“Autism is an important part of who I am, but being a scientist — being a professor — that comes first,” said Temple Grandin, who teaches animal science at Colorado State University, during her presentation to Elmhurst University students and guests on April 14.
Pairing her information with anecdotes, Grandin put an emphasis on the kinds of thinkers and the ways that children should learn in order to become more successful in their future endeavors.
“This is a really big problem. I am seeing a lot of problems with a lot of smart individuals on the spectrum not learning life skills,” emphasized Grandin. “We gotta get kids doing more stuff and exposed to a lot more.”
During her teenage years, Grandin was exposed to the cattle industry. Grandin then pursued a career in science and livestock equipment design under the mentorship of her science teacher and aunt.
Many courses are being pulled from education including the arts, mechanics, and cooking. The removal of these skills is putting children at risk because they are not as easily able to note their interests.
“The worst things the schools have done, they’ve taken out art, sewing, musical instruments,” noted Grandin. She was involved in theater at a younger age but was not interested in acting, instead, she designed costumes and the scenery.
Visual thinkers, like Grandin, are characterized by an appeal to art and building which is suitable for a career in photography and graphics. Verbal thinkers typically have a fascination with factual information and history which is paired well with sales jobs.
Math thinkers have an attraction to mathematics and building things. These skills could translate into a career in computer programming, music, or engineering.
“The thing about people on the spectrum: Good at one thing, terrible at something else. We need to be building up [our] strength,” said Grandin. She used her drawing abilities as a child to build the basis for her design business.
Parents of individuals with autism are potentially not exposing their children to differing abilities. Grandin encouraged parents to get outside of the “autism box” and uncover children’s abilities and engagements through exposure to differing involvements.
On her slideshow, she noted, “Nobel prize winners are 50 percent more likely to have an arts and craft hobby compared to other scientists.” Grandin notices that individuals are losing their ability in crafty skills.
“Twenty percent of the people I worked with were either autistic, dyslexia, or ADHD,” discussed Grandin. These individuals designed complex equipment and owned metal companies.
Grandin also discussed the importance of neurodivergent thinkers being present in the production of systems. Because many workers do not receive the credit they deserve, Grandin highlighted the individuals who build critical material for NASA including the Mars rover camera and the women who sewed the spacesuits at the Playtex company.
Grandin also provided some tips for working with individuals with different minds. These include never overloading working memory, providing task lists, limiting screen time, reaching beyond the comfort zone, and providing choices with hands-on activities.
“What really helped me was learning that other people think differently,” she said. “When two kinds of minds work together you can create some really good stuff.”