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Thinking in Pictures
and Other Reports from My Life with Autism
Temple Grandin

Published by Vintage Books in 1996
A Book Review by Bobby Matherne ©2002


The autobiographical aspect of this book repeats some of the things of her earlier book, Emergence: Labeled Autistic, and adds more details about her life. Having covered her life in my review of that book, I will take a different approach for this book: instead of reviewing the book per se, I will attempt to answer Temple's questions about the mysteries of autism using the theory of doyletics propounded by Doyle P. Henderson. I must point out that Henderson's theory, as it applies to emotional control, is over twenty years old and well-proven in many case studies. As far as applying doyletics to explaining the etiology of autism, this is a very new endeavor, less than a year old, and is based on discussions and personal communications between Henderson and me. The initial idea to investigate autism began with a comment that Henderson made: he said that he suspected that autism stemmed from the precocious onset of conceptual memory.

Conceptual memory in doyletics refers to memory that uses all the senses impinging on a person except for the physical body states, or what might be called kinesthetic input. In doyletics, physical body states, called doyles for short, are the only form of memory that exists until the neocortex reaches its full size at about the age of three in the human child. At that point it becomes possible for the child to begin to store permanent memories in a conceptual fashion. When the child stores a conceptual memory, the physical body state or doylic component of the event is not stored, only the conceptual portion. Subsequent to storing a conceptual memory, the child or adult will not have the physical body state presented during recall. Other physical body states associated with earlier events may be recalled, but not the physical body states, or kinesthetic inputs at the time of the event. Precocious onset of conceptual memory means that the person has advanced conceptualization capabilities for their age. For autistic children this translates into exceptional visualization or auditory capabilities at very early ages, reaching back to months old, birth, and even into the pre-birth process for some.

When I asked Henderson what evidence he had to support his idea that precocious conceptual memory was behind the unusual behaviors of autistic children, he told me the story of the eleven-year old autistic boy who was about to be given a shot by his doctor. He looked up at the doctor and said, "Are you going to give me the shot in my heel like the other doctor?" The doctor was taken aback because he knew that the only shots given in a heel are PKU shots, which are given within days of birth to prevent mental retardation. Not believing the young boy could remember an incident from when he was only a few days old, the doctor said, "No, I'm going to give this shot in your arm, but, tell me, how do you know the other doctor gave you a shot in your heel?" The boy replied without hesitation, but with a touch of anger in his voice, "I remember it well!"

Henderson realized that, according to his theory of doyletics, such precocious conceptual memory could have serious effects on a baby's development. Henderson had already been helping clients to return back before their memory transition age (normally five years old) to convert their unwanted physical body states into conceptual memories. Once converted, the physical body states no longer arose unbidden, but were replaced by a conceptual memory which has no physical body states associated with it. Using his PANACEA!(1) process, which he is selling over the Internet(2) to users around the world today, he has helped cure seemingly intractable problems. He has helped alcoholics to become social drinkers, lesbians to become bisexuals, stutterers to speak normally, and people with all forms of unwanted feelings and emotions to shed them as easily as a snake sheds its skin.

What we both began to see, early in our discussions, is that many of the problems of autism could be explained by positing the precocious onset of a conceptual memory capability.(3) Along with the explanation of the etiology of autism via doyletics will likely come some methods of prevention and correction of autism, but it is too soon to tell. The unwanted physical body states of the typical autistic person, which are being controlled by biochemical means today, are clearly amenable to removal by the PANACEA! process immediately.

Before I explain in detail exactly how doyletics explains the etiology of autism, consider this quote from page 288 of Ashley Montagu's fine book, Touching: The Human Significance of Skin:

The importance of tactile experience, especially in the preverbal stages of human development, cannot, in fact, be overemphasized, and it is the burden of this book to convey that message.

