Ways to Think About Autism

Dr. Temple Grandin at a TED talk in 2010
Photo by Red Maxwell via Flickr

Liz Waid and Bruce Gulland look at the condition of autism. This condition affects a person’s brain. But how do people think about this condition?

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Voice 1  

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Liz Waid.

Voice 2  

And I’m Bruce Gulland. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand - no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1  

What if you saw someone smile and did not know what it meant? What if you saw a color that was so bright it frightened you? These are some different ways people may experience autism. Today’s Spotlight is on ways people think about autism.

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Autism is a kind of mental and physical condition. In fact, autism is a group of conditions. These conditions affect everyone differently. But all of them include problems with social behavior, communication, and personal behavior. People with some form of autism may be able to act in society with no problems, or they may need someone to help them with every basic activity. The World Health Organization estimates that one in every 160 children worldwide has a form of autism.

Voice 1  

A person is born with autism. Experts do not completely understand what causes autism. Some say it is genetic. Other experts blame chemicals, or other drugs. In the past, people believed that vaccines caused autism. But studies have shown that this is not true. Vaccines and autism are not connected.

Voice 2  

It can be difficult to understand autism and how to treat it. The brain is a difficult thing to understand. And then every person’s condition with autism is different too. But there are different opinions about what having autism means.

Voice 1  

Dr. Temple Grandin is a famous scientist. She works with animals. She also has a form of autism. When she was younger, Grandin did not talk. Her parents took her to a doctor. But he told her parents that her brain was just damaged. The doctor said Grandin could not care for herself. He told them to send her to a special hospital. The doctors there would treat her. But she would never be able to speak or learn.

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Temple Grandin’s father agreed with the doctor. But her mother did not. She did not want to send her daughter away! She searched for a long time for a way to help her daughter. Grandin’s parents were very rich. Her mother paid people to care for her daughter. They taught the girl to speak and to learn. Grandin told reporter Joan Raymond:

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“I had people in my life who continued to help me. For example, I had my mother, my aunt, and my science teacher. I had treatment to help with my speech. The person who took care of me played games with me all day. The most important thing people did was to show me new things.”

Voice 1  

Growing up, Temple Grandin had a very good system of support and many resources. Her mother and teachers worked with her often. Her teachers respected her way of thinking with autism. They helped her use that difference to her advantage. In her book Emergence: Labelled Autistic, Grandin says:

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“There are many people who still believe that once a person is autistic, they will always be autistic. This has meant sad and sorry lives for many children who have autism. To these people, it does not seem that the qualities of autism can be changed or controlled. However, I feel strongly that my life shows they can.”

Voice 2  

Temple Grandin believed that having autism was an advantage. She discovered that it made her an excellent scientist. Today, Grandin also speaks and writes about autism. She believes that many people with autism are like her. Their brains are different from a normal person’s.

Voice 1  

This way of thinking about autism is called neurodiversity. Neurodiversity is a way to think about learning and disability. People who study neurodiversity say that people should respect forms of autism and other mental conditions as natural human differences - not disabilities. In fact, they say people who have conditions like autism should be able to live their lives as they are. They do not need to be changed to be “normal”.

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But not everyone agrees with this opinion. Autism can make life very difficult for many people who have it. Some people with autism suffer more than others.

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Jonathan Mitchell is a writer who has autism. He does not agree with neurodiversity. He wants a cure for autism. Mitchell’s experience with autism is very different than Temple Grandin’s. He did not speak until he was five years old. He had a very difficult time in school. He did not make many friends. After many years of struggle, he finished college. Today, he is over 50 years old. But it is difficult for him to keep a job. And he depends on his parents to survive. Mitchell does not think autism is a gift. He sees how much it has hurt him and others. In Los Angeles Magazine, he writes:

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“A cure for autism will not be possible in my lifetime. In fact, at my age it would be of limited value. It is too late for me to do the things I would have liked to do. But that does not stop me from wishing for a cure for future generations of children. They should not have to live like I have.”

Voice 2  

John Elder Robison is a writer with autism. He says that the answer to this debate is not easy. Is autism a gift? Or is it a problem a person should try to cure? But dealing with autism is more difficult and complex than simply fighting a disease. Robison says:

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“I know life is hard for some with autism. But I also see the gifts that other people with autism bring. Both kinds of people have autism. It is a part of who we are. That is why our condition is so complex. It is difficult to keep the gifts while we ease the suffering.”

Voice 1  

Autism can be a very difficult condition to live with. There are many different ways that people think about these conditions. Many people think their way is the best way. Do you know anyone with autism or another mental condition? How can people support other people who have a form of autism? Tell us what you think. You can leave a comment on our website. Or email us at radio@radioenglish.net. And find us on Facebook at facebook.com/spotlightradio.

Voice 2 

The writer of this program was Dan Christmann. The producer was Michio Ozaki. The voices you heard were from the United States and the United Kingdom. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at www.radioenglish.net. This program is called, “Ways to Think About Autism”. 

