people took the entire class. I don’t consider that a failure. Because there’s an awful lot of people that might want to just look at some programming stuff and just take a couple of lessons to learn something they needed for work. Because back when I was doing hydraulic stuff all the time, I had all these books for hydraulics. And I didn’t need algebra, because I had all these tables for things like fluid flow. Look it up in the tables. And when I first started out, I took the first book and I did read the first book pretty well. But I didn’t read all the books. I used them as reference books. I think the thing they need to look at is how many of those people that went on Udacity took a few lessons as a reference and it helped them in their work. I think that’s something that needs to be looked at.
But I show this to a lot of parents that don’t realize there’s a lot of free stuff out there. And we got to do something about rural internet access. It is beyond awful. You cannot play videos. And you go out in the rural areas, you still got the mom and pop DVD stores because they don’t have movies otherwise. It’s just that simple. It is atrocious. Well, there’s the optical illusion room. I got fixated on that. And the movie did a nice job of showing me making it. And there’s one of my designs in SketchUp. I know you don’t own it anymore, but it’s great. I’ve seen some really great things going on with teenage kids doing SketchUp, and then they’re printing their stuff out with 3D printers. Really, really cool stuff. And I really liked this warning they had on the Maker Bot website. You need patience — that’s kind of a fiddly little machine. You get mad at it, you’re going to break it. Knowhow and a sense of adventure required. I really liked that thing they wrote on the website.
Yeah, you don’t design it right, your little thing is going to collapse in goo. You’re getting back to the real world. The other thing on something like this, people say well, they can’t afford that. Okay, it’s $1,500, $2,000. Look at all the monies getting spent on sports. That’s the price of one major league football uniform. It’s all it costs. Maybe two high school uniforms. It’s not very much money. I don’t want to hear that.
Now that’s just a kind of neat little thing I made. And this is some views through the Brock Magiscope, a great little really adorable little child’s microscopes. It’s $150. No fiddly mirror. Very easy for kids to use. You don’t have a glass slide in it. And I was so happy to go to gifted conference. It wasn’t the autism conference. I wish this had been at the autism conference. It was at the gifted conference. We had a hotel room about the size of this. And all these kids, they’d put the electronics away and they were playing with the Brock Magiscope. And they’re looking at pond scum and leaves. And it was really cool. Just got to show people. And you guys know about this stuff that’s on the internet. But I do a lot of talks in a lot of places, and I just want to give people ideas of cool things that are out there.
There’s some evidence that kids learning to write sometimes can help them on reading. On learning reading, maybe turn off all the bells and whistles and use the plain ebook, maybe just with still pictures. And you have them read to them. And they’re learning a story better. And again, this is refereed. Scientific stuff. We’re going evidence based here. Well, people need to touch to perceive. I had a really good time over at Pixar. They found that sometimes they got to get them off the computers and get them actually drawing. And when they print their figurines out on their 3D printer, they put them around the computer mouse so they could touch them. You got to touch to see. Got to do that. Science teacher. Boy, he helped me. Well, he was a NASA space scientist. Was he a credited teacher? No. No stupid ed courses for him. We got to get back to doing real things in this country. That’s what we got to do.
One thing a lot of employers want today is students who know how to work. This came up in a lot of things. I learned to sell my work, not myself. Also in working with some of the people that are different, you don’t take that employee and go, well just develop some new software. You want to say Okay, I want to make an app for the Android phone and it does this specific thing, it uses this language, this memory. You don’t tell them how do it, but it’s got certain parameters. Then okay, that’s easy to do. And when mistakes are made, the boss needs to just pull them aside in the office quietly, no yelling and screaming, and say, well you know, we had the project meeting last week and you called Jim a jerk in front of the other five colleagues. That’s not the Google way of doing things. Just don’t do that.
And I learned you can get some people that will sabotage a project due to jealousy. That was very, very difficult for me to deal with. And then you get other people where they just think differently. You kind of differentiate between the two. Well, if I was in a plant, one of my meat plant projects, and the plant engineer’s sitting like this — I was hired by the manager, he didn’t like this weird geek coming on his turf. I would pull him into project. And that oftentimes stopped that. Okay, tour guide. Great job for 12 year-olds. You got to demonstrate the correct distance to get from the visitor. Demonstrate the correct greeting. It’s just like coaching somebody in a foreign country. And there’s sensory issues. Some people just can’t stand a lot of noise, can’t stand 60 cycle fluorescent lights. You got a lot of sensory issues, and they can vary from being very mild to being very severe. This needs to be researched, and how to treat some of these problems.
When I was a little kid, loud sounds hurt my ears. I still absolutely hate the vacuum toilets in airplanes. And if I’d had to deal with those when I was five, I would have been sure I’d be sucked out of the airplane. My visual thinking mind went wild when I was six years old and they were remodeling our house. They had this big circular saw and I was afraid that maybe its blade would come up through the floor of my room. Which was just ludicrous. But when you’re maybe six years old, it wasn’t quite so ludicrous. I had trouble hearing hard constant sounds. So my speech teacher slowed down, enunciated the hard consonants. She’d say cup, and then shed say cuh-puh. Slow down, enunciate it so that I could hear it.
Attention shifting. I have problems with this. Somebody rings a cellphone off, I orient. Takes me much longer to shift back. Attention shifting slowness. Some people when they go to read, the print will jiggle on the page. That’s probably about 10% of students that are having some trouble in college. Doesn’t explain all autism. It doesn’t explain all dyslexia. But there’s something wrong with the circuits back here. Shape, color, emotion, texture. They’re not merging together right. And sometimes they can be fixed with a very simple thing. Like pale pink glasses, pale lavender glasses, different print your work on some different colored papers, maybe try different background on colors on the computer screen, different fonts.
Now wouldn’t it be stupid to lose a job or flunk out of school because you didn’t do this? I’m finding one out of 50 has got this problem in my livestock handling class. Because they do really horrible on my drawing assignment. They cannot draw. If I say draw this, they’re drawing. That’s what they draw. They don’t see it. Well, there’s my head. Well, and that’s all the white matter that’s inside. And the gray matter — this is not lining up right. Something got changed here. There should be a little space there for the gray matter. Something got out of sync there on that. And that’s all the circuits, the cable bundles that are the interoffice communication. That’s where you have differences in developmental problem.
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.
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.