Grandin Temple on Fine Spirits

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Temple Grandin, Ph.D., is professor of animal science at Colorado State University and one of the best-known adults with autism. She has long been a strong supporter of autism rights and the need to recognize different types of thinkers, including people with autism, dyslexia and ADHD, and the ways they learn and can contribute. A prolific author and speaker, she expressed concern about labeling people who think differently: “Rigid academic and social expectations could end up choking a mind that, while it may have trouble conjugating a verb, could one day take us to distant stars.

Dr Grandin is the keynote speaker at CTA’s Fall 2021 Special Education Conference (House Edition!), November 5-7. Beforehand, she answered a few pressing questions.

You are an advocate for hands-on lessons for autistic students such as art, woodworking, auto shop, theater. How can educators whose schools do not offer these courses help students develop similar skills?

I advocate that every child take this kind of course, especially children with ADHD, dyslexia and autism. Getting kids outside and exposing them to practical, real things helps. Gardening. Feed animals on a farm and observe animal behavior. Looking at the plant buds and the constellations. I was exposed to cattle as a teenager which led to my career.

People who think differently learn differently. How can students tell if they enjoy working with tools if they have never used them? There are children growing up today who have never used a ruler. I am afraid that students are totally removed from learning how to practice.

You talked about four different types of thinking: visual thinking / object viewer; spatial model / visualizer thinking; Translator of verbal thought / language; auditory thought. How is it done in the classroom?

Educators need to understand how students think and teach this. I am a visual thinker – I think in pictures. Visual thinkers are poor in algebra. Model thinkers are good at math and music, and poor at reading. Verbal thinkers think with words, they are good at history, they are poor at drawing. Auditory thinkers can be dyslexic students, their visual perception is fragmented, they learn through their ears.

Education was taken over by verbal thinkers. Other types of thinkers are based on the senses and not on the words, and more needs to be done to develop these thinkers. For example, algebra is a requirement for graduating from high school. I missed algebra, and a lot of other kids who are visual thinkers missed it too. Why can’t geometry be required instead?

You say there can be mixtures of these types of thinkers. How do you teach this?

People who think differently always have a dominant type of thinking. Children who earn the special education label tend to be more extreme – their skills are more uneven. Again, it’s all about exposure. For visual thinkers, have them try out drawing and art, mechanical things. Give the thinkers of the models Science and Nature magazines, computer coding. Show the children all kinds of books, manuals.

I’m concerned that our education system is screening too many kids with labels – autism, dyslexia, ADHD, Asperger’s.

What specific advice can you give for working with different minds?

  • Never overload the working memory.
  • Avoid long strings of verbal instructions – give them a printed checklist, outline the steps of a procedure.
  • Offer a choice of practical activities.
  • Stretch them slightly out of their comfort zone.
  • Limit idle screen time.

You have listed the common denominators of success for unique minds. How can we best support students who may not have been exposed to some of these factors?

In addition to schools that maintain classes that promote creativity and problem solving, we need to involve the community. A retired mechanic can show kids how to fix things. Someone else can start a theater club, another can teach sewing or cooking to children.

We are short of manpower in technical and skilled trades – welding, industrial building, metal fabrication, etc. We have to import things because we don’t have people who can make them. We need to develop and use the skills of different types of minds.

Learn more about Dr Grandin at templegrandin.com.

Common denominators of success for unique minds

  • Grew up with lots of books and learning
  • Early exposure to professional interests, with practical projects
  • I learned to work hard from a young age
  • Not subspecialized – for example, not only used mathematics narrowly, but broadened it
  • Mentors to help you start your career
  • Career entry with internships
  • Learned to drive

Source: Grandin Temple

Hear Temple Grandin talk about “Developing Talents – Using the Skills of Different Kinds of Minds” at the 2021 Fall Special Education Conference (House Edition!). The virtual event, from November 5 to 7, is aimed at CTA members working in general or specialized education. The sessions focus on the main topics of special education including instruction, identification, IEPs and behavior. The conference is free. University credits and professional growth hours are available. Register on cta.org/conferences.


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