Autism can be managed to excel at the highest level of education on spectrum range as Temple Grandin, Ph.D. shows. Temple is a gifted animal scientist who designed one-third of all the livestock-handling facilities in USA. She lectures widely on the autism spectrum because Temple Grandin is an autistic woman who thinks, feels, experiences the world in ways incomprehensible to the rest. In her book, Grandin delivers the report on autism from dual perspectives of a scientist and autistic person sharing her experiences and how she managed to function in the world. What emerges in Thinking in Pictures is the document of an extraordinary woman bridging gulf of condition to shed light on a common issue familiar to many people. Oliver Sacks calls Temple Grandin’s book First picture of autism from the inside” quite extraordinary, unprecedented in a way unthinkable.” Sacks told part of her story in his words and in response in Thinking in Pictures Grandin returns to tell her life history with greater depth, insight and feeling. Grandin told Sacks, I don’t want my thoughts to die with me, wants to do something to know my life has meaning. I’m talking about things at the very core of my existence. Grandin’s clearly explains what it is like to “think in pictures” to broaden minds and bring clarity on a whole school of philosophy declaring language as an only necessary tool for expressing thought. So Grandin feels she can see through a cow’s eyes to influence the design of slaughter houses and livestock restraint systems. She has great insight in human animal relations. So would be good if Thinking in Pictures transforms similarly to study religious feelings to make the world better place.
Anyone who needs help in dealing with autism can get help through available sources including books, advice from GPs and experts. Grantin’s original book published her life as high-functioning autistic woman. Grandin wrote articles on her life and work as animal scientist in 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. Words of encouragement in support of her work is included here by those who found her books helpful. The Library Journal noted from her autobiography, emerged: Labeled Autistic (LJ 5/15/86), Grandin (animal studies, Colorado State Univ.) on how, high-functioning autistic adult overcame her disability to design livestock-handling equipment. Profiled in Oliver Sacks’s An Anthropologist on Mars (LJ 2/15/95), Grandin lectures on autism at meetings and conferences. Using insights from scientific studies, autobiographies by autistic adults, and her experiences explained how people with autism differently perceive and process visual sensory information and experience to express emotion, develop social skills. She reviews diagnosis and treatment of autism, and discusses its association with talent and genius. And in the book we learn of Grandin’s own strategies for coping with autism. How autism gives advantage to understand behavior of animals. This book is highly recommended for anyone interested in the subject. Published: Lucille Boone, San Jose P.L. Cal. Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
A most remarkable woman, Grandin describes her deepest feelings while telling how she made herself a strong and valued individual. Autistic, she was helped by her mother, book’s dedicatee, and mentors who included high-school science teacher, a cattle-rancher aunt in Arizona, and a Swift meatpacking plant manager. Attacks of nerves and panic nearly overwhelmed her in her teens, but carefully selected and supervised drugs eased many of those problems. After earning a doctoral degree, she undertook her first work project, which was called the “Stairway to Heaven.” Instrumental for her in developing that and other methods for the humane treatment of food animals was her ability, determined in some measure by her autism, to think in pictures, her profound caring for the animals, and her engineering capabilities; fully one-third of U.S. facilities for handling hogs and cattle use her designs. Readers of Oliver Sacks’ Anthropologist from Mars, title article of about Grandin, will want to read Grandin’s own heartwarming real story. William Beatty
Online Reviews of the Book
“I hardly know what to say about this remarkable book. . . . It provides a way to understand many kinds of sentience, human and animal, that adorn the earth.” –Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, author of The Hidden Life of Dogs
“There are innumerable astounding facets to this remarkable book. . . . Displaying uncanny powers of observation . . . [Temple Grandin] charts the differences between her life and the lives of those who think in words.” –The Philadelphia Inquirer
“A uniquely fascinating view not just of autism but animal and human thinking and feeling, providing insights can only be called wisdom.” –Deborah Tannen, author of You Just Don’t Understand
“How does a true marvel let you know it has arrived? It’s hard to imagine an intellect as towering as Sacks’s coming up with perceptions rare completely out of left field as Grandin herself does in this mind-blowing book.” — Newsday
“Temple Grandin’s window onto the subjective experience of autism is of value to all of us who hope to gain a deeper understanding of the human mind by exploring the ways in which it responds to the world’s challenges.” — The Washington Times
