Thinking in pictures: And other reports from my life with autism by Temple Grandin reviewed by tutor, John Toker

Temple’s Characteristics of Autism

Grandin has visual images for facts not just concrete examples; it is like a language that instantly translates from spoken word or written ones. Temple is able to think in 3-D pictures and movies in order to understand concepts that were taught to her in school, which includes her time in graduate school, and to design animal farm equipment.

Grandin can recall each work design that she has ever made in head page; she can then mix and match to make new ones.

Temple can see animal perspective on what frightens them; this is especially the case when analyzing cattle. Grandin had a squeeze machine for own anxiety, which helps her understand what kind of closed in spaces are particularly stressful. Temple takes into account the wide eye angles of cows and how this changes their points of views (Grandin 2006).

Temple looks to not reinvent the wheel by researching out what is already understood or invented in her farm equipment field.

Differences Between Temple and Other Individuals with ASD

Temple can get back on task where as most with ASD keep free associating without focus. Most people with ASD can not make something new out of a mix of memories. Temple brings up many videos in her mind, and must sort through them. ASD can bring up still photos, rather than with movement; further, they often lack judgment on what to do with the information. People with ASD, as Grandin conveys, usually only focus on details, rather than big picture (Grandin 2006).

Philosophy, and for example cattle futures, are problematic subjects for Temple, because she struggles with making pictures or videos of them in her mind. Also, subjects that inherently lack single right answers are too vague and therefore, in part, cannot be pictured even with her imagination (Grandin 2006).

Temple at age six liked the word prosecution so said it when she flew a kite that hit the ground; albeit, she quickly connects one type of animal chute to many variations of it. Dove’s in Temple’s mind represent peace; this example is an intuitively obvious association for those who can think on an abstract level. Temple has logical and illogical association where as individuals with ASD, according to Grandin, tend to have illogical connections only. Many people with ASD would not understand, “We will play it by ear.”

Specific information is used by Grandin to make generalizations; she associates, rather than processes chronological order of events; this is why cattle futures does not work for her analytic methodology (Grandin 2006).

Generic or synthesis concepts require different neurological patterns than what is the case for Temple. Rather, she remembers each example either seen or pictured from being described to her. Conversely to Temple, many with ASD make wrong correlations so that they often misattribute causality; for example, a toy plane can fly high because there is no fear of them.

Grandin acquired engineer style and skills in drawing by watching an advanced skilled person illustrate it, rather than needing class work in it and respective supervision. Most with ASD would need intensive formal instruction on how to draw with advanced skill (Grandin 2006).

Temple’s Struggles in School and School-based Interventions

Temple, at age 2.5, was enrolled in a special school. Grandin if left alone would not learn enough to function in society. Albeit, if overloaded with attention was quick to scream and then shut down. Grandin’s nanny kept her active outdoors with many activities and provided indoor art time, which helped her invent animal systems. Grandin’s mother tutored Temple five days a week for language at age 3; she was able to make essential progress in milestone development because of this. Teachers learned to not get angry at Grandin during elementary school and to take her out of noisy places; this would allow her to cope with stress (Grandin 2006).

Abstract concepts taught in school were initially beyond Grandin’s grasp; she learned to associate pictures that were symbolic of concepts and store them.  For example, she thought of peace in the form of a dove; she was able to develop this process because of a general encouragement from her science teacher in particular and other educators. Psychotherapist and psychiatrist encouraged Temple to stop with metaphorical thinking with pictures and instead be language based; she new they were wrong and ignored them (Grandin 2006).

Personal relationships were not important during elementary school through high school. Albeit, she learned the value of relationships with picture imagery of windows and doors.

Grandin, while in high school was made front of for being like a tape recorder when she spoke; this meant that there was a mechanical meter to her speech.

After graduating from high school, Temple realized that this way of speaking would be odd to them.

Grandin found that rehearsing change while going through windows and doors only in     her mind helped emotionally prepare her for college. A new roof seen in real life facilitated picture imagery for going to college as well.

