Review: An Evening with Temple Grandin: In Atlanta

By Miyah

Temple Grandin speaking in Atlanta

On January 28, 2020, I had the joy of hearing “An Evening with Dr. Temple Grandin in Atlanta,” at the Morrow Center, which is south of urban Atlanta and the airport. Because I live on the contrary side of town, I elected to stay in an inn up the highway from the locale. At any rate, I entered just after 5:00 PM. Once inside, pleasant team at a top counter and a splendid standing black-and-white sketch of Temple were displayed. Just down the hall was a lobby which held a short registration table and another which held the works and other resources by Grandin herself. Standing in right in front line of the table was Dr. Grandin herself, who was chatting one-on-one with one of her fans. Being that I was soon, I took a spot at the head of a small auditorium with round tables versus seating for a wider crowd. From what I gathered, this would be a smaller event unlike most events in which the auditorium is crowded, this ballroom was small. . Anyway, I grabbed a rapid dinner to go from a local mall in the city and came back to dine. Meanwhile, a short line was then developing, and Temple came to become more pre-occupied signing books and chatting with her fans. Meanwhile, Brad Masala, and his attendant were helping to check people in and making purchases.

 

All the while, I had the pleasure of meeting a mother of an autistic son after admiring her outfit. Here, she wore blue puzzle pieces on her tennis shoes. As we started chatting, I got in line and agreed to take a picture of her and Temple and do a group photo of the three of us.

Temple posing with a mother of an autistic son and I
My copy of Animals in Translation.

Shortly thereafter, I purchased a copy of “Animals make Us Human” and was hesitant to get my book signed. Instead, I elected to return to my seat and have her sign at the end of the talk.

 

 

Temple telling an amazing story

Shortly thereafter, Brad Masala stepped up to the podium to give a brief backstory about Future Horizons and how it became established as a publisher. Moreover he gave important announcements CEU’s being available to professionals at the event. Finally, he gave a biography about Temple which was followed by the trailer to the HBO film.

Following, the audience welcome Dr Grandin with an applause as she stepped up to the podium to give her presentation. “Well it’s great to be here,” she stated, prior to introducing herself . She also touched on historical figures, who had have been on the autism spectrum and how they began their great careers vs today. Of these, included Michelangelo and Jane Goodall and both were able to land in the back door of their careers. For example, she expressed that Goodall had gotten into the back door by using her associate’s degree in administration into a college and ended up with a degree. She also stated her arguments that because autism is looked at from a medical approach, too many people are being taught to focus way too much on the label. As a result of this, many individuals are ending up in the wrong situation. Say, adults today are ending up with overly protective parents who are getting on social security and playing video games versus getting out there and leading overly productive lives. However, said that it makes her happy when she hears about people with autism and other disabilities living productive lives and getting out into the world. For instance, she had shared a story seeing a man at an airport who had no arms picking up his shoes with his feet while going through security and put them on the conveyor belt. Earlier, that evening, I overheard her telling this story to another one of her fans. Nevertheless, I originally thought that she was talking about a man on the spectrum who had gone through an airport rehearsal tour, my bad. So, I found it helpful that she was able to tell her same story with the audience. What I also loved that she demonstrated that you can do anything you set your mind to.

In other areas, she forwardly touched about employment and how it is important for one to sell their work. “When you’re weird you sell your work, not yourself,” which the audience rolled in laughter at. In addition, she expressed her concerns about the growing number of needs in the skilled trade industry. She also advised her audience not to turn our noses up such occupation due to feeling their roles are important. Further, she explained that skilled trade types of jobs often come with hands on tasks and paying attention to details which people on the spectrum tend to do very well in. She set an example by talking about a recent visit to the Kennedy Space Center where she observed a structure in which a raccoon had climbed out of one of the hole. She also explained that she was able to visualize what types of things the animal might have been chewing on. “I thought, what have you been chewing on?” She also noted that visual thinking is common sense. She demonstrated this later by showing the audience a slide of a cow backing away from a beam of light from the sun. As the result the cow was backing away. She asked the audience how many people were able to recognize that beam of light. Out of the entire audience, I was the only one who raised my hand which she was able to pick up.

Following her talk, there was a short Q&A session and I was the first to ask her about developing an early portfolio based on some work I do back at the Center for Leadership in Disability. Yet, I was not able to let her know what I was doing because she had a hard time understanding my question. Thinking back later, I did not directly communicate some of the work that I do and how I can turn it into a portfolio. Instead, we ended up talking about me doing statistics for research, which is a field I am looking at for graduate school. She was able to tell me to be careful with the research industry with money drying up compared to the 70’s. Yet, she talked about a recent model in a paper with too many variables and how peer review was able to call the statisticians out. Still, she said that people need plenty of people who can do statistics such as in the teaching industry. She also went on to answer other questions including from a young adult who was on the spectrum who wondered whether or not she had the eidetic memory. She answered,” No” and gave him lots of other answers about her sensory. She said that for her, anxiety was her biggest sensory issue.