“Temple Grandin, anthropologist from Mars, takes us on journey through her inner life and, with exquisite scientific detail offers us near photograph of the workings of her visual mind.” –John Ratey, coauthor of Driven to Distinction
“Temple Grandin’s legacy is invaluable gift of compassion. This is a journey of courage, determination, and, above all, worth. Society is the better for Temple Grandin having left her mark on it.” –Alex Pacheco, President, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
“Thinking in Pictures is beautiful book. Grandin has created a beautifully odd and fascinating picture of her life and mind, and her abiding love of animals.” — Elle
“A tireless researcher with a bionic memory and a superb education, no one can write with Temple’s authority because nobody knows as much as she does! This is an outstanding book that every parent and professional in the field of special needs will want to read, and general reader will acquire a new appreciation of autism, its liabilities, and its formidable assets.” –Annabel Stehli, author of The Sound of a Miracle
“Even Sacks’s fine writing about autism does not really compare to writing from within autism, because autism disorder of interiority. . . . Grandin has replaced the teleology of autobiography with something much closer to her heart: a diagram, in this case a diagram of her own mind.” –Voice Literary Supplement
From the Publisher
The captivating subject of Oliver Sack’s Anthropologist on Mars, is the Temple Grandin’s personal account of living with autism and extraordinary gift of animal empathy transformed her world and ours.
Temple Grandin renowned throughout the world as a designer of livestock holding equipment. Her unique empathy for animals has her to create systems which are humane and cruel free, setting the highest standards for the industry the treatment and handling of animals. She also happens to be autistic. Here, in Temple Grandin’s own words, is the story what it is like to live with autism. Temple is among the few people who have broken through many neurological impairments associated with autism. Throughout her life, she developed unique coping strategies, including famous “squeeze machine,” modeled after seeing the calming effect squeeze chutes on cattle. She describes pain, isolation growing up “different” and her discovery visual symbols to interpret “ways of the natives” Thinking In Pictures gives information from the frontlines of autism, including treatme medication, and diagnosis, as well as Temple’s insight into genius, savants, sensory phenomena, etc. It is Temple’s unique ability describe ways her visual mind works and how she first made her connection between impairment and the animal’s temperament understood extraordinary phenomenal way.
From the Inside Flap
Temple Grandin, Ph.D. is a gifted animal scientist who has designed one third of all livestock-handling facilities in the United States. She lectures widely on autism because she is autistic, a woman who thinks, feels, and experiences the world in ways incomprehensible to the rest of us. In this unprecedented book, Grandin writes from dual perspectives of a scientist and an autistic person. She tells us how she managed to breach the boundaries of autism to function in the outside world. What emerges is the document of an extraordinary human being, one who gracefully bridges the gulf between her condition and our own while shedding light on our common identity. “The innumerable astounding facets to this remarkable book displays the uncanny powers of observation of Temple Grandin charting the differences between her life and the lives of those who think in words.” Philadelphia Inquirer
About the Author
Temple Grandin has a Ph.D. in animal science from the University of Illinois and has designed one third of all the livestock-handling facilities in the United States, and many in other countries. She is currently an associate professor of animal sciences at Colorado State University and a frequent lecturer at autism meetings throughout country. She lives in Fort Collins, Colorado.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Thinking in Pictures Autism VisualsI THINK IN PICTURES. Words are like a second language to me. I translate both spoken and written words into full colour movies, complete with sound, which run like a VCR tape in my head. When somebody speaks to me, his words are instantly translated into pictures. Language-based thinkers often find this phenomenon difficult to understand, but in my job as an equipment designer for the livestock industry, visual thinking is a tremendous advantage.
Visual thinking has enabled me to build entire systems in my imagination. During my career I have designed all kinds of equipment, ranging from corrals for handling cattle on ranches to systems for handling cattle and hogs during veterinary procedures and slaughter. I worked for many major livestock companies. In fact, one third of the cattle and hogs in the United States are handled in equipment I have designed. Some people I’ve worked for don’t even know their systems designed by someone with autism. I value my ability to think visually, and I would never want to lose it.
