Enlightening TED Talks About the Autism Spectrum

  • Temple Grandin
  • Steve Silberman
  • Wendy Chung
  • Carina Morrilo
  • Rosie King

While there are quite a few delightful presentations on the subject hosted by TEDx, the five Ted Talks about autism selected for this article provide a broad approach. Genetics, perspective, history, empathy, and experience come together to demystify and remove the stigma of autism spectrum disorders and those who live with them.

Related resource: Top 25 Online Master’s in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

The Forgotten History of Autism

Steve Silberman begins his presentation by directly addressing the fallacious fears of anti-vaxxer parents about autism. In the first 30 seconds, he outlines a clear and unsettling trend that exposes innocent children to easily prevented diseases that maim or kill. This is based on a single fraudulent article published decades ago and since retracted.

From this stance, Silberman explores the modern medical understanding of autism, the reasons why it appears more people are “getting” autism spectrum disorders now than before, and carefully surveys the history of the spectrum. His quest started as a need to understand why more people were suddenly being diagnosed with these disorders in the 1990s, and why misinformation about and fear of such diagnoses is rampant today.

How Autism Freed Me to Be Myself

Rosie King explores how her autism has freed her from the herd instinct of her social and cultural peers. The urge to fit into a constrictive or stereotypical role within a social group is almost overpowering for many. But Rosie celebrates her autism as a path away from this urge. What some individuals and society at large might consider negative or weird behaviors are, to King, just expressions of her unique perspective. However, she also asks her audience why society labels autism a disorder as if not being average, ordinary, and unremarkable were the best way to be. She contrasts this with the observation that most or all compliments remark upon the extraordinary, which is quite the opposite.

The World Needs All Kinds of Minds

Temple Grandin delivers a delightful and insightful TED Talk about how the autistic mind works, the different types of skill areas, and how autism impacted her as a young adult. The neurological differences that shape an autistic child’s experience of the world are now being explored by neurologists, with the attendant sensitivity issues to sound, touch, or light wavelengths that have often served as isolated and undifferentiated hallmarks of the general spectrum. She notes that the world needs these different thinkers. She contends that nurturing children who fall on the autism spectrum rather than stigmatizing them will produce adults who can change the world; who think in specific images as she does or excel as abstract mathematicians, musicians, scientists, engineers, artists, and writers.

Autism—What We Know and What We Don’t

Pediatric geneticist Wendy Chung addresses the current state of understanding about autism spectrum disorders (ASD). She begins her talk with a comparison between two young boys, both of whom are diagnosed with an ASD but who are different in verbal, social, and intellectual presentation. She then delves into the perception that autism is a current epidemic, which is not true. Rather, it’s a direct result of better understanding of this range of disorders and a suite of widened diagnostic criteria. Finally, she devotes considerable attention to unpacking the multiple potential causes of ASD, from the age of parents at the time of conception to specific genetic factors.

To Understand Autism—Don’t Look Away

Carina Morillo describes what it was like to realize her son, Ivan, had an ASD at two and a half years of age. Carefully, she speaks about the loss of his limited acquired language and the slow deterioration of eye contact. In her translated TED presentation she conveys the despair of a mother who feels she has lost her only bridge of communication with her child. And then she begins to describe how she learned from Ivan—he possesses a profoundly acute visual memory and communicates in pictures. Once she realized this, she started taking pictures of everything, so she could teach him about the world and how to be in it. This presentation is a profound testament to hope and a mother’s love for her child.

As medical science advances its understanding of ASD, culture must keep pace. No longer should these individuals be stigmatized, labeled as “weird,” “different” or “unfit.” Instead, to enrich cultures and ensure a future for societies around the world, ASD must be fully understood and the individuals who experience it embraced. These five TED Talks provide an excellent range of perspectives and current information about Autism Spectrum Disorders and those who live with them.