You can also get our programs delivered directly to your Android or Apple device through our free official Spotlight English app. We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.


Have you ever experienced something difficult in your life? Did you think of it as a bad thing or a good thing? Why did you think about it that way?


Kaleb Kolaibi's avatar
Kaleb Kolaibi
said on May 30, 2016

In generaly, My life is a difficult experience and I think that is a bad thing. But I,m learning from it evrytime. So, maybe my life is good thing from this side (lol).

Darleny Mera's avatar
Darleny Mera
said on May 30, 2016

I think that autism is a living condition, no one says that its easy but there are people than have learned to live with, they are happy. here in ecuador there is no a place where people with autism can ask for help so that make your living condition become difficult

Avatar Spotlight
said on May 31, 2016

In my opinion, experiencing difficulties in our lives just as fighting it may help make our mind more powerful, resistant to the bad life conditions. Surely, all of us meet different difficulties and challenges during the life, we only should still learn how to overcome that not losing the hope and positive thinking too!
Thanks for excellent article!

Severino Ramos da Silva's avatar
Severino Ramos da Silva
said on June 01, 2016

From: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) (Severino Ramos)
To: spotlight programme
Subject: answer to the questions below
Date: Wednesday 01, June 2016
São Paulo SP Brazil

Dear Liz Waid, Bruce Gulland, Dan Christmann, and Michio Ozaki:

First of all, I want to thank you to bring us readers and learners of English more one great article. Thanks!
Question 1 - Do you know anyone with autism or another mental condition?
Answer: Yes, I do. As you know my job is nurse. I work in health care at Clinica Hospital in São Paulo SP at Rua Dr. Ovídio Pires de Campos, 255. Cerqueira césar 05403-010 São Paulo SP Brazil. However, I have taken care of many children and adults with autism and another mental condition at this important hospital where I work to.
Question 2 - How can people support other people who have a form of autism?
Answer: We nurses, Doctors, pediatricians, and another professionals of health care must care these children and adult people who have any form of mental condition with an efficient treatment of health care , respect, care, responsability, and to provide them some especial attention from their requirements. Also, their families must have some especial attention with them at home.
Question 3 - Have you ever experienced something difficult in your life?
Answer: Yes, I have.
Question 4 - Did you think of it as a bad thing or a good thing?
Answer:  somethings were good because they learnt me to grow up in my life and another of them were bad because that bad things brought me difficulties in my life.
Question 5 - Why did you think about it that way?
Answer: Because I was born from a poor couple; my mother and my father. We lived in a countryside of Pernambuco here in Brazil. My mother and my father gave birth to six children so we had several difficulties in our lives. They worked hard to support us: my sibling and I. When I was 9 years old I started to work in the agriculture together with my parents to help them to support my four sisters and my brother. I used to work in the morning and in the afternoon I went to school. We studied at a public school next to our house where we lived in the countryside. Also, in my childhood I got a terrible cold because I used to be wet in the rain due to my work in the agriculture together with my parents. So, I got a terrible breathless . I had difficulty to breathe. Besides, I stayed five weeks in the hospital to receive treatment to get the cure from my breathless. Thank God, Doctors , pediatricians, and nurses cured me from that terrible breathless in which I had in my childhood when I was 11 years old. After, I grew up healthy, I moved to live in São Paulo city. So, I studied nursing at Mogi das Cruzes University. I graduated in health care by Mogi das Cruzes University. Therefore, now I am a nurse and I can help several people to get their cure from several diseases in which is possible to get the cure. Unfortunately, autism is a kind of mental problem does not have the cure yet. Children who have this form of mental problem autism are looked after by Doctors, nurses, psychologists, and otheir professional of heath care and they can have their normal lives. Thanks to everybody from spotlight and readers from spotlight

Yours regards,
Severino Ramos

Avatar Spotlight
said on May 11, 2017

In life each of us experiences difficulties, challenges and sufferings. Our lives have sadness and joy, difficulty and success, suffering and happiness. We live to be a good person. Living to be a good person is a big effort. When we are sick we know difficulty of a sick person. Living well with sickness is a big effort. It is good we are well. Living to be a good person is a big effort. Being a human we are fragile and weak. We are well and we are sick. A flower is beautiful and it withers. We respect everyone and we live to be a good person.

Avatar Spotlight
said on January 29, 2020

I had a lot of bad experiences in my life, but I think everyone had the same. Life is usually not easy for poor people in the poor countries of the world. You must defeat prejudices against your family origin; against your clothes; against the schools you attend. But I think these difficulties are a gift that tempers our character and makes us winners in life. I consider myself a winner and that’s all ...

Avatar Spotlight
said on February 07, 2020

Yes I’ve had. In the first impact their were to me a bad things, but them I learnt from them. I think everyone experienced difficulty, but we’ve to take the good form them, those negatives experiences help us to grow up, in a good way.