Post her talk, Grandin returned to to get sign books and chat with her fans. As I waited in line to talk get my book signed, I chatted with the same women, who I took pictures with earlier that evening. I found out that she was a parent of a son on the spectrum. Off topic, she showed me pictures of her adult son who loved his Barney and anything related to Barney. Upon seeing that and hearing that, I heard her talk about Barney, I burst into laughter and recalling that I had liked Barney for a few years at age 10 and how it drove my parents nuts. Otherwise, this wonderful mother had given Temple a small gift which was a hand made bracelet and beads and stitching which I thought I was precious.

Finally, Temple signed my copy of “Animals make Us Human,” and chatted with me about the the talk. We also posed for a few photos including this one below.

Temple Grandin and I posing for a photo after her talk

In review, the event itself was held in a beautiful venue which was a nice small room. In addition to that, I liked how there were round tables and chairs versus the traditional settings. Still, the event would have probably benefited more had there been several rows of seats. The event also lacked an audience of individuals who are on the spectrum, rather there were more non-autistics. Finally, depending on budgeting and availability, the event probably would have benefited had it not been so out of the Atlanta area. Rather, a location in a area like Decatur or Tucker, where I live has lots of churches for options with big auditoriums where she would have been more accessible for people who do wish to hear her speak. Other options would be been the Studio Movie Grill in Duluth being that a support group known as “SPECTRUM” would have brought out a lot of people. Otherwise, everything else was great.

Still, I really liked the event

One other thing to mention, when attending her talks, Future Horizon’s has done a great job with accessibility. For instance, they provide a microphone so Temple doesn’t have to repeat the question twice. They also provide better access to the slides via a QR code which are some similar things we are working on at The Center for Leadership in Disability, where I am employed. Another area they touched on prior to Temple’s talk were some of her sensory issues. In this case, Brad advised against flash photography during her talk and no video recording. That said, I had sat in the front of the room and had gotten up to use to rest room twice during her talk. She told me that one of her sensory issues was having people walk in front of her while she does a talk and how it disrupts her thoughts. I feel that Future Horizon’s could announce to their audiences to either sit further back or not get up in the middle of her talk, instead use the bathroom before or afterwards.

On a final note, I would like to thank Future Horizon’s and Temple Grandin for the opportunity to go out and blog about this exciting event.

Miyah R. Sundermeyer

Podcast Interview: “On the Spectrum. Transitioning from Highschool to College.”

On the 24th of September, I had the pleasure of being interviewed for a podcast called “Converge Autism Radio,” by Stephanie Holmes. It was here that I shared my long road in education. In this podcast, talk about living on the spectrum and dealing with road blocks and the opinion of others.

https://www.spreaker.com/episode/19245536

Visiting Nashville TN for the Future Horizon’s Autism Conference

Temple and I at a FH conference in 2014 held in Atlanta

On Thursday, November the 29th, I will be boarding a flight that is bound for Nashville, Tennesee.  During my stay,  I will spend much of the afternoon and evening studying, dining and sleeping in my hotel.  The following morning, I will grab myself a large breakfast before hopping on the hotel’s shuttle which will drop me off at the Nashville Airport Marriott.  It is at this site that Future horizons will hold it’s autism conference where I will blog about the event and the speakers.

 

I am particularly looking forward to attending this event is that two out of three speakers are women next to being on the spectrum like myself.   What is more is that one of them happens to be Temple Grandin, who I have been acquainted with for quite some time. One of the main reasons is because her latest talks included information about how an adult with autism can learn to drive.  Being that I am 37 and have never learned, I feel it’s never too late.  So I am hoping to inquire with her second reason I catch up with Temple is that I have a friend who is currently unemployed and is facing some levels of discouragement at the moment.   I would like to put her on the phone with him because she is very encouraging and I believing she would give him some helpful advice.   Say, getting a work portfolio work samples that my friend can present when seeking a new job. All the while hoping to provide tips when he gets discouraged.   Ultimately, Temple and I are both very quirky women on the spectrum who believe in getting things done.   I look forward to seeing another go-getter like myself who believes in others on the spectrum.  

Not only that, I look forward to meeting Anita Lesko, who the second woman on the spectrum who will be presenting.   At the present, Lesko and I have not only had the chance to hear her speak live in an interview on World Autism Awareness Day.  I also had a chance to read her book “The Stories I Tell My Friends,” which is exclusively about Temple herself.  I am also inspired by her own amazing adventures including her all autistic wedding and her adventures flying on a fighter jet next to sharing some of the same struggles that I face daily.   As those of you who are my followers recall,  I read and reviewed that book.   So am I excited to finally be able to meet Anita.   

Following both of their talks, I look to get my copy of “The Stories I Tell My Friends” and hopefully at the same time.  Apart from getting the book signed, I hope to pose in a photo together with Temple and Anita.  Particularly as a way of saying “Thank you” for allowing me to read and review their book.

 

 

At long last,  I will have the chance to meet Dr. Jim Ball, who is specialized in ABA.    One of the reasons to listen to him is because of the some of the work that I am currently becoming more familiar with all this.   As I don’t know much about Applied Behavior Analysis, one would argue that it would sensible to get my feet wet.  This is especially since so many adults with autism are protesting the use of ABA versus other therapies such as floor time. 

While I impassioned about the conference,  there are two more days.  During that time, I have to remind myself that things need to be done now and then.  Between work, finals to study for and a flight to catch, there is a lot to be done.  

At this time,  you may wish to look at the link which contains information on the conference. 

https://www.fhautism.com/about-our-autism-conferences/autism-conference-with-temple-grandin-in-nashville-tn-november-30-2018/

Emotionless in Petville

 

When going through the process of purchasing my condo six and a half years ago, I found love in a beautiful red and white four-legged feline named Yeller.   Not only was it because he was ginger feline alone with being half Siamese,  but this little soul was able to capture my own heart.   It was during the last seven years that Old Yeller became similar to a child.   Be that as it may, my days with Yeller suddenly ceased when I reached on April 22, 2016, in attempting to ask a neighbor who I gave him to was doing the post giving Yeller to her one year prior. Sadly, she returned my comments by mentioning that Yeller was gone and had been put to sleep a few weeks earlier.  This was in due part to some sort of illness from facing years as a homeless cat before taking him in two years ago that the vet had guessed was hemorrhaging and increasing blood in the stool.  While one would normally break down in floods of tears after dealing with a significant loss, rather I seemed to relate to more to Mr. Spock where there are no emotions and only logic as to why my neighbor put him to sleep.  On the contrary, if ignores me or if one is ugly to me then I will sob uncontrollably.  Yet, my response losing Yeller was again very similar to the response of a Vulcan where logic and reasoning filled the gaps.  After learning how I respond to the bereavement of Yeller, I elected to do weeks of research on the effects of the autistic brain and lack of emotional response.

While hearing the news of a great loss did not trigger a deep emotional response, I had attempted two other actions that I thought might help. The first being that I had gone to visit Yeller’s burial site and even set some cat toys there.  Yet no such emotive response arose.   My second attempt included watching two different videos on YouTube about two discrepant felines who spent the last moments with their owners at the vet before facing euthanasia.  Once again I experienced no emotional regulation but rather had more interest in the effects of the drug and each feline’s response during those last few minutes on planet earth alive.  What I discovered firsthand is that the little mousers appeared to be in a state of constant relaxation rather than inert.  Whilst I realize that some people might be quite disturbed they may not realize that the autistic brain processes emotions adversely than those of a neurotypical.  Further on researchers also learned that two types of codes were discovered in both visual as well as OFC; Anderson et al. (2014).

Just located about the eyes, the orbitofrontal cortex is responsible for processing executive function in such areas as rewards,  such areas include controlling impulses and processing rewards.  Other areas include recognizing emotions in others and displaying adapted behaviors during the period one’s youth.   Finally, the orbitofrontal cortex is responsible for picking up vocal and social cues.Many investigations have been done regarding  autism and the orbitofrontal cortex and what they have found were similarities in the emotional malfunction in the brain of both individuals with autism and the nonhuman primates; Coleman et al (2005).

Two years ago, Anderson and a team of neuroscience postgrad students conducted a study on the effects of emotion and sensory processing in the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC). This area is responsible for the deeper perception of olfactory processing and the visual frontal cortical lobe; E Rolls (2004).  During the study, Anderson asked 16 participants to look at 128 pictures along with smell various distinct scents.  What they found was that the OFC contained very small grains that held a specific code of patterns in both pleasant and unpleasant situations based on what was seen. Furthermore, they learned that these grains could lean in opposite directions depending on the emotions; Anderson (2014).

