Book Review: ‘The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum’ by Temple Grandin

The world’s foremost author and advocate of autism research, Temple Grandin, has made yet another important contribution to the writings on the disease with her book The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum. A professor at Colorado State University, Grandin was herself diagnosed with autism at a young age, although it was originally thought to be brain damage because doctors weren’t yet familiar with the idea of autism in the mid-1900s. Grandin has made a career out of researching and writing about autism, clearing up the misunderstandings that continue to shape the discourse on the disability and defining autism for the average person. Thinking Across the Spectrum focuses on the autistic spectrum, from the overly shy child to severe cases. The amount of research done on the subject can be confusing, but Grandin breaks it down for us.

History of understanding autism

The history of the understanding of autism is told through Grandin’s book in her own experience as an autistic person and in the scientific research that has been performed since 1943, when autism was first exposed. Co-written with award-winning science writer Richard Panek, the book is mainly from Grandin’s point-of-view, beginning with her own first  experiences with doctors and growing up autistic. Noting that she has had multiple scans taken of her brain to help scientists determine just what makes autistic people tick, Grandin is open to experimentation and provides readers an intimate glimpse into her life.

Defining autism

The book is well-written and easy to read, and allows even readers who are not familiar with the autism spectrum a comprehensive definition of the diagnosis. Autism, writes Grandin, is not brain damage. Instead it is a developmental disorder that is still misunderstood on many levels. Each person living with autism experiences the disorder in different ways, landing on a different end of the spectrum – from highly functioning (as Grandin herself is considered to be) to a more severe and life-impacting form of the disorder.

Autism research

Grandin delves into how the brain functions on different ends of the spectrum. She does stress however, that children should not be given a label – change is possible, as is continuing research. The research has expanded into the genetic realm of science and is now more than a disease simply connected to psychology. Grandin notes how changes in diagnosing autism have been made over the years. The expanding technology that also has a direct impact on autism research is a further focus of the book. Grandin includes images of her own brain scans for further readers enlightenment.

Interacting with autistic people

Not only does Grandin focus on the research that tries to figure out what goes on in the autistic brain, but she also considers how to approach and interact with an autistic person. Grandin notes that every person has his or her own strengths and weaknesses. The strengths of each person need to be played up and determine just how to function properly in the world with those strengths.

Thinking Across the Spectrum has received many great reviews not only from the press but from everyday readers and researchers as well. Many parents and caregivers of autistic children have written reviews of the books, praising Grandin’s simple layout of the research conducted, giving hope to those who might otherwise have none.

If you know someone who has autism, are confused by the disability, or simply want to learn more, there’s no better way to learn about autism than from an autistic person. What goes on in an autistic individual’s mind? Grandin lets readers see what’s going on in her own mind while presenting relevant recent research on the topic. This is a great bedside table book, easy reading but an important text to keep close at hand.