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ASPartOfMe
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01 Oct 2022, 10:02 am

Temple Grandin Wants All Types of Minds to Contribute to Society

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Growing up with autism in the 1950s wasn’t easy, Temple Grandin says. Little was understood about the condition at the time, and doctors often institutionalized people like her, given her early struggles with speech, eye contact and temper. A neurologist who examined her when she was 2 years old concluded that she was brain-damaged.

Yet Dr. Grandin, 75, who would grow up to become a professor of animal science at Colorado State University, a globe-trotting animal welfare consultant and a world-renowned autism advocate, notes that there were also benefits to coming of age before the autism label was common. “It’s possible that the most important thing my mother did for me was to not see herself primarily as the mom of a disabled child,” she writes in her new book, “Visual Thinking,” out Oct. 11.

She was moved to write a book about the value of unconventional thinkers like herself after noticing that, in many cases, an autism diagnosis seemed to be “holding kids back.” According to the CDC, the number of American children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder surged from 1 in 150 in 2000 to 1 in 44 in 2018. Dr. Grandin suspects this is at least partly because the diagnosis increasingly includes “even just slightly geeky kids.” “I think it’s a huge problem that someone who can’t dress themselves has the same label as someone who should be working at Microsoft or NASA,” she says over the phone from her home in Fort Collins, Colo. “I’m seeing so many parents get locked into the label, they can’t even imagine their kids are capable of doing anything.”

Dr. Grandin says she meets plenty of autistic teens who have never used tools, opened a bank account or gone shopping by themselves, largely because their parents and teachers presume they can’t. “The consequence is there are a lot of smart kids ending up in basements playing videogames instead of going out and getting great jobs where they can do something constructive in the world,” she says. Had she been born 30 years later, she suspects she would have been a “videogame addict” herself.

As a child in Boston, Dr. Grandin sensed she didn’t fit in. Diagnosed with autism at 2, she needed intensive speech therapy to start talking at 4 and intensive tutoring to start reading by 8. As a teen, she was teased and bullied in school for being awkward—kids called her “tape recorder” because she repeated herself in a kind of monotone. Despite her concerns that a “disability mind-set” prevents parents and teachers from developing the strengths of children with autism, dyslexia and ADHD, she acknowledges that it was helpful that her parents sent her to a special boarding high-school for children with learning disabilities.

Although Dr. Grandin would ultimately earn a Ph.D. in animal science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1989, she often strained against the demands of school and was by her own account a “terrible student.” She didn’t know at the time that this was partly because, like many autistic people, she is a visual thinker.

Thinking associatively in pictures rather than linearly in words makes it difficult for Dr. Grandin to follow lectures or heed lengthy verbal instructions. But she believes it is also why she has managed to be so influential in promoting animal welfare. She explains that because animals often make sense of the world through visual associations, she finds it easy to see things from their point of view.

Dr. Grandin is troubled that most public schools have dropped these hands-on classes, including art, welding and auto mechanics, and replaced them with coursework geared toward standardized tests. “We took out the classes where a lot of neurodiverse people could excel,” she says. She estimates that around one-fifth of the machinery designers, welders and engineers she has worked with over the years have autism, dyslexia or undiagnosed ADHD, and many have told her that they first discovered an affinity for making and fixing things in classes at school. “The young people who might have started their own shops or become apprentices in the trades are now being shunted to special ed and never given the opportunity to learn to use tools at all,” she observes.

The effect has become plain to Dr. Grandin in her regular tours of domestic poultry and pork-processing plants, where state-of-the-art equipment is no longer American-made. She observes that machinery is now being imported from Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands and other countries that have continued “to encourage and develop the talents and skills of people who think in different ways.”

Whether she is lecturing in Silicon Valley or at NASA, Dr. Grandin talks about the importance of “harnessing the power of every kind of mind.”

Dr. Grandin is mindful of the trade-offs involved in thinking differently. She can’t quite comprehend abstract concepts like algebra, and she knows that some of her autistic traits make it easier for her to connect with animals than with people. She prefers to talk over the phone instead of video, because it masks her social awkwardness and wandering eyes, and she will never understand the appeal of chitchat. “The thing that blows my mind is people have a great time doing it, even though most of these conversations have almost no content,” she observes.

Yet she is eager to demonstrate that her approach to the world comes with strengths, too. “


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Kraichgauer
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01 Oct 2022, 7:13 pm

Glad to hear from Temple. She led the way for so many of us.


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DW_a_mom
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02 Oct 2022, 1:28 am

She has a really good point about the changes in schools. School are focusing too much on one way of learning and excelling. It leaves a lot of young people wondering if the world has a place for them.


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kraftiekortie
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02 Oct 2022, 6:00 am

Indeed, there should be more trade schools.

