Tag Archives: visualization

Autism – The Inward Flight of the Bright and Stubborn Child

Posted by David
Temple Grandin with Horse

Temple Grandin with Horse

We just watched a movie about Dr. Temple Grandin, the famous autistic woman who specializes in ‘thinking in pictures’ and thinking like cattle. I have read about her before in a book called An Anthropologist on Mars, by Oliver Sachs. It’s a fascinating book.

What struck me about the movie was that supposedly she had photographic memory. Really? In years past, I haven’t believed that people could actually have photographic memory. I’ve thought the phenomenon to be either a lie or just a self-misrepresentation, i.e., one might think that they have photographic memory, but that they are actually just really good either at using mnemonic devices or at visualizing.

When I was younger my dad would say that he couldn’t see things in his head, something I also couldn’t believe. I thought that actually he could see things, but just fuzzy and probably no more fuzzy than most other people. I now believe he might not consciously be able to see things, but that he processes his visualizations differently than I do. He can refute me here.

There seems to be different types of thinkers out there. The types are probably connected to the different types of senses: eyes, ears, smell, taste and even touch. I’d probably class smell and taste together, but maybe not.

Like Temple, I’m a visual thinker, probably because of my limited speech as my brain developed. (I was a stutterer in grade school and secondary school.) Or maybe it is the other way around. My tendency toward visual thinking limited my speech and reading, but that’s a chicken-egg issue not to side track us here.

So, what kind of thinker would my dad be? Certainly, he will need to class himself, but I’ll give it a shot. He’s probably an auditory ‘visualizer.’ What I see in pictures, he probably hears in his head or ‘thinks’ in his head. This might also be what makes him musically gifted…and me not musically gifted. Now, of course, we all cross the borders of these types. We all visualize and we all audiate. But most people excel in one way or the other based who they are and whence they came.

The savant, on the other hand, would be someone who is really good at one particular way of thinking and not good at the others. Something in their early childhood, during brain development, hindered one or more aspects of their character which focused them into another way of thinking and acting. Temple Grandin would seem to be an example of a savant, which makes me think that she may actually have photographic memory, or at least some very heightened ability to visualize something she looked at briefly. But I’m sure even her photographic memory fades quickly, but we’ll need to ask her!

I do recall having a few dreams in my life that were heightened visually. The scenes were so vivid and so detailed, that I remember thinking (during one dream in particular) that there’s no way that my brain could be manufacturing this level of detail. I still remember one of these dreams, but the detail did not remain. It has all turned to fuzz. This does remind me that I do believe memory is beyond the individual. We may be tapping into more than just our lowly brains can muster.

During the past few years, I’ve had the fortunate experience of being able to substitute in some classrooms at our local high school and interact with autistic children. Most of the autistic kids are in distant, deep, and far away in a lonely world. They seemingly have no keen ability, unlike Grandin, with the exception of one of the students who is an exceptional abstract artist. My experience has made me think that the reason some autistic children are exceptional visually is because of the cutting off of the auditory communications with others. By diving inside themselves, locking and throwing away the key, all they have is the visual world that they’ve entered and they lose their ability to communicate effectively with others. They live in that visual world, a beautiful, comfort-filled, yet difficult and frightening place.

In regards to autistic children, there are five interesting factors that I think tell their story. 1) Autistic children are very stubborn and get frustrated easily (at least the ones I know). 2) Two of the highest density locations for autistics are Redmond, WA (Microsoft) and Silicone Valley (smart parents). 3) First-born children are more likely to be autistic. 4) Children of older parents are more likely to be autistic. 5) They are usually ‘normal’ as infants and even toddlers.

The five factors above tell me a compelling story: Autism may very well be a social disease, caused by society’s relentless push toward ‘success’. And it seems to be potentially preventable in some children when young. Smart parents of bright stubborn children shouldn’t push their children to learn too much, or they might just climb back inside their heads and learn that it’s safer inside than out. Certainly, they must be engaged physically, mentally and emotionally. That’s the key. But how to do that seems to be the big question and must be tailored to the individual. Let’s have our kids enjoy childhood and give them opportunities where they can excel. Leading a horse is a lot easier than pushing one. But then again maybe as a species, we just have hit the limit on intelligence and autism is the side effect.

I say all this fairly blindly; my kids aren’t autistic. My 4-year old is very stubborn and wonderful and difficult, but I can’t even imagine what it’s like having an autistic child. The parent must know patience like no other parent.

The most severly autistic boy I know is profoundly stubborn. He’ll throw a fit before he’ll do anything a teacher wants him to do. He can’t talk, he can barely walk, yet he can move a mouse quicker than any 18-year old whizz kid from China. Supposedly, he was a normal 3 year old.

But it seems like it’s generally untreatable once the brain is set in its mold—barring a miracle. The rut in which these people walk is deeper than we can climb down to them. And since it’s partly due to the stubborn nature of humanity, it’s a door they must open to get out. And we sure can’t yell down at them to get them out. That will push them deeper.

The choice of the will is the beautiful story in the Temple Grandin movie we watched. She spoke of doors and going through them. How scary those doors were looming for her. But she kept opening doors. It was her will and her choice to get out and she made it, thank God.

But my favorite of Einstein’s words on religion is “Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind.” I like this because both science and religion are needed to answer life’s great questions. Even scientists such as Richard Feynman, who rejected religion and poetry as sources of truth, concede grudgingly that there are questions that science cannot answer.

-Dr. Temple Grandin

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Filed under children, Consciousness, Psychology, society

Stuttering and Conversation Anxiety

Posted by: David

Today I’ll be writing about my experience as a stutterer and what contributed to my present-day fluency.

