Helpful Book – The Autistic brain

Buy The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum: Book

This book -The Autistic brain Thinking across the spectrum is the best book I have read in recent times. Well, I guess, that’s what can be expected when Temple Grandin, my favourite author with autism, sets out to unravel the autistic brain, how it differs from a neurotypical one both biologically and functionally. She has the unique perspective of having autism, talking to many people on the spectrum as well the experience of seeing kids with autism and spending time with parents who have attended her talks over the past three decades. The book has two parts – The autistic  brain and rethinking the autistic brain.

The first part, the autistic brain has four chapters. The chapter ‘ The meanings of autism’ discusses the how the diagnosis of autism has progressed from the days of Kanner to the present DSM -V diagnosis. Indepth and insightful. The second chapter ‘ Lighting up the autistic brain’ talks about the anatomical differences in the structure of brain in individuals with autism and how these differences persist within the spectrum too. She shares the images of her brain scans over the years and the science student in me had a great time reading this chapter! She reveals how the amygdala ( the region of brain that control fear) is overdeveloped in individuals with autism, accounting for their fear of  a vast number of stimuli and situations. I liked the part where she talks about how her brain cells are 400% more adept at storing and processing visual information as compared to control group (neurotypicals) but has only 1% of the capacity to talk about what you see when compared to the same control group. The chapter sequencing the autistic brain talks about the efforts in the field of autism genome project to locate the genes responsible for autism. Very fascinating is the revelation that there is so far no such specific gene located because the variations in genetics of individuals with autism is as different as they are!

The fourth chapter ‘Hiding and seeking’ is my personal favourite as it discusses the sensory problems in autism and how little we know about them. I totally agree with her in her assessment that when we say that the child is over-responsive or under-responsive to sensory stimuli, we are talking about our perception of them as an observer, which may be vastly different form that of someone who is feeling them! I am talking about this from my personal experience. My son has a huge problem with brushing teeth and gargling water. I assumed this was because of his oral motor sensitivity. It took me an ear infection to figure out the actual reason. When I had ear infection, gargling water made me feel like my head would burst because it was so loud as was brushing my teeth, the sound brush made on my teeth is beyond imagination! I feel children with autism are slow to develop theory of mind because they are so busy navigating their sensory world, leaving little time to understand other’s perspectives!

The second part, Rethinking the autistic brain talks about looking past the labels and focusing more on the strengths of people with autism. She aptly suggests using the individual’s strong areas to teach weaker skills. Temple clarifies that she feels there are three types of autistic thinking – Word fact thinkers ( similar to auditory learners), picture thinkers(like Temple Grandin) and third type pattern thinkers (like Danniel Tammet), who excel in maths and music. She suggests jobs for these three types of thinking, ones which target their strengths! In the appendix there is AQ (autism syndrome quotient test).

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