Book Review: “EMERGENCE: Labeled Autistic”

This is a partial review of Grandin’s book with key ideas that impressed me and ideas I want to remember in teaching.  I recommend reading the whole book.

Emergence Labeled Autistic by Temple Grandin is available on Amazon.

Emergence: Labeled Autistic

by Temple Grandin, PhD, & Margaret M. Scariano

Having seen the movie “Temple Grandin” three times, I was excited to read about her early years since those were barely touched on in the movie.  She did not speak until age 3 ½ (movie says age 4), but I was surprised to find out that she was very destructive as a child. However, her mom especially loved, supported, and encouraged her, as well as her aunt and a teacher, which made a huge difference in her life.

She loved to spin in circles, was extremely sensitive to certain noises (the sound of a fog horn was actually painful to her), and she had a hard time keeping rhythm which not only affected being able to clap in rhythm but also hearing the rhythm in poetry. She often reacted in a fixated behavior pattern to offset her overly stimulated nervous system.  Grandin had many nerve attacks as a child and as a teenager, and she would alternate between impulsive behavior and then withdrawing into herself.  Uncontrollable laughter, constant questioning and talking, and a strong obsession with a certain topic are some common characteristics of many children with autism which are characteristics Grandin possessed.

Here are some ideas that Dr. Grandin presents that help in understanding and working with autistic children:

  • Autistic children have fixations, so utilize their fixations. In other words, use those fixations to motivate learning, reading, math, etc. If a child likes dinosaurs, for instance, then do math problems with dinosaurs and read books about dinosaurs.
  • More emphasis needs to be placed on developing a child’s talents instead of concentrating only on their weaknesses. Their talents can be developed into skills that they can use later in a job situation or maybe an enjoyable hobby.
  • People’s thinking styles, according to Grandin, an be divided into three basic thinking patterns: visual thinking (common in those with high functioning autism), music and math thinking, and verbal logic thinking (common in those with mild Asperger’s Syndrome). There are combinations of these three types as well. All three types are usually rigid thinkers and need to become more flexible in how they think.
  • Good jobs for visual thinkers are graphic arts, photography, drafting, computer network troubleshooting, computer repair, auto mechanics, industrial equipment design, animal care, and science research.
  • Good jobs for music and math thinkers are music related fields, mathematics, engineering, physics, chemistry, and technical fields.
  • Good jobs for verbal logic thinkers are translators, journalists, accountants, special education teachers, speech therapists, and librarians.
  • To encourage flexibility, show the child how an object can fit into different categories. For example, an apple goes in the fruit category, the color red category, and the round objects category. (This will be a good activity to do in the classroom.)
  • Albert Einstein, Mozart, Vincent van Gogh and many other scientists, musicians, and artists had either autism or Asperger traits. According to Grandin, today there are engineers, computer nerds, equipment designers, draftsmen, etc., who are undiagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. So, individuals can range from severely handicapped to brilliant.
  • Mentors are great to help with learning social skills. There are many good books and teaching materials on the market which are valuable for teaching social skills.
  • Anxiety and sensory sensibility can make functioning at social events or on the job very uncomfortable. Grandin herself had trouble hearing auditory detail. Her speech teacher helped her hear the consonants by enunciating them clearly. Grandin understood when an adult spoke to her, but when two adults talked quickly to each other it sounded like a foreign language to her.
  • For many people, there is a problem with the flicker on computer screens. A flat panel screen that doesn’t have fluorescent lamps is best. There are other things available to help those who are bothered by the flicker or the print vibrating.

Looking back, Grandin wishes that more time had been spent with speech therapists while she was growing up so that her speech wasn’t so different from the norm. Her speech was awkward and “flat” with no emotion.

One part that was very touching was when Grandin’s mother had taken her to a boarding school. When her mother was ready to leave, she said, “I’ll miss you, Temple.” Grandin says, “She walked quickly to my side and kissed my cheek. I ached to be enfolded in her arms, but how could she know? I stood rigid as a pole trapped by the approach/avoidance syndrome of autism. I drew back from her kiss, not able to endure tactile stimulation – not even loving, tactile stimulation.” Grandin actually designed and constructed a “squeeze machine” to simulate the hugs she desperately longed for but could not endure.

Dr. Grandin has been blessed in that she has been able to analyze herself through the years, and she has worked and is still working to improve the areas in her life that need improving. She has gone out of her comfort zone so many times and that has helped her to become the person she is today.  Grandin does public speaking worldwide, has written several books, is a professor at Colorado State University, has a very successful career as a livestock-handling equipment designer which is one of very few in the world, and has opened the eyes of the world to autism in a way never known before.


Dr. Grandin writes, “People treating autistic children should avoid falling into the trap of using just one type of treatment. A variety of methods used together would probably be the most successful…. The most successful programs start treatment by age three or four and provide contact with normal children. They are also very intense. Passive approaches do not work. A good program should also have flexible non-aversive behavior modification, sensory treatment (by an occupational therapist), speech therapy, exercise, and music therapy…. The most important component of the treatment plan is the presence of loving people to work with the child.”

Emergence: Labeled Autisticis an enlightening book that gives insight into autism from someone who is autistic, and the author has revealed more about the autistic world than just about anyone else.

* NOTE:  Dr. Grandin is listed in TIME Magazine as one of twenty-five “Heroes” of 2010.