Famed autistic Temple Grandin writes fascinating articles and books about her experiences as an autistic. Her writings provide an eye-opening view for people like myself who don’t have autism but want to try to understand how they see the world. She’s also a notable example of an autistic who was able to find professional success in a world that often doesn’t understand or appreciate autistics, thereby serving as a model we can teach autistic children to emulate.
For those who don’t know, Grandin has high-function autism and is a recognized autism advocate as well as a bestselling author and expert on animal behavior who served as a Professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University . Time Magazine listed her as one of the 100 most influential people in its 2010 issue.
In one of these articles written years back, Grandin describes several sensory issues she dealt with as a child, which holds lessons for how we should interact and play with autistic children:
- Speaking difficulties
- Music difficulties
- Hearing issues
- Tactile-sensory issues
- Pressure sensitivity
Grandin says that she wasn’t able to speak and felt very frustrated when trying to communicate, which she analogies to how stutterers must feel. She says that screaming was the only way she could communicate in many cases. The best remedies she experienced for her speech problems included having a speech therapist who drove her to try to speak, as well as using vestibular stimulation such as swinging on a swing.
Even though autistic children typically love listening and making music, Grandin had a lot of problems with musical rhythm when she needed to clap or sing in time with another person, although she could do fine by herself. She says that research suggests that autistics’ problems with rhythm are likely related to their speech issues, since normal toddlers move in sync with adults’ speech. Rhythm difficulties caused her to have trouble figuring out the flows of conversations and the best times to break into conversations, which explains some of the social difficulties autistics experience.
Granding describes her hearing as similar to “having a hearing aid with the volume control stuck on super loud.” She has trouble with places where there are many conversations going on, such as bars, as well as loud noises such as firecrackers.
Grandin describes being very sensitive to the texture of clothes–so sensitive that it takes her three to four days to adapt to new types of clothing! She says that some of these sensitivities can be desensitized by encouraging an autistic child to regularly run the skin with different textures. Such experiences agree with recent findings about how autistic brains are organized to favor sensory and perception processes, meaning children with autism can be easily overstimulated.
Grandin describes being sensitive to pressure applied on her. In its most common form this manifests when someone hugs her. Strangely, though, she says that she craved pressure stimulation such as hugs, yet when a hug actually happened it was a shock that overwhelmed her. Grandin later built a squeezing machine to acclimate her to different pressures, and she eventually learned to accept the feeling of being hugged.