Temple Grandin, the best-selling author and animal expert who has autism, broadcast an essay this week as part of National Public Radio's "This I Believe" series of personal statements that guide peoples' lives. Listen to Grandin's essay, "Seeing in Beautiful, Precise Pictures," by clicking here.
If you are just learning about Grandin, you are likely to find her message positive and hopeful (even as her voice sounds a bit flat in her delivery). She explains that she assembles thoughts using sensory impressions -- sights, sounds and feelings from her memory -- rather than abstract concepts like most people. "I believe that doing practical things can make the world a better place," she announces. "And one of the features of being autistic is that I'm good at synthesizing lots of information and creating systems out of it."
In this long conversation Grandin had in 2005 with Terry Gross of NPR's "Fresh Air," the story gets more interesting. Yes, she has a high-functioning spot on the autism spectrum, but she's overcome a number of challenges our children face: emotional estrangement, educational hurdles, anxiety, discomfort with unfamiliar situations and sensations. She's been taking anti-depressants for two decades, and attributes her successful life and career to the calming effects of the medication.
By inviting Grandin to speak about her views on life, NPR puts her in the position of speaking for an entire population of people with autism. That might seem unfair, but it's a position she has cultivated in her books, including Animals in Translation and Thinking in Pictures. And Grandin's "This I Believe" piece and her interview with Terry Gross make her sound like an inspiring figure. She told Gross:
"Another thing about being autistic, there's no magic turning point. It's a gradual emergence. You just keep learning more and more and more. It's like you never really grow up. I didn't feel like I was a really grown up adult until I was 45."