Temple Grandin: The Varieties of Autistic Thought
Temple Grandin signs copies of her books after the Alexander Street customer appreciation breakfast
For its 23rd customer appreciation breakfast on Sunday, Alexander Street Press invited as keynote speaker Temple Grandin, bestselling author, doctor of animal science, and autism activist.
Grandin, who was diagnosed with autism at age 2 in 1949, advocates early behavioral or cognitive intervention to address this neural disorder in kids. She particularly worries about videogame addiction in middle school, because gaming addicts are often individuals on the autism spectrum who think visually and not conceptually.
“Too many middle school kids are going nowhere,” she said. “If you don’t show them interesting stuff, they will keep on with videogames” and not find other activities that can develop into useful work skills and personal discipline. “Hands-on classes like artwork and woodworking saved me.”
Grandin realized that her thinking was different when she asked people to think about church steeples. “Most people think about a generic steeple as a concept,” she said. “When I think about a church steeple, I see a series of pictures of every steeple I have ever seen. An astrophysicist sees an abstract system of motion. It was a revelation to discover that not everyone thought like me.”
Grandin classified four types of thinkers on the autism spectrum:
- Photo-realistic visual thinkers, who think in pictures and excel in art, handcrafts, and design, but are poor at algebra;
- Pattern thinkers, who are good at music, science, and math (except algebra), but are poor at reading;
- Word thinkers, who have a vast memory for facts and figures and are good at writing and research, but who are poor at drawing;
- Auditory thinkers, who are good at listening, but whose visual perception is fragmented.
A visual thinker like Grandin would never have put the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant emergency generators for cooling pumps in an area that could be flooded. Nor would a visual thinker have sacrificed the stability of the Deepwater Horizon platform or placed a flammable lithium-ion battery in a tight metal box on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner. “It wasn’t particularly stupidity that caused these problems,” she added. “It’s not seeing the pictures that are obvious to me.”
“We need different kinds of minds to work together,” Grandin said. “People who are interested in things and people who are interested in concepts complement each others’ skills.” She recommends “getting back to doing real things,” such as making things with your hands and not a mouse.
Temple Grandin will be an Auditorium Speaker at the 2013 ALA Annual Conference in Chicago. Come see her on Sunday morning, June 30.
Alexander Street Press announced at the breakfast its new round of upcoming or recent video launches, including a new volume of Ethnographic Video Online and a multivolume collection of Twentieth-Century Religious Thought. Company President Stephen Rhind-Tutt also said Alexander Street would be demonstrating a modernized, open API platform at the ACRL 2013 conference in Indianapolis in April. It will feature 300 controlled vocabularies for improved search and discovery, new thumbnail navigation and segmentation for videos, and a clippable waveform function for sound files.