The Way I See It

Penulis artikel-artikel berikut adalah seorang wanita autistik yang sudah tidak asing lagi di kalangan komunitas autis yaitu Temple Grandin. Ia berhasil menjadi seorang Scientist dan Engineer, serta menemukan suatu alat yang berguna dalam bidang peternakan. Kini Temple telah menjadi seorang yang mandiri dengan gelar PhD dan mengajar di Eropa dan USA.

Sebagai seorang penyandang autis yang sukses, Temple Grandin telah menjadi sosok yang menumbuhkan inspirasi bagi banyak komunitas autis di seluruh dunia. Temple telah berhasil menyajikan suatu pikiran pada penyandang autis dan tentu saja membuat orang awam pun dapat ikut menyelami.

Autism – The Way I See It

by Temple Grandin

Different Types of Thinking in Autism

Recent studies on the brain, and especially the brains of people diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), are shedding light on the physiological underpinnings of our thoughts and emotions. We are gaining a better understanding of how neuropathways are formed and the extent to which biology influences behavior.

When I was much younger, I assumed that everybody perceived the world the same way I did, that everybody thought in pictures. Early in my professional career I got into a heated verbal argument with an engineer at a meat-packing plant when I told him he was stupid. He had designed a piece of equipment that had obvious flaws to me. My visual thinking gives me the ability to ‘test-run’ in my head a piece of equipment I’ve designed, just like a virtual reality computer system. Mistakes can be found prior to construction when I do this. Now I realize his problem was not stupidity; it was a lack of visual thinking. It took me years to learn that the majority of people cannot do this, and that visualization skills in some people are almost nonexistent.

All minds of the autism spectrum are detail-oriented, but how they specialize varies. By questioning many people both on and off the spectrum, I have learned that there are three different types of specialized thinking:

1. Visual thinking – Thinking in Pictures, like mine
2. Music and Math thinking
3. Verbal logic thinking

Since autism is so variable, there may be mixtures of the different types. The importance of understanding these three ways of thinking comes into play when trying to teach children with ASDs. Strategies that build on the child’s area of strength and appeal to their thinking patterns will be most effective. This is most likely to become evident between the ages of five and eight. In children younger than five, it is often difficult to identify their strengths yet, unless savant skills are unfolding.

VISUAL THINKERS

These children often love art and building blocks, such as Legos. They get easily immersed in projects. Math concepts such as adding and subtracting need to be taught starting with concrete objects the child can touch. Drawing and other art skills should be encouraged. If a child only draws one thing, such as airplanes, encourage him to draw other related objects, such as the airport runways, or the hangers, or cars going to the airport. Broadening emerging skills helps the child to be more flexible in his thinking patterns. Keep in mind that verbal responses can take longer to form, as each request has to be translated from words to pictures before it can be processed, and then the response needs to be translated from pictures into words before it is spoken.

MUSIC AND MATH THINKERS

Patterns instead of pictures dominate the thinking processes of these children. Both music and math is a world of patterns, and children who think this way can have strong associative abilities. They like finding relationships between numbers or musical notes; some children may have savant-type calculation skills or be able to play a piece of music after hearing it just once. Musical talent often emerges without formal instruction. Many of these children can teach themselves if keyboards and other instruments are available.

VERBAL LOGIC THINKERS

These children love lists and numbers. Often they will memorize bus timetables and events in history. Interest areas often include history, geography, weather and sports statistics. Parents and teachers can use these interests and talents as motivation for learning less-interesting parts of academics. Some verbal logic thinkers are whizzes at learning many different foreign languages.

The thinking patterns of individuals with ASD are markedly different from the way in which ‘normal’ people think. Because of this, too much emphasis is placed on what they ‘can’t do.’ While impairments and challenges do exist, greater progress can be made teaching these individuals when parents and teachers work on building the child’s strengths and teach in a manner that is aligned with their basic pattern of thinking.

OVERCOMING AUTISM : A first-person Account

By : TEMPLE GRANDIN , PHD
The Havard Mental Health Letter, March 1991

Not being able to speak was utterly frustrating. At the age of three, I understood everything people said to me but could not get any words out. Screaming was the only way I could communicate that I did not want to do something. I remember thinking very logically that I was going to scream now to tell my mother I did not want to wear a hat. At the Clinic I screamed every time the speech therapist directed her pointer at me, because I had been taught at home that pointing a stick was dangerous, and there was no other way to let her know I was afraid. Fortunately, the speech therapist knew just how much to intrude into my world to break through and draw out speech. She would hold me by the chin and force eye contact. If she pushed too hard I had a tantrum, and if she did not push hard enough there was no progress.