One of the most profound mysteries of autism has been the remarkable ability of most autistic people to excel at visual spatial skills while performing so poorly at verbal skills. When I was a child and a teenager, I thought everybody thought in pictures. I had no idea that my thought processes were different. In fact, I did not realize the full extent of the differences until very recently. At meetings and at work I started asking other people detailed questions about how they accessed information from their memories. From their answers I learned that my visualization skills far exceeded those of most other people.
I credit my visualization abilities with helping me understand the animals I work with. Early in my career I used a camera to help give me the animals’ perspective as they walked through a chute for their veterinary treatment. I would kneel down and take pictures through the chute from the cow’s eye level. Using the photos, I was able to figure out which things scared the cattle, such as shadows and bright spots of sunlight. Back then I used black-and-white film, because twenty years ago scientists believed that cattle lacked color vision. Today, research has shown that cattle can see colors, but the photos provided the unique advantage of seeing the world through a cow’s viewpoint. They helped me figure out why the animals refused to go in one chute but willingly walked through another.
Every design problem I’ve ever solved started with my ability to visualize and see the world in pictures. I started designing things as a child, when I was always experimenting with new kinds of kites and model airplanes. In elementary school I made a helicopter out of a broken balsa-wood airplane. When I wound up the propeller, the helicopter flew straight up about a hundred feet. I also made bird-shaped paper kites, which I flew behind my bike. The kites were cut out from a single sheet of heavy drawing paper and flown with thread. I experimented with different ways of bending the wings to increase flying performance. Bending the tips of the wings up made the kite fly higher. Thirty years later, this same design started appearing on commercial aircraft.
Now, in my work, before I attempt any construction, I test-run the equipment in my imagination. I visualize my designs being used in every possible situation, with different sizes and breeds of cattle and in different weather conditions. Doing this enables me to correct mistakes prior to construction. Today, everyone is excited about the new virtual reality computer systems in which the user wears special goggles and is fully immersed in video game action. To me, these systems are like crude cartoons. My imagination works like the computer graphics programs that created the lifelike dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. When I do an equipment simulation in my imagination or work on an engineering problem, it is like seeing it on a videotape in my mind. I can view it from any angle, placing myself above or below the equipment and rotating it at the same time. I don’t need a fancy graphics program that can produce three-dimensional design simulations. I can do it better and faster in my head.
I create new images all the time by taking many little parts of images I have in the video library in my imagination and piecing them together. I have video memories of every item I’ve ever worked with—steel gates, fences, latches, concrete walls, and so forth. To create new designs, I retrieve bits and pieces from my memory and combine them into a new whole. My design ability keeps improving as I add more visual images to my library. I add videolike images from either actual experiences or translations of written information into pictures. I can visualize the operation of such things as squeeze chutes, truck loading ramps, and all different types of livestock equipment. The more I actually work with cattle and operate equipment, the stronger my visual memories become.
I first used my video library in one of my early livestock design projects, creating a dip vat and cattle-handling facility for John Wayne’s Red River feed yard in Arizona. A dip vat is a long, narrow, seven-foot-deep swimming pool through which cattle move in single file. It is filled with pesticide to rid the animals of ticks, lice, and other external parasites. In 1978, existing dip vat designs were very poor. The animals often panicked because they were forced to slide into the vat down a steep, slick concrete decline. They would refuse to jump into the vat, and sometimes they would flip over backward and drown. The engineers who designed the slide never thought about why the cattle became so frightened.
The first thing I did when I arrived at the feedlot was to put myself inside the cattle’s heads and look out through their eyes. Because their eyes are on the sides of their heads, cattle have wide-angle vision, so it was like walking through the facility with a wide-angle video camera. I had spent the past six years studying how cattle see their world and watching thousands move through different facilities all over Arizona, and it was immediately obvious to me why they were scared. Those cattle must have felt as if they were being forced to jump down an airplane escape slide into the ocean.
Cattle are frightened by high contrasts of light and dark as well as by people and objects that move suddenly. I’ve seen cattle that were handled in two identical facilities easily walk through one and balk in the other. The only difference between the two facilities was their orientation to the sun. The cattle refused to move through the chute where the sun cast harsh shadows across it. Until I made this observation, nobody in the feedlot industry had been able to explain why one veterinary facility worked better than the other. It was a matter of observing the small details that made a big difference. To me, the dip vat problem was even more obvious.
