Temple Grandin’s “Thinking in Pictures: My Life with Autism” has been selected for the the 2014-15 UC Davis Campus Community Book Project.
The Campus Council on Community and Diversity had called for nominations on the theme of disability issues (the council chooses a different theme each year); then a volunteer selection committee of faculty, staff and students reviewed the nominations, and recommended “Thinking in Pictures” from among the titles.
Grandin is no stranger to UCD, having visited as an academic — she’s a professor of animal science at Colorado State University — and as a person with autism, able to help people understand it.
The UC Davis MIND Institute hosted her for a talk, “My Experience With Autism,” in February 2007; interest proved so high beforehand that the organizers moved the program from the MIND Institute auditorium in Sacramento to the larger Freeborn Hall on the Davis campus.
She is scheduled to return to give an address as part of the book project, at 8 p.m. on Feb. 10 at the Mondavi Center.
As a researcher of animal behavior and designer of livestock handing equipment, Grandin has achieved an expertise that reflects her autism, as described in her 2005 book “Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior.”
She published “Thinking in Pictures” 10 years earlier (and updated it in 2006), and also has written or co-written many other books about autism, Asperger’s syndrome and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Here’s what Amazon.com says about “Thinking in Pictures”: “In this unprecedented book, Grandin delivers a report from the country of autism. Writing from the dual perspectives of a scientist and an autistic person, she tells us how that country is experienced by its inhabitants and how she managed to breach its boundaries to function in the outside world.
“What emerges in ‘Thinking in Pictures’ is the document of an extraordinary human being, one who, in gracefully and lucidly bridging the gulf between her condition and our own, sheds light on the riddle of our common identity.”
As a visual thinker, Grandin said in her 2007 address here, she catalogs things and ideas as pictures in her mind.
As a child, for example, she thought of the Lord’s Prayer as a brilliant yellow-white rainbow exploding from an electric tower — imagery that to her evoked the prayer’s phrase “the power and the glory.” Her mind, in fact, works like Google’s search engine for images, she said.
Ask her about church steeples, Grandin said, and she will conjure images of specific steeples she has seen. Her thinking goes from the specific to the general. Most other people’s thinking goes from the general to the specific, so their first thought of a steeple will be two lines intersecting in a point, like when you touch the fingertips of each hand together and make an upside-down V.
“I credit my visualization abilities with helping me understand the animals I work with,” she writes in “Thinking in Pictures.” “Early in my career I used a camera to help give me the animals’ perspective as they walked through a chute for their veterinary treatment. I would kneel down and take pictures through the chute from the cow’s eye level.
“Using the photos, I was able to figure out which things scared the cattle, such as shadows and bright spots of sunlight. (The photos) helped me figure out why the animals refused to go in one chute.”
— UC Davis News