I am not Temple Grandin (and I am not autistic)

Temple Grandin is famous; perhaps the most famous autistic person in the world. She’s written books, she’s got a great career, she has a PhD …. it’s amazing. But she’s autistic. I’m not. In this post, I detail some difference between me (and some others with NLD) and Temple Grandin (and some other people with autism).

When people hear about nonverbal learning disability (NLD), it often sounds a lot like Asperger’s syndrome (and there are similarities). And Asperger’s is, often, described as a form of autism (and there are similarities). Well, there’s also a saying “When you’ve seen one person with NLD, you’ve seen one person with NLD”. The same is true about autism; not all people with autism are like Temple Grandin. This article is about me; other people with nonverbal learning disabilities are different from me.

Some dissimilarities between me and many autistic people:
Many autistic people (not all) like animals. Most notably, Temple Grandin really likes animals. I don’t like animals. I don’t get them. When I’m dealing with people, I deal better with purely verbal information – words, whether written or spoken. And, except possibly for dolphins and some highly trained apes, animals don’t talk. Certainly none of them speak English. People who get along with animals rely on nonverbal cues, just the sort of thing I’m bad at. Many people (NT or autistic or whatever) get a lot of pleasure out of stroking a dog or cat. I don’t. I don’t hate doing it, but it doesn’t give me joy.

Many autistic people (not all) think in pictures. Indeed, Temple Grandin has a book called “Thinking in Pictures”. I do NOT think in pictures. Not at all. Not nearly as much as a typical NT (that’s neurotypical, the acronym for people who think they don’t need one). I think in words and sometimes in symbols. Unlike many people who are not visual, I am good at math (I’m a statistician), but I relate much better to algebra than to geometry, and in calculus, I liked the formal stuff better than the applications; when I was learning arithmetic I didn’t memorize stuff, I made up tricks; and the visual explanation of multiplication did nothing for me – I thought of it as repeated addition.

Many autistic people are good at certain types of routine physical tasks – things like spinning a top, or sometimes spinning themselves. I am not good at any of this.

Of course, in some ways, that makes me atypical for NLD as well as for autism. I’m typical of me. The only diagnosis that fits me perfectly is “Peter”.


  1. I love this post–from the incredible title to the last sentence as routine physical tasks and I don’t like each other.

    I get so tired of the NLD/Autism debate. I always thought not liking animals was a difference but get scared to express that one as so many people judge you by your love of animals. I like dogs, and stroking them brings me not joy but a moment of pleasure but my friends spend way too much money and time on their dogs and I have no desire to.

    Also as a person with NLD I tend to be more messy than not and a pet would interrupt my carefully arranged peace with housekeeping.

    I’m better at math than most with NLD I have been finding and kind of felt a bit guilty that I have been able to flourish in jobs that call for highly sophisticated knowledge of numerical formulas; somehow I do know the times tables and addition and subtraction–my dad being a CPA might have played a large part in this–but atypically for somebody with NLD I can’t spell and I remember him drilling me even harder with spelling words.

    I like being around people. I like looking them in the eye and ever since I was little I was good at assessing them. This doesn’t mean I’m comfortable at all weddings, bar mitzvahs, high school reunions. I come from a very social family and was “socialized” young

    Wow I didn’t mean to write a comment that’s longer than the post but when I saw the title I knew I would love it

  2. Ashe Isadora says

    Thank you for emphasizing that each NVLD person is unique, I’m NVLD as all get out, but I have great handwriting, good balance and I’m pretty good at reading people. I could NEVER get beyond arithmetic, play tic tac toe or card games. Maps? Awful! Difficulty recognizing faces, though I read expressions well. There go the stereotypes. I admire you so much for your outspoken articles and, most of all, for your academic success!

    Linda, a Montessori teacher from Kansas

  3. Stanley W. Shura says

    “NT… …the acronym for (“neurotypicals”) people who think they don’t need one”! I *love* this!

  4. nvldishautist says

    Most NVLDers have a milder type od ASD/PDD/AS. NVLD is only school skills disorder for me, the name “learning disorder” for Deep socioemotional developmental problem is nad and misleading. NVLD with PDD gives autistic-like problems before puberty, Marks someone ode, aloof. Many people with AS diagnosis may have nonkanneric, NVLDish form of PDD, which tends to be milder than typują ASDs. But it still can be named as autism, but this autism has other etiology and symptoms. These cases of NVLDish PDDs are mostly named as just nonverbal learning disorder, which is very wrong. Learning disorder is not social. PDD gives atypical interests, thoughts and behaviors, social problems and emotional anomalies. NVLDish PDD gives strongly verbal learning style, motoric disorders nad sensory integration problems. It can markedly disturbs social interests. It is not only social communication disorder. It is just a milder typów of PDD/ASD. Lack of eye contact nad atypical interests (which may be perseverationa on unusual things, limited or idiosyncratic social needs) are good marks of impure NVLD. Milder PDDs attacks mainly socio-emotional layer, not cognitive nad sensoric such as severe PDDs like Kanner’s autism. NVLD is maybe worse than dyslexia and other learning disabilities even in its non-autistic form. I am not from America (where the term NVLD is used misleadingly). NVLD gives gift od verbal learning, classical autism can give the gift od nonverbal (visual) thinking. I am from Poland and have AS diagnosis (I think that in America it would be just nonverbal learning disorder, which is wrong – NVLD traits are part of PDD). In Poland we used ICD for diagnosis, not DSM. I think that definition of ASD in DSM-V is too strict nad “social communication disorder” is also nad name. SCD is a milder form of PDD/ASD for me. ASD makes you an oddbird from early childhood, but can give you specific talent (NVLDish PDD gives very good ability to verbal learning, which is very, very useful in school).

  5. Asperger’s kids generally don’t engage in pretend play. When I was a kid, that was the main thing I did. An Aspie kid will build stuff out of Legos, but most won’t give their minifigures names or families or storylines. I was also writing novels by the time I was eight years old. I still do.

    I do think in pictures, but there are always words to go with the pictures. It’s like a movie or a music video. I sucked at algebra. It made no sense to me because there weren’t any story problems. It was nothing but a series of steps involving random numbers and letters. I was OK at geometry because I could see what I was doing.

    I am not a dog person. It seems that every time I go to someone’s house, they have a huge dog who ignores everybody else but jumps on me. I do like cats, though. They aren’t as needy as dogs. I also like to go to the zoo and watch wildlife documentaries.

    Another difference I have found between myself and people with Asperger’s is that a lot of them seem to be into the sci-fi/comic book/video game subculture. I don’t fit in with those folks at all.

  6. nvldishautist says

    I liked video games very much. I even draw imaginary levels of one of them in the notebook. I like cats, rabbits, mice, dogs quite much. Cats can be very sweet for me. I sometimes spinned myself as a child to the time when I became dizzy. I may have not so much pretend play in early childhood (in DSM-V there is no criteria about lack of imaginative play for ASD). I did not like writing essays and read fiction literature. I prefer maps, dictionaries, encyclopedies. I was good in algebra. Maths might be pleasant for me. I like visual stimuli and vivid colors, I tried to imagine four-dimensional shapes. Some things and words may be my stereotypies and be “excitating”. I had strange customs (routines) in my childhood. I did not feel the need of being loved or accepted in my life so much.

  7. Veronique Buenos says

    Hi Peter,
    Great post.
    Ok with you if I post on the FB group?


  8. Sure! What FB group is this? I should probably join.

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