HYPERSENSIVITY

Many of my behavior problems and tantrums were caused by hypersensitivity to sound and touch. Sudden loud sounds felt like a dentist’s drill. At the age of five, I remember throwing myself on the deck of a ferryboat screaming because the horn sounded like a jet engine blasting through my brain. My auditory system was like a microphone with the volume set on high Confronted with loud or confusing noise, I could behavior acted as sort of drugs that calmed me. Sitting on a crowded beach, I would dribble sand through my fingers and study every grain like a scientist looking through a microscope. I still retain this sensitivity to noise, although it has moderated.

Touch, too, was often painful. Dressing up was torture, because scratchy petticoats felt like sandpaper on raw nerve endings. It took days for me to adapt to a change of clothing, from short to long pants or from pants to skirt (today many autistic children are helped by massage, vibration, or rubbing of the skin with different cloth textures). Although I craved comfort, I would stiffen and jerk away when touched. A hug set off tidal wave of sensation. But deep pressure stimulation was relaxing if I could control its onset and duration. When I was five years old, I used to wrap myself in blankets and burrow under sofa cushions to calm myself.

At eighteen, while visiting my aunt’s ranch, I noticed that cattle sometimes relaxed when they were held in a squeeze chute for veterinary work. I built a squeeze machine for myself, linen with foam rubber and powered by an air cylinder that allowed me to change the pressure by pushing the lever. Its hold was firm but soothing and comforting. Fortunately, my teachers did not try to eliminate my fixation on cattle chutes and the squeeze machine but used its motivating force to get me to study in high school. It has become the basis for a satisfying career in which I travel all over the world designing stock-yards , chutes and pens for large meat packing plants and ranches.

When I first started to use the machine, I often flinched and pulled away, but gradually learned to relax and enjoy the feeling of being held. Autistic people are often said to lack empathy, and this may be partly a sensory problem. I owned a Siamese cat that used to run from me until I learned by using the squeeze machine how to pet it more gently. I had to be comforted myself before I could give comfort to the cat.

When I was child, loud sounds like the school bell hurt my ears like a dentist’s drill hitting a nerve. Children with autism need to be protected from sounds that hurt their ears. The sounds that will cause the most problems are school bells, PA systems, buzzer on the score board in the gym, and the sound of chairs scraping on the floor. In many cases the child will be able to tolerate the bell or buzzer if it is muffled slightly by stuffing it with tissues or duct tape. Scraping chairs can be silenced by placing slit tennis balls on the end of the legs or installing carpet. A child may fear a certain room because he/she is afraid he’she may be suddenly subjected to squealing microphone feedback from the PA system. The fear of a dreaded sound can cause bad behavior.

Some autistic people are bothered by visual distractions and fluorescent lights. They can see the flicker of the 60-cyccle electricity. To avoid this problem, place the child’s desk near the window or try to avoid using fluorescent lights. If the lights cannot be avoided, use the newest bulbs you can get. New bulbs flicker less.

Some hyperactive autistic children who fidget all the time will often be calmer if they are given a padded weighted vest to wear. Pressure from the garment helps to calm the nervous system. I was greatly calmed by pressure. For best results, the vest should be worn for twenty minutes and then taken off for a few minutes. This prevents the nervous system from adapting to it.

Some individuals of autism will respond better and have improved eye contact and speech if the teacher interacts with them while they are swinging on a swing or rolled up in a mat. Sensory input from swinging or pressure from the mat sometimes helps to improve speech. Swinging should always be done as a fun game. It must NEVER be forced.

Some children and adults can sing better than they can speak. They may respond better if words and sentences are sung to them. Some children with extreme sound sensitivity will respond better if the teacher talks to them in a low whisper.

Some nonverbal children and adults cannot process visual and auditory input at the same time. They are mono-channel. They cannot see and hear at the same time. They should not be asked to look and listen at the same time. They should be given either a visual task or an auditory task. Their immature nervous system is not able to process simultaneous visual and auditory input.

In older nonverbal children and adults with autism, touch is often their most reliable sense. It is often easier for them to feel. Letters can be taught by letting them feel plastic letters. They can learn their daily schedule by feeling objects a few minutes before scheduled activity. For example, fifteen minutes before lunch, give the person a spoon to hold, or let them hold a toy car a few minutes before going in the car.

Some children and adults with autism will learn more easily if the computer keyboard is placed close to the screen. This enables the individual to simultaneously see the keyboard and screen. Some individuals have difficulty remembering if they have to look up after they have hit a key on the keyboard.

Nonverbal children and adults will find it easier to associate words with picture if they see the printed word and a picture on a flashcard. Some individuals do not understand line drawings, so it is recommended to work with real objects and photos first.
Some autistic individuals do not know that speech is used for communication. Language learning can be facilitated if language exercises promote communication. If the child asks for cup, then give him/her a cup, if the child asks for plate, when he wants a cup, give him/her a plate. The individuals needs to learn that when he/she says words, concrete things happen. It is easier for an individual with autism to learn that their words are wrong if the incorrect word resulted in the incorrect object.

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