I picked up a book in the lending library on the neurosurgical floor at OHSU. The title is "Thinking in Pictures: and other reports from my life with autism," by Temple Grandin.
Those who have children with autism are probably familiar with this author and perhaps this book. If not, then I highly recommend it, but the author is so well-known, it's hard for me to believe that parents of autistic children are not aware of her work.
She is also well-known to livestock producers, and hence, to me. I became aware of this remarkable woman at least 20 years ago as my husband and I started on a journey of enlightenment on the topic of cattle handling.
Ms. Grandin is a heroine in so many senses, but especially so since she turned what might have been perceived as a curse (autism) into a blessing. Her way of looking at things and experiencing life has given her insight into the way animals see the world. With this knowledge, instinctual and profound, Ms. Grandin began to investigate the way cattle were being handled through steel alleys, corrals and chutes. I won't go into the theories of her radical ideas here, but will mention that over the span of time and decades, her changes to livestock facilities have proven to work and result in much less-stressed cattle. Her curved alleys, sweep tubs and squeeze chutes have less impact on the cattle and cause less frustration and labor for the handlers. In the cases of slaughter facilities, less stress and impact on the cattle means a better product, and most of all, a more humane way of doing things.
However, having said all of that, I'm writing about this book in this blog for a different reason.
As I began to read about Ms. Grandin's life, due to my interest in handling livestock, I became aware that so much of what she was describing of challenges for those who are autistic seem to relate, at various levels, to my own struggles with traumatic brain injury. I have not finished reading the book, and already I plan to read it again as soon as I am through. I have marked a few places that really speak to me, and which I want to chronicle here.
As we all know, when someone writes and describes something that we are dealing with yet lacks the words and skill to describe, it is a wide-eyed discovery. I feel as though I have found something that truly applies to me, that someone is speaking my language. I definitely feel less alone.
Could it be that certain, acquired brain-injury defects actually resemble the congenital defects found in the brains of those whose challenges lie found on the autistic spectrum? I've never thought of it before, but why not?
Ms. Grandin suggests as much in her quote from page 137 the book:
According to Antonio Damasio, people who suddenly lose emotions because of strokes often make disastrous financial and social decisions. These patients have completely normal thoughts, and they respond normally when asked about hypothetical social situations. But their performance plummets when they have to make rapid decisions without emotional cues. It must be like suddenly becoming autistic.
I have made many notes from Thinking in Pictures and hope to make a follow-up post soon here to reflect upon the many similarities between various, high-functioning levels of autism and Mild Traumatic Brain Injury.