What doyletics predicts about autistic children is that they will not store a memory of a tactile experience once they store it as a conceptual memory. Thus the boy in the story above remembers the PKU shot and feels angry because he recovers the physical body states of anger that he had previously stored as physical body states long before he received the shot. What he doesn't and cannot ever recover is the specific physical body state or pain he felt in his foot or anywhere else in his body while the doctor administered the shot. If his heart had sped up during the PKU shot episode, it would not speed up as he talked to his doctor at eleven years old. Instead, he would merely remember the location of the shot and would feel the anger that he had felt back then, which was an internal physical body state that he had stored earlier.

With precocious conceptual memory capability for autistic persons going back to birth or before, it is not surprising that their predominant feeling states are fear and anger: these are the major physical body states that would be encountered during the birth process, especially during a difficult birth where the birth canal may be blocked. A skeptic might ask, "How could a baby know how to feel anger?" The simple answer is it doesn't know anything: it merely experiences a physical body state, that we prescient adults call fear or anger.(4)

If one combines precocious conceptual memory with a traumatic birth, one might expect that the resulting baby will be fearful, having picked up the physical body state of his frightened mother, whose hormones and biochemical soup were coursing through the infant via the umbilical cord. While its mother held her back straight and exerted extreme muscle force, the baby may have felt a need to do the same, but was unable to straighten its back. Instead it was forced into a birth canal that was crowded, all the while it was experiencing a dreadful panic and anxiety attack in synchronism with its mother. The extreme fear anxiety during the passage through the birth canal became the physical body states that were stored, not the soothing comfort of the birth canal applying pressure all over the baby's body. Soon it was pulled by forceps from the womb into a brightly lit, ice cold room, it was held upside down by one leg and spanked by a well-meaning obstetrician to get its lungs working so that its umbilical cord could be quickly cut.

If this baby happens to be endowed with an exceptional conceptual memory capability, one that begins within weeks or months of its birth, something else happens: if it is not held tightly during the period before its conceptual memory starts, so that it might store the physical body states of comfort that it missed during its traumatic birth passage, then it will never again be able to store those physical body states of comfort.(5)

This explains the dilemma that Temple faced growing up: every slight touch caused her to re-experience the horrors of that birth experience, to hold her back very straight and resist being touched, all the while she internally longed to be held and touched. The good feelings of being held and cuddled shortly after birth soothe the non-autistic infant and overcome (replace) the leftover feelings from any possible birth trauma. In an autistic child, such as Temple, the onset of conceptual memories occurs before the cuddling, so that no amount of cuddling can ever create physical body states that are stored. Like Temple, the child may be left with high-powered visual-based conceptualization capabilities, but with constant and uncontrollable, at times, feelings of fear and anxiety. To compound Temple's problem, she experienced occasional overloads of the other senses. It seems that one of the functions of the storage of the intense tactile experience of the birth canal passage is to allow the infant to integrate and coordinate its sensory transducers.(6)

The good feelings that are stored by non-autistic infants were not stored by Temple because she had conceptual memory capability, and she stored the events that happened to her as conceptual memories (visually), instead of as physical body states. To have the requisite tactile experience that is crucial to the pre-verbal stages of human development, but to store them visually is the tactile equivalent of not having had them at all, according to doyletics.

Not having stored them, a child may have a desire to have them, to create them for herself, as Temple did. As a young child, she dreamed of a magic squeeze machine. As a high school senior, after visiting her aunt's ranch in Arizona and seeing one used for cattle, she made one for herself. Temple's squeeze machine performed the functions for her that the non-autistic child's doyletic memory provides: a dependable source of stored tactile memories to be re-triggered upon demand. What the non-autistic child could do endogenously, Temple could only do exogenously. Doyletics explains why this should be so.

