Saturday, February 4, 2012

More on Autism

In an earlier post I noted changes in the official diagnosis of autism (link). One thing leads to another. On a walk with Monique, talking about that, she alerted me to the absolutely fascinating story of Temple Grandin—and a movie about that lady’s early struggles—helped by a heroic mother, aunt, and various other creative and determined individuals to draw her out. Grandin developed from the most unpromising beginnings into a major innovator in animal husbandry; later she distinguished herself as professor and lecturer on autism. A brief video (link) will introduce her. Watching that video—in which, among other things, she discusses the education of the young and the importance of hands-on-learning—and having just seen the film, it occurred to me first, what the real differences are between “hard” cases of autism where some genuine differences exist in the formation of the brain, Grandin’s case, and the spread of “soft” autism which is most likely due to failures of nurture, rearing, and education—hence the changes in diagnosis. Second, I discerned here the similarities between very gifted and creative and autistic people—which may have much to do with natural gifts of “seeing more,” as Temple Grandin did—she understood many things that others didn’t even notice—and good nurture, education. Grandin’s is a story very similar to Helen Keller’s—with very similarly triumphant outcomes. We know too little. But what I’m beginning to see clearly now is that the old ways of life were better suited to let children develop—playing in the real world with toys of their own making—and that the best educational method, based on real observation of children, is Maria Montessori’s.

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