My first step in designing a better system was collecting all the published information on existing dip vats. Before doing anything else, I always check out what is considered state-of-the-art so I don’t waste time reinventing the wheel. Then I turned to livestock publications, which usually have very limited information, and my library of video memories, all of which contained bad designs. From experience with other types of equipment, such as unloading ramps for trucks, I had learned that cattle willingly walk down a ramp that has cleats to provide secure, nonslip footing. Sliding causes them to panic and back up. The challenge was to design an entrance would encourage the cattle to walk in voluntarily and plunge into the water, which was deep enough to submerge them completely, so that all the bugs, including those that collect in their ears, would be eliminated.
I started running three-dimensional visual simulations in my imagination. I experimented with different entrance designs and made cattle walk through them in my imagination. Three images merged to form final design: a memory of a dip vat in Yuma, Arizona, portable vat I had seen in a magazine, and an entrance ramp I had seen on a restraint device at the Swift meat-packing plant in Tolleson, Arizona. The new dip vat entrance ramp was a modified version of the ramp I had seen there. My design contained three features that had never been used before: an entrance would not scare the animals, an improved chemical filtration system. And use of animal behavior principles to prevent the cattle from becoming overexcited when they left the vat.
The first thing I did was convert the ramp from steel to concrete. The final design had a concrete ramp on a twenty-five-degree downward angle. Deep grooves in the concrete provided secure footing. The ramp appeared to enter the water gradually, but in reality it abruptly dropped away below the water’s surface. The animals could not see the drop-off because the dip chemicals colored the water. When they stepped out over the water, they quietly fell in, because their center of gravity had passed the point of no return.
Before the vat was built, I tested the entrance design many times in my imagination. Many of the cowboys at the feedlot were skeptical and did not believe my design would work. After it was constructed, they modified it behind my back, because they were sure it was wrong. A metal sheet was installed over the nonslip ramp, converting it back to an old-fashioned slide entrance. The first day they used it, two cattle drowned because they panicked and flipped over backward.
When I saw the metal sheet, I made the cowboys take it out. They were flabbergasted when they saw that the ramp now worked perfectly. Each calf stepped out over the steep drop-off and quietly plopped into the water. I fondly refer to this design as “cattle walking on water.”
Over the years, I have observed that many ranchers and cattle feeders think that the only way to induce animals to enter handling facilities is to force them in. The owners and managers of feedlots sometimes have a hard time comprehending that if devices such as dip vats and restraint chutes are properly designed, cattle will voluntarily enter them. I can imagine the sensations the animals would feel. If I had a calf’s body and hooves, I would be very scared to step on a slippery metal ramp.
There were still problems I had to resolve after the animals left the dip vat. The platform where they exit is usually divided into two pens so that cattle can dry on one side while the other side is being filled. No one understood why the animals coming out of the dip vat would sometimes become excited, but I figured it was because they wanted to follow their drier buddies, not unlike children divided from their classmates on a playground. I installed a solid fence between the two pens to prevent the animals on one side from seeing the animals on the other side. It was a very simple solution, and it amazed me that nobody had ever thought of it before.
The system I designed for filtering and cleaning the cattle hair and other gook out of the dip vat was based on a swimming pool filtration system. My imagination scanned two specific swimming pool filters that I had operated, one on my Aunt Brecheen’s ranch in Arizona and one at our home. To prevent water from splashing out of the dip vat, I copied the concrete coping overhang used on swimming pools. That idea, like many of my best designs, came to me very clearly just before I drifted off to sleep at night.
Being autistic, I don’t naturally assimilate information that most people take for granted. Instead, I store information in my head as if it were on a CD-ROM disc. When I recall something I have learned, I replay the video in my imagination. The videos in my memory are always specific; for example, I remember handling cattle at the veterinary chute at Producer’s Feedlot or McElhaney Cattle Company. I remember exactly how the animals behaved in that specific situation and how the chutes and other equipment were built. The exact construction of steel fenceposts and pipe rails in each case is also part of my visual memory. I can run these images over and over and study them to solve design problems.
If I let my mind wander, the video jumps in a kind of free association from fence construction to a particular welding shop where I’ve seen posts being cut and Old John, the welder, making gates. If I continue thinking about Old John welding a gate, the video image changes to a series of short scenes of building gates on several projects I’ve worked on. Each video memory triggers another in this associative fashion, and my daydreams may wander far from the design problem. The next image may be of having a good time listening to John and the construction crew tell war stories, such as the time the backhoe dug into a nest of rattlesnakes and the machine was abandoned for two weeks because everybody was afraid to go near it.