Did Temple have precocious conceptual memories? The book we are reviewing begins with this statement:

I THINK IN PICTURES. Words are like a second language to me. (page 1)

Other Temple quotes from the book:

Autistics have problems learning things that cannot be thought about in pictures. The easiest words for an autistic child to learn are nouns, because they relate directly to pictures. (page 29)

The first memory that any single word triggers is almost always a childhood memory. (page 30)

And it's probably a visual memory, as this quote reveals:

Even now, when I hear the word "under" by itself, I automatically picture myself getting under the cafeteria tables at school during an air-raid drill. (page 30)

To this day certain verb conjugations, such as "to be," are absolutely meaningless to me. (page 31)

Note that there is no visual equivalent of the verb "to be." In fact, in General Semantics, professors teach that the use of the verb "to be" without a negation is detrimental to the establishment of good communication. For clarity of writing they recommend the use of English Prime (EŽ), which is defined as writing in English without the use of the verb "to be," except as auxiliary verbs. This style of writing comes naturally to Temple, as one may see by inspecting her prose in her two books. Writing in EŽ requires focusing on what objects do rather than what objects are. This is one of the ways in which autistics are better adjusted than their non-autistic colleagues.

[page 33] The words "thy will be done" had no meaning when I was a child, and today the meaning is still vague. Will is a hard concept to visualize.

Will, as understood by non-autistics, is the felt response of a decision to perform some act. Such a concept would be meaningless to an autistic person who stores and retrieves visual (and other conceptual) information, but retrieves no physical body states in connection with the decision. Therefore they can experience no felt response.

[page 40] Prior to slaughter, live cattle were hung upside down by a chain attached to one back leg. It was so horrible I could not stand to watch it.

This reminds me of a friend of mine who confided in me that he remembers vividly his own birth. He said he sees these white giants in a white room and one of them is holding him upside-down and getting him dizzy and nauseated. He said he still feels angry when he remembers this episode, just like he felt at the time. My friend shows some of the features of a high-functioning autistic adult: he is a highly skilled pen-and-ink artist and works in a highly technical field. His parents report that he was precocious in his intellectual development.

His report of his birth leads me to suspect that while watching the live cattle being held upside-down by one leg, Temple recovered or re-triggered the physical body states associated with her birth, which were very unpleasant feelings as we have already seen. Note the similarities: some giant being or machine holds a live animal helplessly upside down by one leg. The physical body states of horror she experienced at that kosher packing plant led to her motivation to create more humane methods of slaughtering cattle. One of the few tactile sensations that Temple could re-trigger by thought alone led to her career in designing cattle handling equipment.

Through the understanding of doyletics, one can see that the handling of live human babies at birth could be dramatically improved as well. The well-known image of the obstetrician holding a new-born baby upside-down and spanking it right after removing it from the womb is synonymous with good birthing practices, up until now. Let us hope that increased sensitivity to the principles of doyletics will lead to the abandonment of this horrible practice. We should experience the same feelings of horror at that image as Temple felt when she saw the live cattle held helplessly upside-down by one leg. Good birthing practices should include a warm, dimly lit room to bring the new-born into and a doctor that places the child immediately upright and on its mother's breast for comfort and allows it to remain there for some time before severing the umbilical cord. [Unless the cord is damaged, there is no need to rush the infant into breathing with his lungs for the first time.]

[page 74] Flourescent lighting causes severe problems for many autistic people, because they can see a sixty-cycle flicker.

This ability to resolve into discrete pictures what non-autistics see as a constant illumination indicates a dramatic increase in visual, and therefore conceptual, processing capability for autistics. This increased capability may be due to the newly discovered high neuron density in the amygdaline limbic region during post mortem's on autistic brains. This would indicate that, rather than having some unspecified brain defect, autistics may have a brain advance, a mutation, if you will.

[page 90] I am like the lady referred to as S. M. in a recent paper by Antonio Damasio in Nature. She had a damaged amygdala. This part of the brain is immature in autism.

Rather than immature, it seems to me more likely that the amygdala is under-utilized, due to the precocious onset of conceptual memory capability. The amygdaline limbic system seems to be the region of the brain that holds the physical body states: where they are stored prior to the onset of conceptual memory, and from where they are retrieved every time a signal is presented to the amygdaline limbic system. The paucity of neuronal interconnections in a mature autistic person will seem similar to those of an immature (one to two year old) non-autistic for the very reason that both have about the same amount of physical body states stored. Perhaps the advanced conceptual memory capability of autistic persons is due exactly to the re-assignment of the amygdaline limbic system to processing more detailed visual and auditory patterns than in the non-autistic person where it is assigned to processing feelings, emotions, and other complex physical body states.

