Thinking in Pictures – Temple Grandin
This book covers Dr Temple Grandin’s way of experiencing the world intermingled with snippets of information from her life and of autism in general. Unsurprisingly, given the title of the book, there is a big focus on her visual way of thinking and how this manifests.
Grandin is quite straightforward and honest in stating that she used to think all autistic people must think in pictures like her, and how it is only relatively recently (well – recently to the writing of this updated edition of the book) that she has learnt that other autistic people can have different ways of thinking. The first section of the book focuses on how she thinks, and how this has affected her life both positively and negatively. As many people will know, Grandin credits this ability to see in pictures to her enormous success in designing equipment for livestock and slaughterhouses. It is interesting to read about this, and her passion for the subject is tangible even through text.
My thinking pattern always starts with specifics and works towards generalization in an associational and nonsequential way. As if I were attempting to figure out what the picture on a jigsaw puzzle is when only one third of the puzzle is completed, I am able to fill in the missing pieces by scanning my video library.
The next section moves on to talking at length about sensory processing and some of the difficulties she has experienced with areas like understanding tone or theory of mind whilst relating them to herself, other people, and general anecdotes. The next section on empathy and experiencing emotions is presented in a similar way and this embedding of the information with snippets about real people helps make the information much more accessible. The chapter on how she interprets the world has a lot of interesting information about Grandin and her life – I found her classification of rules to be very interesting, and quite similar to my own. I also related to her writing about having to “go through the back door” when it came to getting into jobs rather than through more traditional routes. Even now I try desperately to avoid interviews, since I know my social/communication skills make these an incredibly weak area for me.
When I put myself in a cow’s place, I really have to be that cow and not a person in a cow costume. I use my visual thinking skills to simulate what an animals would see and hear in a given situation. I place myself inside its body and imagine what it experiences.
She talks about other areas such as medication and the need to learn social skills to be able to move forward in the world – I remember some online communities finding some of what she wrote in this book to be controversial but I found myself agreeing with her more than half the time, and the rest of the time I could respect her opinion on the matter. Her comparisons of autism and the behaviour of livestock is a fascinating read and very accurate in places. I had never considered reading about animal behaviour but the way Grandin writes is very engaging – I am considering seeking out her book on animal behaviour despite it being outside my usual area of interest. Equally interesting and thought provoking is her chapter on autism, religion and what happens after death. I can certainly relate to her desire to leave something behind – a part of yourself that will live on as a reference to yourself after you are gone – and to have done something you believe is worthwhile with your life.
Yes – most people have heard of Temple Grandin by now but that doesn’t make this book any less interesting to read. It is an easy and engaging read by an incredibly interesting woman.
Value for money?
£6 in digital and £10 in paperback – if you’re interested in reading an autistic perspective then the digital edition is definitely value for money.