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At Wilson commencement, Grandin offers insight into the autistic mind

May 23, 2010|By JENNIFER FITCH

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- Temple Grandin laughs at the way her autistic mind works and laughs at the ways she thinks a normal mind could perhaps process information better with autism.

It's in this disarming manner that the author and associate professor of animal science at Colorado State University presents important theories about achieving success when living with autism-spectrum disorders.

"The autistic person's world is a world of detail. In fact, scientific research shows the normal mind tends to drop out detail, and that can be very, very disastrous in a lot of engineering things and scientific things," Grandin said. "If you are building a bridge, you better see the details."

Grandin served as Wilson College's commencement speaker on Sunday. College officials said they received an overwhelming response after announcing Grandin's visit, with requests pouring in from community members who wanted to hear her speak.

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"I'm thrilled," graduate Karen (Ryland) Wurster said.

Wurster, of Mount Airy, Md., started a therapeutic riding business, Gaits of Hope, to work with children who have special needs. Autistic children hold a special place in her heart.

Wurster had already read all of Grandin's books before meeting her the night before commencement.

"She's wonderful," Wurster said.

Grandin, one of Time magazine's 100 Most Influential People for 2010, was played by actress Claire Danes in an HBO film based on her life. The movie addressed how a science teacher mentored Grandin, starting her on a path toward changing the ways cattle are handled.

Autistic individuals live in a detailed sensory world, much like animals, Grandin said. Attention to detail allowed her to analyze what cows see, hear and smell when they're in equipment like chutes, she said.

"I'm a total visual thinker. I think in pictures, like Google for images," she said.

Grandin mentioned to the Wilson College audience how she built an optical-illusion room as portrayed in the movie.

"I was interested to find out the stage crew for the movie had a hard time building it, even though they had drawings off the Internet," she said to laughter.

"Different, quirky kids" need to get involved in shared interests like horseback riding, art and science, Grandin said.

"I think it's a shame a lot of high schools are taking out the hands-on classes," she said, saying she is also concerned about a lack of science teachers in schools.

Some of the great minds in the past, such as Albert Einstein's, and those in the present actually benefit in some ways from autism, according to Grandin.

"One of the problems you have with autism is you aren't all that social. You wouldn't have any geeks in Silicon Valley if you didn't have just a little bit of autism," Grandin said. "Social circuits take up a lot of space in the brain, and you run out of room for good, fun geek stuff."

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