[page 173] If making associations is not considered thought, then I would have to conclude that I am unable to think.

Obviously Temple can think very well, but visual thinking is characterized by associative thinking versus the linear, analytic processes of the typical non-autistic person. The amygdaline limbic system is a very powerful associative memory in terms of its processing speed. It can recognize and create a response to a stimulus before the signal even reaches the slower neocortex.

[page 169] When the [human] brain was sliced down the middle, I was astounded to learn that the limbic system, which is the part of the brain associated with emotion, looked almost exactly like the limbic system in a pig's brain. At the gross anatomical level, the single major difference between a human brain and a pig's brain is the size of the cortex.

The combination of neocortex and amygdaline limbic processing must have provided early humans an evolutionary edge over the lower animals.

[page 58] Parents who are desperate to reach their autistic children often look for miracles. It's hard not to get caught up in new promises of hope, because there have been so few real breakthroughs in the understanding of autism.

The application of doyletics to the understanding and treatment of autistics offers hope of bringing just such a real breakthrough. More important than the treatment of autistics, however, is the teaching of doctors, parents, and caregivers how to handle and raise infants so that autistic children may grow up to reach their full potential as the advanced persons their physical bodies have prepared them to become.

One can only unabashedly admire Temple Grandin for leading the way by demonstrating the outstanding capabilities that an autistic person can attain, if they are raised in a caring and thoughtful environment.(7)

~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~ footnotes ~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~

1. See PANACEA! review elsewhere in A Reader's Journal. See also the review of Emotional Intelligence and Passion & Reason, both of which contain important information about doyletics.
Return to text at footnote 1.

2. His now inactive website was and contained ten chapters of his eighteen chapter book detailing his theory.
Return to text at footnote 2. BR>

3. Conceptual memory is defined as any portion of the senses not involving a physical body state or kinesthetic response. That leaves the other four senses: visual, auditory, gustatory, and olfactory, any combination of which may comprise a given conceptual memory.
Return to text at footnote 3.

4. We know we dislike the taste of a certain food, but what actually happens is that we dislike the physical body states that come up when we taste, smell, or even think of eating the disliked food. What we know is actually wrong: everyone has the same taste receptors, more or less, but everyone can have different physical body states associated with a particular food. What we think we know about feelings, emotions, and many other organized physical body states requires an updating that will embarrass many so-called prescient adults.
Return to text at footnote 4.

5. Interestingly the old practice of swaddling may be some help. From Ashley Montagu's Touching (page 269, quoting Peter Wolff), "Swaddling is a very effective method to quiet a fussy baby, provided it is done by someone who knows how, and who sees to it that the baby is immobilized. When the swaddling is done unskillfully so that the clothing simply restricts the range of movement without inhibiting it totally, the procedure has a marked arousal effect and may provoke the 'mad cry.' The critical difference is probably that 'poor' swaddling generates a constant background of variable proprioceptive feed-back, whereas 'good' swaddling generates a constant background of tactile stimulation." This sounds very much like the squeeze machine Temple wanted as a child.
Return to text at footnote 5.

6. Kittens are born without the pressure of the birth canal squeezing all parts of them during passage. They pop right out. Mother kittens lick the genital and perineal regions of the kittens to help their nervous systems make the necessary connections with the extremities of their gastrointestinal system. In a study reported by Ashley Montagu in Touching (page 16), attempts to raise germ-free laboratory animals failed because they all died of gastrointestinal failure. The expediency of stroking the genitals and perineal regions with a wisp of cotton after each feeding was adopted and managed to keep them alive.
Return to text at footnote 6.

7. There are two movies coming out about Temple Grandin and her life and work. The first is an Icelandic filmmaker's work, "A Mother's Courage" (2009), and the second is a 2010 release, 110-minute HBO documentary called "Temple Grandin".
Return to text at footnote 7.

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