My dog doesn't like change. He likes the same morning routine, at the same time, all the time. He likes treats to be predictable, although he won't turn one down, ever. He knows the bedtime routine of treat-sleep. There are days he won't eat breakfast unless I give him his glucosamine pills first. When I get dressed, he assumes "walk time," even when I'm wearing a suit. I used to refer to him as, "my autistic dog."
Little did I know.
Animals in Translation, by Temple Grandin, seeks to explain animal behavior, from a special point of view - that of a very high-functioning autistic adult. Grandin's basic thesis is that her autistic brain functions similarly to that of animals, which allows her to think the way animals do. Of course, Grandin has most of the higher brain function of what she refreshingly calls, "normal people." The idea being that a translator needs to be fluent in both languages.
Grandin may be familiar to some readers as Oliver Sacks's Anthropologist on Mars. She's the high-functioning autistic whose ability to empathize with cows has led her to design more humane equipment for stockyards and feedlots. (Don't think the irony of this escapes her; nevertheless, she eats meat.) As a teenager at a boarding school, she designed a "squeeze machine" to comfort herself, after noticing the calming effect that deep pressure has on animals.
Animals in Translation is heavy on the brain chemistry, and hard on behaviorist theory. This doesn't mean that training doesn't work; if anything, it's intended to direct it more humanely and efficiently. It does mean that the state of the art has advanced so far past the black-box theory of B.F. Skinner that we've been locating brain function in specific areas and chemicals for some time now.
If there's an overarching theory to the book, it's that the frontal lobes in autistic people don't work very well, mimicking the depleted frontal lobes in animals. The frontal lobes are what allows generalization, but that generalization comes at a price, the filtering out of a great deal of raw information. When that filtering doesn't happen, the brain gets overloaded; it's as though every sensory input is turned up to 11. Things that you and I would overlook, like a plastic bottle on the ground or a yellow raincoat, will bring an entire line of cattle to stamping halt on their way through a plant. Grandin sees things that way, too, which is why she can design systems to reduce the need for electric cattle prods.