Book Review                                     Online Exclusive

The Autistic Brain

Thinking Across the Curriculum

by Temple Grandin and Richard Panek, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing, New York, N.Y., 2013, 240 pp., $28 hardcover


Temple Grandin begins The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Curriculum by expressing gratitude that she was born in 1947 when so little was known about autism and not 10 years later when autism was often blamed on poor parenting. She presents a brief history of how we have attempted to understand autism, cites many scientific studies, notes mistakes made along the way and proposes some new ways of helping those with autism to be more successful.

Grandin gets pretty technical in her descriptions of some of the research, but she is also adept at reducing complex findings down to simple models that make the concepts more clear. For example, she notes that those with a certain gene variations are often more sensitive to their environment than those without that variation, so she labels the more sensitive group “orchid children” and the group that tends to thrive equally well in different environments “the dandelion children.”

She looks back at her groundbreaking book, Thinking in Pictures and realizes she made the assumption that all autistic people looked at the world as she did and were picture thinkers. Research and experience have shown her that some visual learners are picture thinkers, as she is, but others might better be called “pattern thinkers,” a term she clarifies with good examples.

At the end of the book, Grandin presents a list of careers that would best align with people who are picture thinkers, pattern thinkers or word-fact verbal thinkers. She notes jobs that are repetitive and detail-driven where someone with autism would actually be a superior worker who would thrive on the sameness of the task rather than get bored or dissatisfied as others might.

Grandlin ends the book with a nondiagnostic but revealing test developed by Simon Baron-Cohen to measure autistic traits in adults.

Reviewed by Bob Schultz, board member, A Touch of Understanding, Granite Bay, Calif.


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