Monday, May 23, 2011

Thoughts on Temple Grandin’s Talk

I have wanted to go to the Indianapolis Art Museum since I moved here almost ten years ago and I finally got my chance.  But not to see the art exhibits, or the surrounding 100 acres of gardens.  We went to one of a series of talks hosted by the IMA and given by Temple Grandin

Josh and I were lucky enough to obtain tickets (thanks Jane!), dropped Liam off at Ga-Ga and Big Dad’s house, drove to the IMA, and found our seats.  I was really curious to see and hear Temple speak.  I have read a couple of her books and have read a lot about her, but I was still excited to actually see her in person.

She got up on stage and started talking.  I was amazed at how much she had to share.  She certainly could have filled the entire SERIES of talks, and instead had to squeeze what she wanted to say into one measly hour.  I was also struck by the fact that she was funny.  I didn’t expect her to make jokes about autism or people on the spectrum, but she did.  My favorite was her description of the spectrum itself.  She said on one end there were the really severe cases of people who may never speak or have real relationships or be able to hold a job, etc., and on the other end are geeks and nerds.  The way she said it so casually was funny to me.  I have spent the last year or so in some sort of a fog thinking that Liam’s diagnosis was the worst thing that could have happened to him and to us.  Temple doesn’t feel that way at all.  She thinks that the world would be a pretty tragic place to live without the people on the spectrum lending their perspectives.    

She described herself as a visual thinker. She said that she basically has endless amounts of hard drive space in her brain where she stores pictures of everything she has ever seen. They are filed away into categories. When someone says “dog” or “church steeple”, pictures of every dog or church steeple flash through her head, like a Google images search. She said that she can stop on any one photo and it will turn into a movie, playing out possible scenarios. Her knowledge and ability to understand is limited to what she has stored in her files.  Therefore, it is SO important to get these kids out and about and expose them to as much as possible.  We need to build up their little hard drives so they have more to draw from later in life.

At some point, I started taking notes because I didn’t want to forget some of the things she said that I was really struck by:

  1. If you’re going to teach your autistic child to look both ways before crossing the street, teach him to look both ways at ten different streets so he can begin to generalize it. 
  2. Visual thinkers like Temple have bottom up thinking instead of top down thinking like verbal thinkers. They don’t picture the house and then decide what pieces it needs…they think about each individual piece and eventually get to the whole picture. They fixate on details. 
  3. Temple can’t hold one thing in her mind while manipulating another piece of information.  Case in point: If I ask Liam to go get his shoes, then ask him some question, and he answers the question, I shouldn’t expect him to remember that I asked him to get his shoes.  Sometimes I forget this in the morning when we're rushing to get out of the house. Turn off your light! Put on your shoes! Say bye to Daddy! Where's your coat? Paralysis....
  4. Temple was shocked to learn that others didn’t think like her.  Maybe we are approaching this whole thing wrong. Maybe we shouldn’t be trying to “fix” how Liam thinks, rather figuring out how he thinks and approach his education from a direction that he understands!
  5. If visual thinkers and verbal “typical” thinkers work together, amazing successes can be achieved. The two ways of thinking compliment each other and serve to cover all angles of an issue. Imagine a beautiful bridge or building where someone forgot to focus on the details. It could be disaster!

I am still processing so much of what she said that night because SO MUCH of it seemed to apply to my sweet boy. I really saw him from a different angle that night. I have struggled immensely with this diagnosis, but Liam is still Liam, as I’ve said before, and the diagnosis is just a terrifying word. His mind works differently than mine, and my job as his momma and his sherpa in this life is to see things from his perspective.  I always say I wish I could get inside his little head.

Maybe this is a start.
Thanks Temple.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

It still gets me...

Sometimes when I am behind Liam's van I still get choked up by a crazy combination of emotions. I still can't believe MY boy is in there, even though its been almost eight months. I still feel extremely fortunate that we are able to give him the absolute best possible thing.

Drive carefully red van, you are carrying precious cargo!!