Temple Grandin on her new book, the autistic brain and the danger of DSM diagnoses

Joel Benjamin
Temple Grandin was diagnosed with autism in 1950. And as she explains, that was a good time to be diagnosed: just a decade later, the conversation about the neural development disorder turned to blaming mothers for their children's different patterns of thinking. But Grandin's different patterns of thinking has resulted in a long and well-respected career: inventing the "hug box," a machine to calm autistic children; publishing multiple books; teaching at Colorado State University; consulting with the livestock industry about animal behavior. She was even the subject of a 2010 film about her life starring Claire Danes. Grandin will read from and sign her newest book, The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum, at 7:30 p.m. tonight, June 27 at the Tattered Cover LoDo. In advance of that appearance, we caught up with the influential author to talk about her new book, different types of autistic brains, and the dangers of DSM diagnoses.

See also:
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Rosalie Winward/Colorado State University

Westword: What made you want to write your new book, The Autistic Brain?

Temple Grandin: I read a lot of new material on the different types of minds, the visual thinking and mathematical thinking, and I had scientific research that I'd discovered that actually backed up my observations on the two different kinds of minds. Also, there was a whole history of the diagnosis -- there are a lot of young parents now coming in who don't know anything about that history and I can give them insight to understand that. Those would be two really big reasons. Also, I just really wanted to talk about my own odyssey of doing brain scans.

What made you want to share your own brain scans in the book?

When people ask me why I would even want to do this, it's exploring. Why do people want to have a space station? It's exploration. People like to find out about new stuff. I wanted to just find out.

What did you find out?

Well, I found out a lot of things. I found out I've got circuits for visual thinking. I found out why I'm so bad at algebra. I found out why my balance isn't so wonderful. Those are a few things I found out. But also these things, I want to emphasize, are very variable and what was shown in mine isn't necessarily what's going to be in somebody else's.

Can you explain what you mean by mathematical versus visual thinking brains?

Basically, the kind of thinker I am, I'm a photorealistic visual thinker. Everything I think about is a picture. I had a terrible time with algebra. The math kind of thinker is one of the pattern-thinking minds: This is the kind of person who knows where things are in space. They don't think in photorealistic pictures. These are the people who are going to be good at computer programming and mathematics and engineering. One thinks in photographs and the other thinks more in patterns. Those are the basic differences.

In the book you warn against the way the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) labels people. Can you discuss that?

One of the things on the DSM is it's changed a great deal over the years. You know, these diagnoses are basically behavioral profiles and people treat them as if they're accurate, like a diagnosis for tuberculosis is accurate. And I think it's important for people to see the history of this. They've taken Asperger's out, which has a lot of people upset because these are the people who are kind of socially awkward, but they have no speech delay.

Location Info


Tattered Cover LoDo

1628 16th St., Denver, CO

Category: General

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