This process of association is a good example of how my mind can wander off the subject. People with more severe autism have difficulty stopping endless associations. I am able to stop them and get my mind back on track. When I find my mind wandering too far away from a design problem I am trying to solve, I just tell myself to get back to the problem. Interviews with autistic adults who have good speech and are able to articulate their thought processes indicate that most of them also think in visual images. More severely impaired people, who can speak but are unable to explain how they think, have highly associational thought patterns. Charles Hart, the author of Without Reason, a book about his autistic son and brother, sums up his son’s thinking in one sentence: “Ted’s thought processes aren’t logical, they’re associational.” This explains Ted’s statement “I’m not afraid of planes. That’s why they fly so high.” In his mind, planes fly high because he is not afraid of them; he combines two pieces of information, that planes fly high and that he is not afraid of heights.
Another indicator of visual thinking as the primary method of processing information is the remarkable ability many autistic people exhibit in solving jigsaw puzzles, finding their way around a city, or memorizing enormous amounts of information at a glance. My own thought patterns are similar to those described by A. R. Luria in The Mind of a Mnemonist. This book describes a man who worked as a newspaper reporter and could perform amazing feats of memory. Like me, the mnemonist had a visual image for everything he had heard or read. Luria writes, “For when he heard or read a word, it was at once converted into a visual image corresponding with the object the word signified for him.” The great inventor Nikola Tesla was also a visual thinker. When he designed electric turbines for power generation, he built each turbine in his head. He operated it in his imagination and corrected faults. He said it did not matter whether the turbine was tested in his thoughts or in his shop; the results would be the same.
Early in my career I got into fights with other engineers at meat-packing plants. I couldn’t imagine that they could be so stupid as not to see the mistakes on the drawing before the equipment was installed. Now I realize it was not stupidity but a lack of visualization skills. They literally could not see. I was fired from one company that manufactured meat-packing plant equipment because I fought with the engineers over a design which eventually caused the collapse of an overhead track that moved 1,200-pound beef carcasses from end of conveyor. As each carcass came off the conveyor, it dropped about three feet before it was abruptly halted by a chain attached to a trolley on overhead track. The first time the machine was run, the track was pulled out of the ceiling. The employees fixed it bolting it securely and installing additional brackets. This solved problem temporarily, because the force of the carcasses jerking the chains was so great. Strengthening the overhead track was treating a symptom of the problem rather than its cause. I tried to warn them. It was like bending a paper clip back and forth too many times. After a while it breaks.
The line between autism and genius is a well known factor in history. As many great and accomplished achievers in the fields of life ranging from the academics in education, creative personalities and maestro musicians among others have level of autism. An important factor is to identify the specific talents, interests, abilities and needs of a child. As Temple demonstrates her ingenuity plus a good support network of family, teachers an aunt with a farm among many made it possible to achieve her best interests. So a verbal word oriented society designed to function mostly on verbal ability to read and write exams is justice being done to autistic children. School system is based on use of words in a preferred language so what mechanism is in place ensures nonverbal visual measurement of talent and skills. Is it fair to insist one size fits all education compares autistic children in the classroom to gifted or a usual average child.
was a fascinating read. I especially liked the first half when she talked about her childhood, memories and how she came to learn things. It’s very helpful in…
You know when you read something and you become agitated because somebody says something to which you can relate strongly and you neither ever had defined or quite understood…
of the thinking of…
What is a meltdown?
A meltdown is ‘an intense response to overwhelming situations’. It happens when someone becomes completely overwhelmed by their current situation and temporarily loses behavioural control. This loss of control can be expressed verbally (eg shouting, screaming, crying), physically(eg kicking, lashing out, biting) or in both ways.
Autism meltdowns are not the same as temper tantrums
A meltdown is not the same as a temper tantrum. It is not bad of naughty behaviour and should not be considered as such. When a person is completely overwhelmed, and their condition means it is difficult to express that in appropriate way, it is understandable that the result is a meltdown.
Meltdowns are not the only way a person with autism may express feeling overwhelmed. Other behaviours that may appear are less explosive but are equally common, such as refusing to interact, withdrawing from situations they find challenging, or avoiding them altogether.
