Parallel Quotes

While I do not want to present any arguments regarding diagnosing historical figures posthumously, or overgeneralize on a topic, or even get hung up in any way on labels, I found some of Tesla’s thoughts intriguing.  As I have mentioned in my last post, I have been reading a biography on Nikola Tesla entitled Tesla: The Life and Times of an Electric Messiah by Nigel Hawthorne.  Several aspects of his work ethic, idiosyncrasies and, in particular, this following quote made it easy for my mind to drift to another scientist, from today, an agriculturist and spokesperson for autism.  Of course, I mean Temple Grandin.  Here, I lay their thoughts, separated by nearly one hundred years, parallel to one another.


“…nature has given me a vivid imagination which, through incessant exercise and training through the study of scientific subjects, and the verification of theories through experiment, has become very accurate in results, so that I have been able to dispense, to a large extent, with the slow labour, wasteful and expensive processes of practical development the ideas I conceive…

When I turned my thoughts to inventions, I found that I could visualize my conceptions with the greatest facility.  I did not need any models and drawings or experiments, I could do it all in my mind, and I did….When I got an idea, I started right away to build it up in my mind.  I changed the structure, I made improvements, I experimented, and I ran the device in my mind.

It is absolutely the same to me whether I place my turbine in my mind or have it in my shop actually running in my test.  It makes no difference.  The results are the same….I then construct it, and every time my device works as I conceived it would, my experiment comes out exactly as I plan it, and in 20 years there has not been a single, solitary experiment which did not come out exactly as I thought it would.”

-Nikola Tesla on accepting the Edison Medal, New York City on May 18, 1917


“When I was much younger, I assumed that everybody perceived the world the same way I did, that is, that everybody thought in pictures.  Early in my professional career I got into a heated verbal argument with an engineer at a meat-packing plant when I told him he was stupid.  He had designed a piece of equipment that had obvious flaws to me.  My visual thinking gives me the ability to “test-run” in my head a piece of equipment I’ve designed, just like a virtual reality computer system.  Mistakes can be found prior to construction when I do this.  Now I realize his problem was not stupidity; it was a lack of visual thinking.  It took me years to learn that the majority of people cannot do this, and that visualization skills in some people are almost nonexistent.”

-Temple Grandin in The Way I See It, p. 15


Grace, Theology and Autism

Inaccurate theology.  Sometimes it is a conscious choice.  There were times when intellectually I knew my feelings didn’t make sense nor were they based on my understanding of God through Scripture, but something in me felt I had been jinxed with a child on the autism spectrum as a direct result of my past experience with it.  If someone had asked me if this were true, or even if I had asked myself, I might have laughed and said, “Of course not.”   And intellectually I never really believed this, but some latent fear lay brooding, feigning a dormant state, some primordial superstition hid behind a stronger faith that perhaps it was true.  Perhaps if my mother-in-law had never been a special needs preschool teacher with the Department of Defense….Perhaps if I had not known so many people with autism…Perhaps if I had not read so many articles….

My husband and I saw the signs.  We knew what to look for, and we had diagnosed our son ourselves years before we felt the necessity to seek a formal, medical diagnosis.  It was as if all these people and situations were highly contagious and I had now become infected.  If I had not been so well informed on autism, then I never would have given birth to someone on the spectrum.  There.  Fleshed out in a sentence – cause and effect –  in all its explicitness, it looks utterly ridiculous.  And yet…there are times when we operate this way, aren’t there?  If I pray a certain prayer, use special words, God will answer me….If I fall asleep praying, tomorrow will be ok… If I ignore a pain in my chest, it will go away… If I stop thinking about something bad, it will just disappear…. If I think about happy things, I won’t have problems… Have you ever felt yourself reverting back to humanity’s ancient cultural myths?  Out of desperation, helplessness?  The visceral takes over not because we are not intelligent enough, or faithful enough, but simply out of fear.  It is the knee-jerk reaction of humanity to hedge our bets.

Praise be to God for his grace and understanding.  I thank God that he does not always take my every random thought and fear too seriously.  I am thankful that he allows me from time to time to try something on for size, even at my most ridiculous, and gently helps me disrobe and discard the illogical and theologically unsound thoughts.  He provides grace to dress my thinking with something finer, something more beautiful and clearly from him.  An accurate vision, a heavenly help.  Grace in the providential stream of our lives.

Because, of course, the fact is that God did not bless me with a son with Asperger’s because I had accumulated enough autism run-ins, but rather he blessed me with the gift of preparation.  Slowly, over time I was afforded opportunities to learn about people with differences.  My mother-in-law was a huge asset particularly when my son was smaller and guided me through tips on occupational therapy and sensory sensitivities.  As an undergraduate, years before children, my husband and I were employed by Group Living in the tiny college town of Arkadelphia, Arkansas.  (Laugh if you want; the towns exists.)  It is an amazing organization which allows developmentally or physically diabled people to be a vital part of their community.  Group homes are offered for those needing more attentive care.  Regular visits and life-skills training are provided for  those who are able to live independently.  Group Living also runs and operates a very popular breakfast and lunch place called The Honeycomb, serving quiches, sandwiches, salads and American fare.  The Beehive also employs Group Living clients in the second-hand shop similar to  the nation-wide Goodwill stores.  Many of the clients we worked with had autism.  I remember attending as an undergrad a training session on autism.  There, in the mid-90s, I first heard of Temple Grandin and her squeeze box.  I am so thankful for these moments.  And for the wonderful people I worked with there.

