First off, I want to say that my experience with Autism is limited. If I don’t know the lingo behind the condition, forgive me. And correct me if you know…There’s a world of misunderstanding that surrounds what is known as Autism, and while I’m learning about it, maybe others will too. I see that as a win/win.
My wife and I have made several observations lately on how dogs react, and pro-act, with people who are autistic. It intrigues us as we watch the dogs behavior change, as well as the change that comes over a child, or even an adult, that has autism. ( I’m having a difficult time writing the sentence, “…suffers from Autism.” My untrained and neophytic observations of those with autism, don’t reveal any suffering in the classic sense…Frustration at times, even anger…But most of the children and young adults I’ve met are actually fairly happy people, with the provision of understanding and compassion from others.)
We’ve watched autistic children, that would seem to not have social skills of any sort, suddenly become calm and controlled around dogs that pay attention to them. We’ve watched “high energy” dogs suddenly become sedate and supportive, even instructive, to these children…helping them cope with the outside world. What the heck is going on in their minds? Do dogs think in the same way as the Autistic? Do those with autism think like canines? Is there some symbiotic relationship possible there? These are the questions that prompted me to start researching this intriguing research.
It wasn’t long before the name Temple Grandin popped up in my search. The research monkeys were immediately shuttled over to the public library, to begin reading everything this earnest and brilliant woman has written. If you are unfamiliar with her work, believe me, she’s a prolific writer. Everything from multiple books on multiple subjects, to scholarly peer-reviewed scientific papers. Figuring out where to start was problematic, because everything I picked up had snippets of wonderful insight. Unlike my usual approach to research, I didn’t try to focus on any single subject. I allowed myself the luxury of letting Dr. Grandin introduce herself from the many sides of her work. There were several, what I’ll call “dichotomies”, to begin with. She is a staunch advocate for the proper treatment of animals, (Not necessarily an “Animal Rights” nut.) Yet her career has been as a designer of equipment that is now widely used in processing cattle into that beautiful steak on your grill. She simple loves animals of all sorts, but realizes that certain species serve mankind as protein. If they are to be processed, (go ahead, say it…) If they are to be killed, then do it as humanely as can be. Some reading this will balk at what she does, but it’s life in Reality-ville, and Doctor Grandin holds no contempt for non-meat consumers. She thinks of the cattle with respect and dignity.
The woman who has a penchant for hand-sewn Western-style shirts, (Picture Marty McFly in Back to the Future 3.) also has a gift for interacting with other animals. Her book “Animals Make Us Human”, discusses livestock both domestic and completely wild. Most important to this writer, she discusses canines at great length. I could go into more detail on this, and I may in another post, but don’t forget the real point of this post. Dr. Temple Grandin is Autistic. This fact would fade into nothing if you allowed it too. But her autism is the catalyst for much of her writing, and it serves her well. She seems to have a different wavelength in her mind when she deals with dogs, cats, cows, or chickens. She admittedly, and quite candidly, writes about her life long struggle to understand people nearly as well as she does the animals. We mystify her with our human behavior…
As I wrote at the beginning of this post, my purpose in taking on this subject is not to offer advice, counsel, or direction. I have none to give in my experience with Autism. I’m searching for knowledge from those who know it first hand…But there’s something of value to be found here, I know, and if I can drag a few of my readers along for the ride, I will be happy and satisfied. I’m not even sure how the “Autism community” feels about Grandin’s work, and I’m looking for other perspectives to round out the knowledge. Help me out!
This much I have observed, and know. Dog’s and autistic children interact in a very unique and special way that fulfills something for both. How can dog owners with willingness to become involved? What is there to learn from the interaction of these two very different species? What can it teach us about the workings of the human brain and psyche? How can it help find a cure for Autism? What do we learn about the canine mind? I’m looking for these answers, and insight from as many as possible…
For more on Temple Grandin: http://templegrandin.com/