What to do
If someone is having a meltdown, or not responding to you, don’t judge them. It can make a world of difference to someone with autism and their carers.
- Give them some time – it can take a while to recover from an information or sensory overload.
- Calmly ask them (or their parent or friend) if they’re OK, but bear in mind they’ll need more time to respond than you might expect.
- Make space – try to create a quiet, safe space as best you can. Ask people to move along and not to stare, turn off loud music and turn down bright lights – whatever you can think of to reduce the information overload, try it.
Anticipating a meltdown
Many autistic people will show signs of distress before having a meltdown, which is sometimes referred to as the “rumble stage”. They may start to exhibit signs of anxiety such as pacing, seek reassurance through repetitive questioning or physical signs such as rocking or becoming very still. At this stage, there may still be a chance to prevent a meltdown. Strategies to consider include distraction, diversion, helping the person use calming strategies such as fiddle toys or listening to music, removing any potential triggers, and staying calm yourself.
Identifying the causes
A meltdown is a reaction to an overwhelming experience. If your family member or the person you support has meltdowns, identify what is overwhelming for them. Complete a diary over a period of time. Record what happened before, during and after each meltdown. Patterns may emerge. You may find that meltdowns occur at particular times, in particular places, or when something particular has happened.
Once you have a clearer idea what may be triggering meltdowns, think about ways you might minimise that trigger. Everyone with autism is different, but sensory differences,changes in routine, anxiety, and communication difficulties are common triggers.
Many autistic people have sensory differences. They may be over-sensitive to some senses, under-sensitive to others and often a combination of both.
For example, for someone who is over-sensitive to touch and sound, people brushing past them and a loud announcement at a train station could cause pain and sensory overload, leading to a meltdown. In this situation, it could be helpful to listen to calming music on headphones to block out loud noises and wait until everyone has got off train before approaching platform to avoid crowds of people. Other situations to consider include creating low arousal environment (eg remove bright lights, soundproof walls) or using sensory equipment (eg glasses with dark or coloured lenses, ear defenders, a weighted blanket).
Change in routine
Consistent, predictable routines and structure are very important for autistic people and a change to routine can be very distressing. For example, the panic caused by needing to drive a different route to school due to roadworks could trigger a meltdown. In this example, a clear visual support explaining change, reassurance that the rest of the routine remains the same and adding extra support such calming/ comforting activity to do in the car could help. For an unexpected change, there can be a particular plan in place, such as the use of a picture symbol to explain the change, reinforcement of the rest of the day being the same (if that’s the case), a chance to express any frustration appropriately (such as hitting a pillow, ripping paper) followed by an activity that is known to calm the person such as taking deep breaths, listening to calming music, going for a walk, or squeezing a stress ball. It may help to increase structure around ordinary transitions, helping the person to navigate the change from one activity to another throughout the day. Using a clear timetable explaining when the transitions will be, using timers to countdown to transitions, using a favourite toy or character to be part of the transition, can all help.
With unwritten rules and unpredictable nature, the world can be an extremely challenging environment for autistic people and many experience anxiety. If a person does not have tools to calm down when anxious, they may have a meltdown. Develop strategies to manage anxiety, such as introducing our Brain in Hand app. Have a plan beforehand of what to do if the person feels anxious, such as a calming play list to listen to at the shops or a stress ball in their pocket. Build relaxation time into the routine. The person will generally feel calmer and better able to cope when something that could trigger a meltdown, occurs. What it means varies from person to person, and may consist of quiet activities, eg taking a walk, listening to music, and reading, doing puzzles, using fiddle toys, or more strenuous activities, eg jumping on a trampoline, going to the gym, playing a computer game. In the case of strenuous activities, observe if the activity really does calm the person down. If it doesn’t, but is just an activity they really enjoy, still build in time for that activity but try to find an activity that genuinely calms them and make time to use it well.
Autistic people can find it difficult to express their wants and needs, from a non-verbal child struggling to express need for a drink to a teenager finding it hard to express their emotions. This can result in overwhelming feelings, such as anger and frustration, leading to a meltdown. Support the person to find ways to understand and express their emotions appropriately before they get overwhelmed, and find ways to make your own communication more easily understandable. Verbal communication is challenging for autistic people due to potential misunderstanding of the body language, tone of voice, irony, sarcasm.