One of these people was also my neighbor.  Sammy Landers and his caretaker lived in the apartment below my husband and me.  He was moody, enjoyed being alone, and spoke very little.  Yet he was one of my first encounters with autism.  Sammy is an artist and is featured in this wonderful blog post from last year.  I have one of his pieces which was presented to us as we left Arkadelphia.  It currently hangs above my four-year-old son’s bookcase in his bedroom closet.  Another touch of grace- this one in purple marker.


Honestly, the issues my son struggles with are not severe, just daily.  He is easily frustrated, gets caught up in rigid thinking, becomes easily obsessed with a topic, but also has phenomenal memory, is exceptionally perceptive about others’ feelings, and has a deep longing to be helpful.  Grace has not only given me a greater appreciation for the preparation I have received over the years, but also for my son himself.  What would I change about him if I could?  What would you change about anyone whom you love?  And here is another theological inaccuracy – by God’s grace, my son will be fine.  Perhaps all these careful lessons are not to help shape him, but me.

Curriculum: an Asperger’s Reading List

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could purchase a full curriculum to teach us what it is like to be on the Autism spectrum, and to have  reference material to help us troubleshoot those sticky, daily problems?  As a mom with a twelve-year-old son (EEK!  He just had a birthday and is now so proud to sit in the front seat.) who was diagnosed with Asperger’s, I would love if this were a reality.  The truth is, however, one does not exist.  Just like there does not seem to be a book to teach me to stop being so impatient.  And yet, there are several helpful books to help ease the burden, make things a little clearer, and to provide inspiration.  The following list is hardly comprehensive.  In fact, it is only just the beginning.  I have listed, however, the books or materials we currently possess or have used.  Here I am primarily including books for younger readers.  Most of these are geared toward individuals  6-16 years of age.   These are the ones which have made a difference TO US.  I hope you find something useful, hopeful, inspiring in at least one of these tools.

blogphotos 001 All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome by Kathy Hoopman – If you know a parent of a child on the spectrum, it is very likely they have a particular fondness for this book.  In fact, I know many parents who have used this exact book to help guide their first conversation with their child about what it means to have Asperger’s.  It was the perfect choice for us as A has always loved cats.  He finally got his own two Christmases ago.  And I strongly suspect that Mittens is indeed on the spectrum!

The first signs of Asperger Syndrome are usually picked up very young.  An Asperger Child looks at the world in his own unique way.  He likes to be near those he loves, but doesn’t want them to hold him, preferring squishy places to a hug.

Each page is sweetly accompanied by a photo of an adorable kitten.  The words are poignant enough, yet stated simply to enable it to be used with a wide variety of ages.  While not every statement may be true for your special one, it provides wonderful openings for constant dialogue about what makes us all unique.  You may also be interested in the author’s title All Dogs Have ADHD.

blogphotos 004Different Like Me: My  book of autism heroes by Jennifer Elder, illustrated by Marc Thomas and Jennifer Elder – A loves biographies, so this seemed a natural choice for him.  I do not remember how I first discovered this title, but it has been interesting beyond the topic of autism.  It is comprised of twenty one-page biographies of famous people who have excelled in various fields, such as science, mathematics, music, art and computers.  Some of the choices are speculative as they predate the 1940s knowledge of autism and Asperger’s.  For example, Isaac Newton and Lewis Carroll share space with Andy Warhol and Dian Fosey.  Autism spectrum disorders are not mentioned, perse, within the bios, but they do provide an understanding of their unique challenges and victories.  A good read for 8-12 years old.

blogphotos 002Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World by Sy Montgomery- Full of personal photos of unarguably the best-known person with autism, this biography covers Temple Grandin’s early years, school and college life, as well as her current work with the cattle industry, and autism awareness.  This fabulous read, probably geared for a pre-teen or teenage audience, ends with the appendix “Temple’s Advice for Kids on the Spectrum.”

There is a tremendous wealth of insight through any of her books.


blogphotos 003Can I Tell You About Asperger Sydrome? by Jude Welton, illustrated by Jane Telford – This brief book was specifically written to help other children grow in their understanding of what it means for their friend to have Asperger’s.  Each section is introduced as a running dialogue between “Adam” and a friend.  It covers topics like sensory issues, confusion over social cues, and problems dealing with change.




iPad Screenshot 5

The Social Express by The Language Express,Inc. Initially intended as a curriculum for classroom or home usage, The Social Express is now available as a convenient app for your 7-15 year old.  Join Zack, Emma and her dog Sunny as they navigate their way through town, across friendships  and social situations.  This social skills learning program introduces “hidden social keys” like body language and emotional vocabulary.  Emma and Zack frequently consult their DPS (digital problem solver) to decide how to respond in difficult social situations.  In this way, your child is constantly interacting with the characters, helping them to make good choices.  While this program is already fairly basic for A, he still occasionally enjoys revisiting it.  They are always good reminders.

THE BIBLE– Ok, of course the Holy Writ does not specifically mention any type of Autism Spectrum Disorder.  However, there are so many verses on love and tolerance within its pages, that I think it should apply, whether talking about someone on the spectrum learning the world about them, or the “neuro-typical” in understanding and appreciating the spectrummy brain.  Just listen:

Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Colossians 3:13-14


Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.

Ephesians 4:2