PLATTSBURGH — Dr. Temple Grandin's twin concerns for children and animals are the subject of two local talks Wednesday.
The New York Times best-selling author is an internationally famous autism spokesperson as well as a revolutionary advocate for the humane treatment of livestock for slaughter.
Her books include “Thinking in Pictures: Other Reports from My Life with Autism” (1996), “The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum” (with Richard Panek, 2013), and “The Loving Push: How Parents and Professionals Can Help Spectrum Kids Become Successful Adults” (with Debra Moore, PhD., 2016).
The Autism Alliance of Northeastern NY hosts “A Day with Dr. Temple Grandin” at the Rainbow Wedding and Banquet Hall in Altona.
On Wednesday evening, she will switch to “Agriculture Talk with Dr. Temple Grandin” hosted by the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Clinton County at Beekmantown Central School.
Grandin is a designer of livestock handling facilities and a professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University.
Her books on this topic include "Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior" (with Catherine Johnson, 2005) and "Animals Make Us Human: Creating the Best life for Animals” (with Catherine Johnson, 2009).
Grandin is a straight-talking inspiration and role model to legions of families and people with autism.
But she is dismayed by the many young people with hidden gifts that are floundering or just plain giving up.
“They think they are not going to achieve anything,” Grandin said.
“It's a lot of hard work to achieve. I started out one little project at a time. I started out with sign painting. That gradually morphed into designing cattle facilities. I think it inspired a lot of kids.”
Grandin thinks totally in pictures, and she thinks there are many kids like her.
“I'm concerned that our educational system is screwing these kids out of draconian algebra requirements,” she said.
“Algebra was totally impossible for me. But we need visual thinkers working on things. You need visual thinkers working on engineering projects to prevent messes like Fukushima, which was a colossal visual-thinking mistake."
She cannot design a nuclear reactor, but common sense tells here it's not a very good idea to put an electrical grid and emergency cooling pump in a non-waterproof basement located by the sea.
“What I learned that the mathematical minds they don't see the water filling the basement when the tidal wave breached the seawall; I do," Grandin said.
"And, that's exactly what happened. The basement filled up almost instantly. The electrical grid and emergency cooling pump and the generators and the back-up generators were all in the basement. Look out. What I learned about the mathematical mind is that they try to calculate risk. They don't see risk. There's no way I would have made that mistake."
If she had been a project consultant, she would have demanded watertight doors like those found on submarines or ships.
Grandin not only thinks in images, she dreams in images, too, some with sound but mostly visually.
“At my talks, I discuss the three different kinds of minds," she said.
"Visual thinkers who think in photo-realistic pictures are object visualizers. There are mathematically pattern thinkers. The visual are spatial but they think in patterns. And then word thinkers, who think completely in words. And then there are combinations of the different thinkers.”
Visual thinkers excel in high-end skills and trades, art, photography, drafting and design.
Mathematical-pattern thinkers excel at all things computers.
“We need the different kind of thinkers,” Grandin said.
“Just take your iPhone or Samsung phone. Steve Jobs, an artist, made up the interface. The easy to use interface was made by an artist. The engineers had to make the phone innards work. So that's the two different kinds of minds working together.”
CONNECTING THE DOTS
Grandin spends a lot of time talking about the different types of minds and how to help kids be successful.
“A lot of people are in the middle of the road in all of these things,” she said.
“Somebody may be a visual thinker. Somebody else might be a mathematical thinker. I think part of the problem is the verbal thinkers and their labels have kind of taken that over.”
A scan of her brain reveals how she is wired to think the way she does.
Scanners like this are available in most hospitals.
“But nobody is using it,” Grandin said.
“You sort of get the turf battle between the neurologists because those scans are in neurology. Then in psychiatry, you have verbal ways of diagnosing people. There is a disconnect between the medical specialists. Those scans have been well published, and people are not picking up on it. And I think it's because they are too locked in to the verbal system. A lot of educators are very, very verbal in their thinking. I went to an educational administrators' meeting. There is a lot of very vague abstract talk about different ways of teaching, but then they did not give any actually concrete examples of how a teacher would actually do it. It's very vague and over-generalized.”
Grandin is an advocate of hands-on, experiential learning.
“We need to do a lot more of that,” she said.
“I think we need to get the skilled trades back in the schools. We have a huge shortage of electricians, plumbers, auto mechanics. These are good jobs that are not going to get replaced by computers. Perhaps one of the jobs that are going to be replaced is things like radiologists, cancer doctor. Those jobs can get replaced. That can be done by a computer. Fixing broken water mains will not be done by a computer.”
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NORTH COUNTRY TALKS
• “A Day with Dr. Temple Grandin" hosted by the Autism Alliance of Northeastern NY. Wednesday, Oct. 24, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Rainbow Wedding and Banquet Hall, 47 Woods Falls Road, Altona. Tickets are $25 and lunch will be served. Contact: 518-565-0207 or firstname.lastname@example.org
• “Agriculture Talk with Dr. Temple Grandin" sponsored by the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Clinton County. Wednesday, Oct. 24, 7 to 9 p.m. The free talk about animal behavior will be at the Beekmantown High School, 37 Eagle Way, West Chazy. Contact Sara Bull, agriculture educator, at 518-561-7450 or email@example.com.