Although some medical statistics point out that one in 88 people has some form of autism, the diagnosis is still very little understood. Is it a psychological condition? Is it biological? Are children born autistic, or does their environment contribute to, and perhaps cause, their autism?

In this brilliant book that is part memoir and part scientific study, best-selling author Temple Grandin, one of the world’s most accomplished and well-known adults with autism, probes the causes of the condition, encouraging us to think differently about it and to embrace the strengths autism bestows.

When Grandin’s mother noticed her young daughter exhibiting symptoms that we now label autistic—destructive behavior, inability to speak, sensitivity to physical contact—she took her to a neurologist rather than to a psychologist. The doctor diagnosed the young girl with brain damage, and Grandin’s mother carried out a program of intense individual therapy, engaging with the young Grandin one-on-one, a therapy now commonly practiced with autistic individuals today. Grandin points out that, given the rapidly changing views about autism and its causes, a mere decade later a doctor might have told her mother that the problem was all in the child’s mind.

Drawing on extensive and in-depth examinations of the science of the brain and contemporary genetics, Grandin challenges the idea that autism is “all in the mind” and merely a psychological condition that can be accurately diagnosed for every individual case. Indeed, there is no single cause or single symptom for autism. The search for causes for autism “involves the observation of neurological and genetic evidence and looking for each symptom along the whole spectrum.”

She points out that every case is widely different and no two people with autistic tendencies can be treated the same way. The spectrum of autistic individuals includes what she calls “three-kinds-of-minds”: pattern thinkers who are able to see and understand the forms behind the words but who have difficulty with reading and writing; picture thinkers who excel at understanding shapes and learn from hand-on activities; word-fact thinkers who perform poorly at drawing but interact with the world through their stellar writing skills. Prepared with this knowledge, schools and therapists should never ask an autistic individual to learn in a way that he or she can’t understand.

In The Autistic Brain, Grandin revolutionizes our way of thinking about autism, urging us not to fall into labeling or believe that we can only ever respond in one way to an autistic individual.

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