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Temple Grandin: we need all kinds of minds

March 3, 2010

Temple Grandin is a professor at Colorado State who specializes in animal behavior; she is also a person with high-functioning autism. Grandin, the subject of an HBO film released last month, advocates early intervention in autism. She describes herself as a visual thinker and refers to words and spoken language as her second language.

Temple Grandin spoke to the TED Conference last week. Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED) is a nonprofit foundation known for conferences devoted to “ideas worth spreading.” Speeches are limited to 18 minutes and shared freely on the internet.

Grandin says she sees the world differently and notices different things because of her visual thinking. She worries that young people who think visually are not well accommodated in schools. Why couldn’t they skip algebra and do the more visual trigonometry first? Grandin argues that high functioning autistic children who are not socially adept may need extra encouragement to become excited about science.

I have always found Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences very compelling. I was trained as a language teacher, and I believe that learning a foreign language helps one understand how different cultures think in different ways. The idea that we need to encourage multiple ways of thinking is just common sense. The more ways we tackle global warming, for example, the more likely we are to overcome it.

You can take this to an even more basic level in college teaching. Our students do not think the way we do. Not only is it possible that their minds are wired differently, but they also have different backgrounds and goals. For one thing, we need to remind ourselves that most of them are not interested in being university researchers.

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