After graduating from college, she no longer needed windows, gates, roofs or the like for transition,.

Self induced pressure physical pressure allowed Temple to lower her own anxiety. Worries, by Grandin, centered on being teased at school. Temple as she got older took prescribed medication, and at this point was helped by psychiatrists.

Grandin’s mother felt that Temple did not appreciate the hard work that was put forth to help her with school. Grandin feels that she is less motivated by emotions than her mother; Temple relates to engineers and scientists because they are fact first and emotion second. Ultimately, Grandin accepted that her mother saw her as ungrateful for all the help and sacrifices made for her. Albeit, Temple dedicated this book with gratitude for all her dedication and support, in part, to her mother (Grandin 2006).

Temple was expelled for throwing a book at someone who was teasing her; she in turn went to special boarding school. Temple’s science teacher encouraged her to apply symbolic windows toward reading philosophy books, and laws of science in order to understand squeeze machines; psychiatrists and psychotherapists discouraged her from applying personal interests and learning style toward understanding such subjects. Further, research skills at the library were developed because of the inspiration of the science teacher. Skill in library research were essential because her time in high school and preparing for college was prior to the Internet.

Grandin had support from several teachers, in college, which included psychological encouragement and tutoring page. Permission for Temple to do a thesis on animal chutes was initially met with resistance; finally she sought out some professors who would let her do so (Grandin 2006).

Temple’s Struggles and Triumphs in the Workplace

Grandin argued with other engineers about how to construct a cattle chute and was fired due to this, albeit she proved to be right months later. Temple learned that her engineer peers were not trying to be difficult, being stupid or too lazy to understand her ideas. Rather, Grandin pointed out that they could not visualize what she was trying to tell them (Grandin 2006).

Temple learned to not get frustrated with verbal thinkers, whom often had vague pictures in mind when listening to her descriptions of cattle systems. Temple learned to criticize tactfully when confronting a co-workers about gaps in their designs or the implementation of them; this allowed her to keep working in the field of work.

Grandin was told to improve her personal hygiene; she learned to shower more often and to where clean clothes (Grandin 2006).

Grandin sent her portfolio for freelance work to potential employers instead of attending formal interviews; she knew that her affect of poor eye contact and being nervous would weaken the impressions of her during interviewers.

My Personal Growth and Learning

My personal growth and learning stem from knowing that the more I see from an ASD point of view, the more I can help those with related issues.

Temple modeled reinforced for me a teaching technique when tutoring people with ASD issues by slowing down when doing work and in turn helping them improve quality of it. Although I have had my students slow down in order to produce their best work, my understanding of this is now at a higher level than before reading this book. Further, in order to have a more vivid analysis of their strengths and weaknesses, my pace in assessing students is slowed down to even further.

My plan as a tutor is to give individuals with ASD more pictures that reflect words; for example “is” or ‘to be.” will have pictures that the students while guided by me will select for themselves. Some may chose an image of  something that “is” to be a camera: it symbolizes whatever is in the eye of a lens as simply being what it is. Others may chose Shakespeare who is known for, “To be or not to be, that is the question.”

I have learned that some people with ASD can have cognitive and emotional break through even in their twenties and onward; I will avoid type casting even if it looks like the individuals are destined to be the same for the rest of their lives. I realize to a greater degree that different types of ASD thinkers include those who visualize in pictures, imagine in music, see life through the lens of math or process the meaning of life and all other aspects of it in written or spoken language form

I realize to a greater extent that children with ASD avoid social conflicts that relate to lack of eye contact and verbal mono tone by socializing through the Internet; texting allows the many who have these issues to escape harassment .

My fortitude to help students with ASD apply their strengths more, rather than focusing on their weaknesses is greater now that I have read this book.


Grandin, T. (2006). Thinking in pictures: And other reports from my life with autism (2nd Vintage Books ed.). New York: Vintage Books.

Tutor John Toker web site to help people with ADHD, ADD, Dyslexia, Autism, Asperger, Executive Function Disorder

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