My experience as a stutterer was probably rather typical. I’m not sure about the onset, but it probably started when I was in middle elementary school. It became progressively worse due to social embarrassment and ended fairly abruptly at the end of college. I have had a handful of stuttering episodes since that time, usually corresponding to high levels of conversation anxiety, but as a Park Ranger and substitute teacher I have also been highly successful in public speaking. From my analysis, I think that stuttering has both a physical and a psychological component. As my dad (Mike) likes to say, its cause is “multidetermined.”

What were the causes of my stuttering? I expect it has some to do with the English language itself, with social expectations, with my pride and vanity, and with my physical nature. In regards to my physiology, I have a fairly high level of energy. As a child I would run to get places. I think my energy level was one of the major causes as well as how my brain’s visual center is more developed that my verbal center. My brain would think faster than I was capable plugging the correct words together when vocalizing thoughts. I was also quite shy and I had a tendency to be nervous in the first place in front of groups of people. So when I would stutter and ‘block’ in front of the class, my uneasiness toward the next speaking event would compound my conversation anxiety.

As a student, the worse situations (as one can imagine) were when we were reading a textbook aloud and one student after another would read going down the rows. The anxiety would build and build as my turn approached. The anxiety along with the mental image of the embarrassment of public stuttering would set me up for disaster. Each event was always a disaster. It’s important to note that I feel that my mental vision of embarrassment would increase anxiety and set me up for a self-fulfilling prophesy. I would envision a stuttering event and it would happen.

These anxiety-driven stuttering events occurred into my early twenties. Fortunately, not all teachers required me to speak in front of the class, and as the other students became older, there was less snickering as my classmates matured. A compassionate classroom, although rare, was always helpful.

I’ll also note that I used my stuttering as a manipulative device to get things my way sometimes. I can look back at a few events and know this to be true. But let me also make it clear that my stuttering was real, yet there were a handful of events where I consciously/subconsciously abused my speech problem for my own selfish motives.

So,  what did not work for me? That’s simple: continuous phonation. That’s a classic technique where the stutter slides into the difficult sounds. For example, instead of saying, “David is a boy.” The stutter would say, “…hhhdDavid is a hhhboy.” Basically, you learn to slide into difficult sounds. In my case, “d” and “b” were difficult sound to produce. In looking back and from hearing adult stutters today, it seems like this technique is just a crutch. It gets people talking and semi-functional, but it doesn’t solve the problem. For some, it at least helps them to talk.

What did work for me? Again, that’s simple: visualizations of fluency. In college, I was referred to a professor, who worked in the speech department who was working with a graduate student on conversation anxiety. I couldn’t recall who these two people were, but the theory was simple and it worked for me. They used positive visualization techniques combined with relaxation to reduce anxiety and subsequently stuttering and blocking events. It worked and I probably had less than five sessions total.

My preparation for each session consisted of writing down and visualizing instances where conversation anxiety would be high, such as answering the phone, public speaking, talking with persons of authority, etc. And I was to start thinking about those situations in a positive light. I was to envision them as moments of fluent speaking, of clear and thoughtful moments of communication. Then during each session, the professor would have us sit in relaxing chairs and help us relax through standard relaxation techniques. Then after we were relaxed, we were to visualize the fluent conversational situations.

In those days, my studies were so time-consuming that I was always physically exhausted. The funny thing was that I never really got a chance to visualize the events during sessions, because each time I fell fast asleep before the professor was done talking us into a state of relaxation. But that didn’t really matter, because the visualization work had been done. During my preparations I had already visualized the situations. Much of the work was then done in my preparation. Throughout each week, just the fact that I knew that the session was approaching forced me to visualize moments of fluency.

I’m thankful that I was able to stop stuttering when I was in my twenties. I expect that stuttering becomes more and more integrated into one’s physical nature, the longer the stutterer lives with the problem.

Please note that I think that this technique can be used for all sorts of mental and emotional pathologies. What we think and gather in our minds is potentially harmful. I had collected years of negative thoughts, thoughts of failure, thoughts of ridicule, and vain thoughts that changed who I was. As much as possible, we need to lift ourselves up as well as others. We need to fill our minds with good thoughts, thoughts that please our God. In many ways, my experience is a just microcosm of how many of our pathologies play out. We need to fill up and fill others up on goodness. Our thoughts are very powerful indeed.

Lastly, I’ll speculate one thing about my predisposition to stuttering. As a child, I really did lack rhythm. Today, I’m in a marimba band and the idea surfaces regularly: what if I had more experiences in music and rhythm during my early childhood, would that have affected my predisposition for stuttering? I don’t know. But I do feel that my limited rhythm as a child may have affected the physical nature to my stuttering. So, if you do have a child that stutters, consider playing the drums and sing songs with him or her.

But mostly give that child a community that pours out love and teach the child to do the same to others. The root cause of my stuttering may have had a physical side, but it also had much to do with my world- and self-perception. We all have problems that manifest due to this. For me it was stuttering. What is it or was it for you?

If you have a child that stutters, give the child the food of love and teach the child to feed love to others. I also think it’s important to provide the child a truthful perception of reality. Of course, they don’t need to know the nuts and bolts. But generally, the child needs to know that even though there are wicked people in the world, there are also wonderful loving people in the world, and that sometimes these people are the same person. But most of all, the child needs to know that God indisputably loves them and ultimately it is in him that we gain our confidence. He is the one that we should seek to please. God must be the root of our confidence. And it is in this confidence that secures our visualizations and our mental imagery that guides our daily lives.

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