In 2012, MedPage Today published an article based on the work that Ecker and a team of researchers who conducted a neurological study. “Autopsy and neuroimaging studies have demonstrated multiple differences in brain anatomy of individuals with ASD compared with the general population,” Bankhead, Ecker; (2012).   What Ecker and her team detected was that the cortical volume was greater on the left side of the orbitofrontal cortex rather than on the right in those with autism.   Furthermore, Ecker observed a correlation between reduced cortical mass and the severity of autism.  Finally, they learned that the cortical mass held a greater level of decrease in the right orbitofrontal cortex versus the left; Bankhead.

In her article Ecker interpreted:

These two factors are likely to be the result of distinct developmental pathways that are modulated by different neurobiological mechanisms. Both cortical thickness and surface area would thus benefit from being explored in isolation to elucidate the etiology and neurobiology of ASD, they added.

In late 2014, Lori D, covered a story in her blog series “A Quiet Week in the House” when breaking the news to her then adolescent son Thomas.  “Oh. So, then we’ll get a new kitty,” he returned with a lack of emotion as if he was referring to a damaged rug that had so many stains that one could easily replace it.  Furthermore, Lori also went on to mention that Thomas went over exact calculations in hid head about the life span expectancy of their cat.    This included the date when she would be expected to die.  Other ways he coped with her death was by giving a deep reasoning as to why he wanted her to be cremated versus buried due to fears of a potential change in routine.   Furthermore, he had lots of intelligent inquiry on the day of Pearl’s departure at the veterinarian upon telephoning Lori while she was at the vet.  In her blog, she explained that he asked “I know about Pearl.  Are you going to cremate her or bring her home? Is she dead? Are you going to bring her home? Is she dead? Will I see her dead body? Will you burn her on the charcoal grill? Is she dead?” She also discussed that Thomas would have rather seen his cat cremated verses being put into the ground because burial meant full departure. Finally, Lori discussed that her son wrote a poem to show his acknowledgment of her death D, L. (2014, October 3).

In the biographical film “Temple Grandin” starring Claire Danes, three scenes were shown where Grandin encountered death.  Rather than responding by breaking down into floods of tears, she questioned life after death.  She often asked, “Where do they go?”  Amid her high school years, one scene showed a favorite horse of Temple’s lying dead in the stable.  While she a inquired on Chestnut’s life after death to her favorite teacher and mentor Dr. Carlock, she explained that she saw millions of pictures of horses in her mind who resembled Chestnut.  This was after Carlock provided a suggestion not remember Chestnut in the current state of death , Jackson, M. (Director). (2010).

Though very little emphasis has been put into conducting research on the grief and the effects of the autistic brain,  there have been countless studies on autism, emotion, and the brain. In the website “Grief  and Growth” studied have proven that in the brain of a neurotypical brain that:

  Deep within our brains, lie structures that help translate signals from broader parts of  our brain.  The main structure is the limbic system, which contains the hypothalamus,  amygdala, and hippocampus.  The limbic system is the center of our emotions, learning   ability, and memory.  The amygdala, in particular, is responsible for our fear response and other emotional reactions, whereas the hippocampus is responsible for memory.  The hypothalamus regulates our emotions and secretion of hormones.  Signals are sent from the hypothalamus to signal the secretion of hormones to our body, allowing us to respond to certain situations, Bartel (2013).

On a web page of the site “Autism and the Human Brain” it is said that:

Research has shown that in some individuals diagnosed with autism, there are structural abnormalities in the Hippocampus. Dr. Bauman and Dr. Kemper of Harvard Medical School and Boston University School of Medicine have completed extensive research on autism and neurological damage to the Limbic System. They have examined post-mortal brains of individuals with autism and have found the Amygdala and the Hippocampus to be underdeveloped. In particular, they have reported finding densely packed, unusually small neurons in the Amygdala and Hippocampus of autistic individuals. The exact implications of the findings are still unknown, and more research must be completed in order to definitively connect autism to abnormalities in the Limbic System.

While I spent many hours and weeks attempting to find information in putting together first scholarly research blog, I expected more emphases to put into grief and the autistic brain which was rather frustrating.  Especially since there seem to be no current studies or findings on the bereavement and the effects on the autistic brain regarding the emotion.  What I did find that I was able to come up with my own question which appears to be answered.   Is the lack of cortical mass in the right hemisphere of the orbitofrontal areas connected to the lack of emotion?  Either way, we know that information is processed in the right hemisphere of the brain and that is why I ask the main question above.  Though I have never done any neuroimaging while viewing a series of videos of cats undergoing euthanasia while monitoring facial expressions,  this is a study that I would participate in as I learn more about myself and how my brain functions.

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