Catherine’s book, reviewed by the NYT
Animals in Translation : Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior was co-written by Catherine Johnson, frequent commenter at Roger L. Simon‘s blog. The other writer is Temple Grandin
In arguing for an animal-autism connection, Grandin sides with brain researchers who link many autistic symptoms to problems with the frontal lobes. In people with autism, she notes, these areas are either abnormal or they receive scrambled messages from other parts of the brain — or both. In contrast, the frontal lobes of animal brains are simply undeveloped; normal animals function somewhat like off-kilter, autistic humans.
Which isn’t so terrible, in Grandin’s view. Characteristically, she describes many autistic symptoms as strengths rather than weaknesses, particularly the tendency to see details in isolation rather than as parts of a unified whole. For her, ”hyper-specificity” — the act of focusing on the trees rather than the forest — is also the quality that connects what she calls ”animal geniuses” with autistic savants. Whooping cranes can memorize long migratory routes they’ve flown only once for the same reason some savants can make drawings with perfect perspective: both accomplishments rely on an extremely fine perception of details. Tellingly, Grandin sticks with neutral terms like ”hyper-specific” and ”particularize” to describe this trait. In contrast, autism experts generally call it ”weak central coherence.”
I wish Catherine and Ms Grandin continued success.