11/04/2013 05:10 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

Temple Grandin: More research needed on how autism affects people's senses

MONTREAL - Temple Grandin, one of the first people to chronicle her struggles with autism, says there needs to be more research into how the condition affects people's senses.

Sensory problems can manifest in a wide variety of ways, including sensitivity to sounds, light — even clothing materials.

"They vary from a nuisance to being very debilitating," the renowned author and activist said in a telephone interview.

"You've got some people that you take into a loud, noisy supermarket and they just can't take it. They sort of feel like they're inside the speaker at a rock concert."

It's a big roadblock in attempts to socialize people with autism and Grandin would like to see more research money spent on it.

"You can't socialize them if they can't stand the environment," said Grandin, who uses medication to control the anxiety aggravated by her own sensory issues.

Treatment varies from person to person, depending on the severity. Some remedies try to help sufferers tolerate what bothers them by getting them used to it.

Grandin, who is a professor at Colorado State University, will be in Montreal to address the Current Trends in Autism conference on Wednesday.

She will also participate in the launch of the See Things My Way campaign sponsored by the Miriam Foundation to raise awareness about autism across Canada.

Grandin, 66, said much has changed since she was diagnosed at age two but stressed there is still work to do.

"They used to think all these things were psychological," she said.

"Autism is a biological, neurological disorder."

The Boston-born Grandin has been a leading advocate of early intervention to deal with autism spectrum disorders.

In her own case, her mother rejected a diagnosis of brain damage and worked with her child intensively, getting her speech therapy and engaging her constantly.

"If you've got a two-year-old that's not talking, you've got to start immediately working with that kid, doing a lot of one-on-one teaching," Temple Grandin said.

"You've got to start working with that kid and working with him right now, getting him engaged with the world."

This groundwork can help the child find out what they're good at, which could eventually lead to employment.

"Start working with kids when they're 12, doing paper routes," Grandin said.

"If you don't have paper routes, then paper route substitutes like dog-walking or maybe helping at the church, setting the church up on Sunday — something where the child starts to learn work skills."

Grandin, who was named as one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2010 by Time magazine, pointed out that some autistics, like herself, are very strong visual thinkers, for example. Others have heightened math skills.

"Einstein would be labelled autistic today — no language until age three," she said.

Grandin acknowledges that not everyone will excel, saying those who do are generally on the higher-functioning end of the spectrum.

"Then you have much more severe autism. No, they're not going to be doing these things."

Grandin, who has done groundbreaking work in animal science in the handling of livestock and written several books on her experiences with the autism, is one of the world's best-known activists on the condition.

Her life story was the subject of an Emmy Award-winning HBO movie in 2010.

Grandin was born in 1947, when the diagnosis for autism was only four years old and little was known about the disorder. Child psychology was still in its infancy and the word autism was a rarity in psychiatric journals. She wouldn't be referred to as autistic until she was about 12.

When Grandin was initially diagnosed, neurologists described her as "odd" and deemed she suffered from brain damage, she wrote in her new book "The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum."

Her mother sought help after noticing the child was destructive, didn't speak, was sensitive to physical contact and focused on spinning objects.

But she rejected the diagnosis and began working with her, discovering for herself what would eventually be standard treatment for autistics, Grandin wrote.