Things you can try include:
- visual supports
- social stories
- Picture Exchange Communication Systems (PECS)
- worry books
- written information
- modifying your verbal communication
- using technology such as tablets and voice software, instant messaging etc
- increasing understanding of emotions and social skills.
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Nutritionist Susan Levin (center), with children Ben and Alina, claims that Ben’s autistic condition was improved by the yeast-free Body Ecology Diet. So when a doctor told Susan Levin her 4-year-old son, Ben, was autistic, she was shocked. In October 2007, and autism wasn’t mentioned in media nearly as much as it is today. “I remember thinking, ‘Oh my God. What are we going to do?’ ” Levin recalls. “Everyone knew autism was a lifelong disorder and couldn’t be cured.” Except that in Ben’s case, it could be. And it was. The family’s journey the many treatments tried and dismissed, from biomedical interventions to speech therapy to occupational therapy and more is detailed in her new memoir, “Unlocked: A Family Emerging From the Shadows of Autism.”
Levin doesn’t call this particular cure a silver bullet for autism: There is no silver bullet, no one-size-fits-all approach. Rather, she credits his transformation to a number of things, including a home based and child centered social-relational program called the Son-Rise Program.
But one of the biggest factors was what was on his plate. “Hippocrates was right when he advised, ‘Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food,’ ” she says. Levin is part of a growing group of people who are paying more attention to diet, organic, gluten- and casein-free among them, as a way to treat the symptoms of autism and other disorders. So strongly does she believe in the healing possibilities of food that she’s now a family wellness coach working exclusively with families of autistic children. While the scientific verdict is still out on diet as a cure, statistics point to a definite link between gastrointestinal issues and autism. A 2012 study published by the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology found a direct link between GI issues and behavior. 70 percent of children with autism have gastrointestinal issues during childhood or adolescence, food sensitivity, diarrhoea and constipation can cause extreme discomfort, leading to irritability, and erratic or withdrawn behaviour. But not everyone convinced.
“Over the years I’ve been privy to a million parents, a million cures,” says Andrew Baumann, president and CEO of New York Families for Autistic Children. “Parents are willing to try just about anything.” And while he concedes that diet can have a very positive effect, he just doesn’t see it as a cure for autism: “You can’t cure something [when] you don’t know what the cause is.”
Parents are willing to try just about anything. You can’t cure something [when] you don’t know what the cause is.
– Andrew Baumann, president and CEO of<br /> New York Families for Autistic Children
Kathleen DiChiara begs to differ. The former Fortune 500 executive was diagnosed with sudden onset neuropathy, which left her unable to walk. When the doctors told her there was little to be done, she went back to school to study. She’s now a nutrition educator, chef and speaker who credits an all-organic diet for healing not only herself, but her 11- year-old son, Steven, who’d been diagnosed as autistic but is no longer considered to be.
Why are people resistant to the idea of food’s effect on illness?
“It’s socially inconvenient,” DiChiara says. “They’re already struggling, and the idea of removing things from the diet is so daunting. But it’s the difference between the children who get well and the ones who don’t.”
Maria Rickert Hong, author of “Almost Autism: Recovering Children From Sensory Processing Disorder,” credits a gluten-free, dairy-free diet with the recovery of her two children from sensory-processing disorder.
“In a child with neurodevelopment disorders, the brain is inflamed, and the gut and the brain are connected,” Hong says. “Most of these kids have gut dysbiosis — an imbalance of good versus bad bacteria, like having too many weeds in your garden. When you have that, the body’s immune system is off.”
Levin and her family initially started Ben on a gluten-free and casein-free diet, later eliminating soy, corn, potatoes and rice. But as soon as one offending food was removed, she says, a reaction to another popped up.
Then they tried the Body Ecology Diet, an anti-yeast diet high in grain-like seeds such as amaranth, quinoa, millet and buckwheat. Almost overnight, Ben calmed down and started making eye contact.
Now 12, Ben is studying for his bar mitzvah. Eight years after that chilling diagnosis, he’s become more empathetic, frequently saying “I love you” to his mother, his father and sister.
Levin says his newfound compassion is nothing short of a miracle.
“It doesn’t matter what people say,” says Levin. “I have my kid back.”