Temple Grandin, animal scientist and Associate Professor at Colorado State University, does not believe in labels.
In her new book Visual Thinking: Hidden Gifts of People who Think in Pictures, Patterns, and Abstractions, Grandin expounds upon the mysteries of genius and neurodiversity, how the American educational system favors verbal thinkers rather than “object visualizers” as she coined, and how the American workforce needs to offer more apprenticeships to give people who think in pictures like her more opportunities to create and make things.
“I’m a visual thinker not a language-based thinker. My brain is like Google images,” Grandin said.
During childhood and adolescence, Grandin struggled with behaviors that today would be labeled autism. Today she is regarded as one of the highest functioning people with autism in the world. She gives talks on neurodiversity and how parents and educators can look at their child’s strengths instead of the label and foster these strengths into work skills.
Focusing on a child’s strengths not the label
“Parents and teachers should focus on a child’s strengths rather than what they can’t do,” said Grandin. Educators need to expose students to a lot of different things and build on what the child’s strengths are toward.
“Schools screen out talented people because they can’t do algebra. Kids with hidden talents who think in pictures often get shunted into special education.”
When Grandin struggled as a child, her mother fostered her love of art and horses by encouraging her to work. She worked on her aunt’s horse ranch and making signs for local shops in her town. Grandin believes that parents and teachers must go with the child’s interests and broaden them so they can develop work skills for later life. In her new book, Visual Thinking, Grandin suggested that more companies and craftsmen offer apprenticeships and internships to students so they can learn a trade. College isn’t for everyone.
She wrote that people who think differently are often written off and many people who worked with her building livestock chutes and agriculture equipment had minds that would be labeled with autism or Attention Deficit Disorder ADHD. She knew people with these traits that went on to own successful international metal shops. She named quite a few successful people such as Thomas Edison and Elon Musk who became successful despite these traits.
A new future for kids who think differently
Hew writing changes the way we think about intelligence and the way people think. Grandin said there are different types of thinkers. There are verbal thinkers, who see in language and words, and there are the object-visualizers who can see in pictures and patterns. The object-visualizers are most likely your engineers and innovators in science and technology.
“Kids who think differently can have challenging careers and do something positive,” she said.
What others say about her
I talked with Grandin’s agent and editor. They have worked together for over 25 years on many books Grandin has written.
“Temple is easy to work with. She’s clear about what she wants, direct and collaborative,” said Betsy Lerner, of the Dunow, Carlson and Lerner Literary Agency. “She’s brilliant, an original thinker and highly motivated.”
Lerner said that Grandin’s work is research-based and more technical than narratively driven. She likes to write about ideas and research and stay current on the scientific discoveries.
“With Temple, she’s brilliant and articulate but there is never a lot of socializing or small-talk,” she said. Grandin focuses on the work at hand which is a characteristic of writers that Lerner likes.
Written during COVID, her book Visual Thinking, took 1 and ½ years to write. “It motivates me to work with her because I believe in her mission to educate people on neurodiversity and to make life better for livestock,” said Lerner.
Industrial design and object-visualizers
Grandin said that people who think in pictures often can see mistakes in design that other types of thinkers cannot fathom. “We need to foster the collaboration of object visualizers and spatial visualizers, especially when public safety is concerned,” she wrote in her new book.
To learn more about Temple Grandin, visit her web site at www.templegrandin.com.