Wednesday Videos: Penn and Teller on Vaccines

WednesdayVideoBest video on the topic I’ve seen yet. Penn and Teller cuss a lot, make a point, drop the mic. NSFW because of copious and well-deserved use of the F-Word.

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Friday Book Club: Temple Grandin Speaks!

SWT-Book-ClubsWelcome to book club!  This month we have been discussing Animals in Translation, by Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson.  Join us in person on Sunday, July 13, 2014!  We will be at Arden Dimick Library in Sacramento at 2PM for the Arden Dimick Book Club, so if you live in the Sacramento area, come on by!

Temple Grandin is an inspiring speaker.  You can find full speeches of hers on YouTube, many of which are over an hour long but well worth the time.  Here’s two quick clips to get us in the book club mood. 

The first clip is a ten minute long interview with Temple during which she talks about her upbringing, the challenges she thinks this generation will face, her struggles with sensory overload and anxiety, and how educators can best serve autistic kids.

In the last clip, Temple talked a little bit about the HBO movie based on her life.  Here’s a clip in which Claire Danes, who plays Temple, speaks up at a meeting of autistic parents:

See you on Sunday!

Friday Book Club: Animals in Translation, by Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson

SWT-Book-ClubsWelcome to our July Book club – every week in July we’ll be discussing Animals in Translation, by Temple Grandin. This online book club goes hand in hand with an in-person book club that meets monthly at Arden Dimick Library.  In May, June, and July we read books that had to do with animals, in keeping with the “Paws to Read” Summer Reading Program at Sacramento Public Library.  Our previous books were The Call of the Wild, by Jack London, and  The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein.

Join us in person on Sunday, July 13, 2014!  We will be at Arden Dimick Library in Sacramento at 2PM for the Arden Dimick Book Club.  

Temple Grandin is a women with autism who has become famous for her work in making slaughterhouses more humane.  As she became well-known for being able to figure out was bothering animals (often a very small thing, as when she describes a herd of cattle being spooked by a white plastic water bottle on a dark brown dirt floor) she became asked to consult in many areas of the animal food industry as well as zoos.  Temple has an interesting attitude towards her work.  She loves animals but has no problem with them being used for food.  what she objects to is their being made to endure fear, anxiety, or pain.  “I think using animals for food is an ethical thing to do, but we’ve got to do it right.  We’ve got to give those animals a decent life and we’ve got to give them a painless death.  We owe the animals respect”.

Temple Grandin

Temple Grandin suggests that her success with animals is directly tied to her autism, because both animals and people with autism tend to focus on detail.  When Temple is asked to visit a facility and explain why the pigs won’t move through a chute, she gets down on all fours in the chute and tries to perceive what the pig would notice.  In this example it was sparkles of light reflecting off the wet floor that was scaring the pigs, a problem that wwas solved by adjusting the lighting.  She’s able to hone in on small details that most people take for granted as we incorporate the detail into a bigger picture.  “Autism made school and social life hard, but it made animals easy”.

Temple Grandin has gone from being unable to speak (until the age of four) to being a renewed expert on animal behavior and rights for people with autism.  Many of her books focus on animals but several focus more exclusively on her experiences with autism, including Thinking in Pictures:  My Life With AutismThe Way I See It: A Personal Look at Autism and Aspergers; and The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum.  She has a PhD in Animal Science.

Temple Grandin has become not only an animal welfare advocate but powerful advocate for people with autism.  while she recognizes that some forms of autism are terribly debilitating, she is adamant that we should not ignore the fact that autism can confer some advantages:

“In an ideal world the scientist should find a method to prevent the most severe forms of autism but allow the milder forms to survive. After all, the really social people did not invent the first stone spear. It was probably invented by an Aspie who chipped away at rocks while the other people socialized around the campfire. Without autism traits we might still be living in caves.”

― Temple GrandinThinking in Pictures, Expanded Edition: My Life with Autism

If you want to learn about Temple Grandin’s life, you can turn to the biopic from HBO which starred Claire Danes: Temple Grandin.  Here’s a trailer:

 

 

 

An Interview with Ada Hoffmann, contributor to “Invisible”

Invisible-FullThis summer we are featuring a series of interviews with contributors to Invisible.  Invisible is a collection of essays about the importance of diverse representation in science fiction and fantasy.  Ada Hoffmann’s essay, “Autism, Representation, Success” talks about how autistic characters are represented in fiction.  We are so happy that she was available to do an email interview with us.  My questions are in bold type and her responses are in normal type.

You talk in your essay about the enormous pressure people with autism face to be “successful”.  What would a middle ground look like to you?  And are there terms we can use that would be less limiting than “successful” or “high functioning” and “un-successful” or “low-functioning”?
I’m not sure if a middle ground is actually what I’m looking for. Instead I think I’d like to see more variety. People who speak fluently and at length, people who don’t speak aloud, people who can speak aloud a little or people who lose their language at certain times. Wealthy geniuses, people who never manage to hold a job, people who slip in and out of employment, people who work at an ordinary job and have an ordinary life despite their non-ordinary minds. Those aren’t the only two metrics, and being at the “high” or “low” end of one metric doesn’t mean you’ll be in the same place on another. Rather than having only two diametrically-opposed options for what autistic people can be, I’d rather see a wide pool of diverse individuals with diverse lives – because that’s what we have IRL.
In your bio you describe yourself as having Aspergers’ Syndrome.  Do you think that the change to the DSM V that eliminates “Aspergers'” as a diagnosis will have a positive or negative effect on how people who don’t have autism perceive people who are on the spectrum?
When the DSM V announced they were eliminating Asperger’s, my supervisor at school said, “Congratulations! You’re cured!” He meant it in fun, and didn’t know enough about autism to know why that was an offensive thing to say.

Joking aside, though, I’m not sure it’s making that much difference. At the time the change happened, I suspected that it would make it harder for Aspies to be taken seriously, and reduce the availability of diagnoses, since the new criteria are in some ways more stringent. But terms like “Aspie” have saturated public consciousness and the diagnosis rate continues to rise. I’m not sure that most people are even paying attention to the DSM, frankly.

What draws you to science fiction and fantasy?

One answer: I grew up with it. My parents are geeks who have huge shelves of science fiction at fantasy at home. Sharing and passing down their geekdom was a major family-bonding activity. I feel comfortable with genre fiction, not because it is necessarily written with my comfort in mind, but because it’s where I come from.

Another answer, equally true: Life is weird, people are weird, and imagination is more fundamental to life and consciousness than most of us realize. “Realistic” fiction has its place, but there are parts of the human condition we simply cannot discuss unless we’re willing to talk about myth, magic, and the future.

As someone with a love/hate relationship with “The Big Bang Theory”, I love the way you write about Sheldon.  Do you have a favorite Sheldon moment?
An obvious one is the Christmas episode, when he hugged Penny. I’m also rather fond of Amy Farrah Fowler. I think she’s just as autistic as Sheldon, but I rarely see her come up in these discussions except as “Sheldon’s girlfriend”. I love the way Amy keeps Sheldon’s more obnoxious tendencies in line when no one else can – like when they dissected brains together and he turned out not to know anything about it. Amy gets Sheldon, and knows what type of input he will and won’t respond to, in ways that completely escape the NT characters. That’s pretty adorable to me.

 

Ada Hoffmann blogs at ada-hoffmann.livejournal.com.  Invisible is available at: