Dr. Temple Grandin, a livestock industry consultant and professor of animal science at Colorado State University, is one of the world’s most renowned advocates for people on the autistic spectrum. Best known for developing a more humane method of livestock handling that calms cattle through squeezing, Grandin’s life has been profiled in numerous books and articles, including the 2010 HBO film Temple Grandin, and her own memoir, Thinking in Pictures: My Life With Autism.
In a talk delivered at Illinois State University this month as part of Science and Technology Week, Grandin discussed the unique nature of the autistic mind. Specifically Grandin noted that people with autism tend to be “visual” thinkers, rather than “word thinkers.”
“There are visual thinkers that think in photo-realistic pictures, often would be very good at design, photography, skilled trades,” Grandin was quoted as saying. “And then you’ve got the mathematical minds. They are your computer programmers. Some of them will be good at music. Then you have you word thinkers, where words are what they really excel at.”
In her lecture, Grandin suggested that schools provide autistic students with vocational training in skilled trades, utilizing their discipline and attention to detail.
“We need to start that training for working at around age 11 with dog walking jobs and church volunteer jobs, maybe playing cards with the residents at the old folks home or something like that,” she said. “Things that we can find in the neighborhood.”
Grandin also voiced concern that the autism label would stigmatize some children.
“Because I’m seeing parents become overprotective on having their kid learn the most basic, basic skills like just learning how to stop, learning how to budget money,” she explained.
As for herself, Grandin said she is proud of who she is and wouldn’t want to change.
“I am autistic. It’s who I am,” she said. “But it’s secondary to the livestock industry. I wouldn’t want to change! I like the logical way I think. But I see too many kids today becoming their label. I think work is way more constructive.”