And, especially, the trade unions should be more inclusive, and take in many more apprentices.



DW_a_mom
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02 Oct 2022, 7:10 pm

It isn't just about trades, but the entire set of education methods and priorities, IMHO. I got really angry, for example, by how much of my son's grade depended on organization skills, that he could get a ZERO for work DONE IN CLASS that the teacher HAD SEEN but he didn't know he was supposed to turn in, and there was no recourse. I was ANGRY. My son simply decided he wasn't going to care about grades anymore, since they made no sense, but as a parent watching a bright kid start trying to throw away his future, I had a hard time. I just thank God that he had angels on earth watching out for him despite his efforts to block his own advancement.


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CockneyRebel
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02 Oct 2022, 8:04 pm

I love Temple Grandin. She's done so much for the autistic community. She's one of the better experts who are out there. I think there should be more trade schools. I also feel that autism parents can do more to raise their children to believe in themselves instead of telling them that they don't have a future. I was told that I didn't have a future by my dad. He wasn't even aware that was what he was doing that, the one time that he told me that there were a lot of things that most people could do that I would never be able to do and part of it was because I had a learning disability. Now I sit around my apartment in a tie-dyed t-shirt and a cloth German helmet on my head with some pork chops frying. It's hard to do fancy cooking if you don't have the money that "Most people are able to have."


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Kraichgauer
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02 Oct 2022, 8:36 pm

CockneyRebel wrote:
I love Temple Grandin. She's done so much for the autistic community. She's one of the better experts who are out there. I think there should be more trade schools. I also feel that autism parents can do more to raise their children to believe in themselves instead of telling them that they don't have a future. I was told that I didn't have a future by my dad. He wasn't even aware that was what he was doing that, the one time that he told me that there were a lot of things that most people could do that I would never be able to do and part of it was because I had a learning disability. Now I sit around my apartment in a tie-dyed t-shirt and a cloth German helmet on my head with some pork chops frying. It's hard to do fancy cooking if you don't have the money that "Most people are able to have."


Your dad should never have said such a soul crushing thing to you.


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02 Oct 2022, 8:42 pm

Kraichgauer wrote:
CockneyRebel wrote:
I love Temple Grandin. She's done so much for the autistic community. She's one of the better experts who are out there. I think there should be more trade schools. I also feel that autism parents can do more to raise their children to believe in themselves instead of telling them that they don't have a future. I was told that I didn't have a future by my dad. He wasn't even aware that was what he was doing that, the one time that he told me that there were a lot of things that most people could do that I would never be able to do and part of it was because I had a learning disability. Now I sit around my apartment in a tie-dyed t-shirt and a cloth German helmet on my head with some pork chops frying. It's hard to do fancy cooking if you don't have the money that "Most people are able to have."


Your dad should never have said such a soul crushing thing to you.


I agree. My resource room teacher couldn't understand why she was having so much trouble with me in the fall of 1990 until I told her what my dad told me that past summer. It only takes one time.


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kraftiekortie
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03 Oct 2022, 8:51 am

It is true that education must be multifaceted, and must take into account at least the eight aspects of Gardner's "Multiple Intelligences."

I was merely pointing out that "trade schools" are sorely lacking within a US context.



Kraichgauer
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03 Oct 2022, 3:10 pm

kraftiekortie wrote:
It is true that education must be multifaceted, and must take into account at least the eight aspects of Gardner's "Multiple Intelligences."

I was merely pointing out that "trade schools" are sorely lacking within a US context.


Unfortunately that's correct.


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stratozyck
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03 Oct 2022, 3:47 pm

I got a PhD in Applied Economics about 8 years ago and graduate school for me was awful. See, in graduate school your success depends on convincing others that you should work with them to help you get a dissertation. Its not my strong point.

The main problem with K-12 from the get go is the obsession with grades and the mindset of "failure is bad." All people should try new things and most things you try, you will fail at.

I think this pushes a lot of kids away from harder subjects because they have this mindset that bad grades = bad at life. But this is child abuse. What matters is you learn something and can apply it. Thats it. It doesn't matter if it takes you longer or repeated tries.

I can relate to her "visual thinking" mindset. See - I didn't realize I was actually great at applied math until I realized I was thinking of math visually in terms of shapes. For example, what matters in math is the shape of a function, not the actual numbers. I think in high school when they make you solve more and more complex polynomials, its turning a lot of people off of math because as someone who works in "applied math," thats like telling someone that the way to get better at basketball is to practice half court shots. It just isn't what basketball is, and solving complex polynomials isn't what people that work in math do. The people that do solve polynomials use software as well.



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03 Oct 2022, 6:27 pm

I wish I could thumbs up posts or comments. I see several here that I think are really important. Shaping up to be an excellent thread, IMHO.


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