thinking in picturesI am fascinated by Temple Grandin. Her story, her life, her unique ability to overcome the affects of a potentially debilitating condition like autism in a time when there was little known about either causes or treatments – it is nothing short of marvelous to me.

I can relate, of course. I learned how to transcend the often debilitating effects of my own disease – an eating disorder – in a similar time period when little was known about causes or treatment. As did Temple in her own journey, I saw firsthand the transition from the “blame the parents” generation of thinking to the “blame no one – it’s in the brain” generation of thinking.

This, too, has been marvelous.

Consequently, today there is very little I love more than the validation of encountering another determined veteran of those medical dark ages – and understanding that there are likely many more equally inspiring, heroic stories that prove that recovery can still take place even in the presence of nearly insurmountable odds.

Perhaps in part I feed off of stories like these because of my work at MentorCONNECT. At MentorCONNECT (or “MC” as we locals often call it) we seem to specialize in hope for the hopeless and comfort for the comfortless. We didn’t necessarily seek out that role, but more than 2,500 applicants to date have poured out their stories to us, sharing that by the time they find us, they feel like they are already at the end of their rope and they are barely hanging on.

I know that feeling well. After reading “Thinking in Pictures“, Dr. Temple Grandin’s biography, I know that she does too.

In “Thinking in Pictures”, Dr. Grandin shares the creative ways in which she found solutions to common problems autistics face, such as an inability to tolerate being touched or held and sensory overload. She also spends quite some time talking about the influence of caring others who, while they may have not known exactly how to help her, certainly never stopped trying.

In particular, she cites her mother and a high school science teacher, Mr. Carlock, who together seem to be able to claim the lion’s share of the credit for helping Dr. Grandin to chart a future course in the highly rewarding, personally pleasurable career in animal sciences. Of mentoring itself in regards to the autistic, she writes, “I strongly recommend hobbies and careers where common interests can be shared. Mentors who can nurture talent can help students become successful.”

Isn’t this the truth – for us all.

Perhaps the most remarkable quality (out of all her remarkable qualities) is Dr. Grandin’s acceptance of who she is and her acceptance of the strengths as well as weaknesses that being autistic has offered her. She states that she is concerned about labels like “autism” and “Asberger’s syndrome”, fearing they will shunt brilliant yet socially awkward people into much lower functioning jobs and lives than what they are capable of contributing. She cites a number of parallels between ability in math, music, science and the arts and diagnoses such as “autism”, “Asberger’s”, “manic-depressive disorder”, “depression” and others.

If this is the case (and the latest scientific research strongly suggests that it is) then Dr. Grandin’s greatest gift to us may just be a recognition that, just behind those sometimes scary and often alienating labels, there lie a variety of truly brilliant human beings without whose presence our lives would be much the poorer.

Today’s Takeaway: Who inspires you to accept your strengths and weaknesses, seeing in them the unique opportunity to be “you” and choose where you will contribute, excel and find joy and meaning in life? How have you personally had to overcome the effects of one or more labels to fully express your talents and passions in life?

Candle in hands photo available from Shutterstock