Thinking in Pictures and Other Reports From my Life with Autism

Temple Grandin
Date Published: 

Temple Grandin is an adult with who is autistic and who has become very successful in a very specialized field of designing the facilities for processing cattle into meat products. She is also an excellent speaker and is very involved in the Autism Society of America. Dr. Oliver Sacks wrote about Temple Grandin in his book, "An Anthropologist on Mars" wrote the forward to this book. It is an excellent book and an easy read. It helped me understand a bit more about autism than some of the technical things I had read.

I was a bit disappointed in that I expected much more in the book to be about "Thinking in Pictures". The majority of the book is about her and her life and her understandings of autism, pervasive developmental disorder, and Asperger's syndrome. She has many recommendations for treatment. She recommends an eclectic approach where one must go into the treatment of a person with these conditions with many alternative therapies and be prepared to switch gears if the current approach is not working.

Soon after reading the book I had the chance to hear Ms. Grandin speak to the local Washington DC chapter of the Autism Society of America. In her presentation she went over much of her life's story and spent some time on what she meant by thinking in pictures. I attended the meeting with Dr. Jerry Meyers and Dennis Hoover. Afterwards we spoke at length about her description of how she is able to use imagery as she described it. We felt that there were some inconsistencies in that she spoke about seeing in pictures yet her descriptions were almost devoid of pictorial aspects but full of almost total understanding and knowingness without actual pictures.

Interestingly she speaks of seeing specific objects from her past rather than prototypical images of objects from which she can generalize. She seems to lack this ability to generalize and her life is full of many many separate specifics which she must work hard to associate together. This was very different than much of the cognitive neuroscience I have read that supports Piaget's concepts on the "object concept". Additionally, it brings to mind some of the work by Douglas Hofstadter on creativity where the ability to recognize similarities and differences and to match patterns seems to be what the brain does for a living. Temple Grandin gives us some tremendous insight into how autistic's, at least those similar to her, deal with object concepts.