Autism as a facet of experience, not a limit

March 28, 2014 by Chuck Leddy
“In special education, there’s too much emphasis placed on the deficit and not enough on the strength,” said the Boston-born Temple Grandin at Askwith Hall. Credit: Melanie Rieders

Temple Grandin, a professor of animal science at Colorado State, brought her experience with autism, with which she was diagnosed at age 2, and insights from years of activism to a talk at the Graduate School of Education (GSE) Wednesday.

One of those insights: Diagnostic labels have their limits. "In , there's too much emphasis placed on the deficit and not enough on the strength," said the Boston-born Grandin at Askwith Hall. "I'm seeing a lot of 10-year-olds getting completely hung up on their autism, caught up in a handicapped mentality."

Much of Grandin's activism has focused on connecting autistics with education and careers. "I like to think about how the different kinds of minds can work together and complement each other." Speaking at length about her own "different thinking," she said, "my thinking is bottom-up," grounded in specific details.

"When I think about a cathedral, I see a series of specific cathedrals," not an archetype. "People who think in words tend to 'over-abstractify' the world too much and miss the details."

Grandin brought along two brain scans to illustrate her much larger circuitry for visual thinking compared with the average brain: "Being a visual thinker has really helped me in designing livestock handling facilities. Animals are sensory-based learners," she said.

(The 2010 HBO movie "Temple Grandin," with Claire Danes in the title role, showed how Grandin crawled through an existing livestock facility to understand how cattle experienced moving through the chutes, and then integrated her sensory-based insights into her own designs.)

Shifting her focus to the classroom, Grandin offered several suggestions for educating students with autism or unconventional learning styles. "Kids on the spectrum tend to get fixated on the things they like," she said. "You need to use those fixations to teach kids different subjects." If a child is fixated on airplanes, Grandin said, the teacher might use planes to illustrate lessons in physics, engineering, history, and more.

Mentors are also important. A particular teacher sparked her interest in science, Grandin said. Educators need to nudge students "slightly out of their comfort zone" to challenge them while providing support.

Autistic children also need responsibilities and tasks—paper-route-type jobs—"to build work skills," she said. Adults can't "allow kids to become recluses playing video games by themselves all day."

Near the end of her talk, Grandin offered a bit of advice to autistic people in the job market: "You need to sell your work, not yourself. Create a portfolio to show your work and carry it around with you." It was a practical note keeping with her wider message, that those with "different thinking" have much to offer.

Explore further: Superior visual thinking may be key to independence for high schoolers with autism

Related Stories

Superior visual thinking may be key to independence for high schoolers with autism

March 12, 2014
Researchers at UNC's Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute (FPG) and UNC's School of Education report that teaching independence to adolescents with autism can provide a crucial boost to their chances for success ...

Strategies for teaching common core to teens with autism show promise

March 19, 2014
Scientists at UNC's Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute (FPG) report that high school students with autism can learn under Common Core State Standards (CCSS), boosting their prospects for college and employment. ...

Autism prevalence continues to rise

March 28, 2014
According to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the estimated prevalence of autism among 8-year-olds in New Jersey rose in the latest reporting year, 2010, to nearly 22 children per thousand, ...

Recommended for you

Video game improves balance in youth with autism

November 21, 2017
Playing a video game that rewards participants for holding various "ninja" poses could help children and youth with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) improve their balance, according to a recent study in the Journal of Autism ...

Potential new autism drug shows promise in mice

November 14, 2017
Scientists have performed a successful test of a possible new drug in a mouse model of an autism disorder. The candidate drug, called NitroSynapsin, largely corrected electrical, behavioral and brain abnormalities in the ...

Relational factors in music therapy can contribute to positive outcome for children with autism

November 6, 2017
It might not surprise that good relationships create good outcomes, as meaningful relational experiences are crucial to all of us in our everyday life. However, the development of a relationship with a child with autism may ...

In autism, too many brain connections may be at root of condition

November 2, 2017
A defective gene linked to autism influences how neurons connect and communicate with each other in the brain, according to a study from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Rodents that lack the gene form ...

New autism study a "shocking wake-up call" for society, say academics

October 23, 2017
People who show characteristics of autism are more at risk of attempting suicide, according to a Coventry University study whose results are being presented to a United States federal advisory committee tomorrow.

Signaling pathway may be key to why autism is more common in boys

October 17, 2017
Researchers aiming to understand why autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are more common in boys have discovered differences in a brain signaling pathway involved in reward learning and motivation that make male mice more vulnerable ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

katesisco
not rated yet Apr 08, 2014
Wonderful to see such pro-thinking for individuals that see pictures and not words.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.