World-renowned autism expert Dr. Temple Grandin is no stranger to public speaking as she tours the world talking to educators about the importance of understanding autism’s effect on the brain. She’s even hosted a webinar for PresenceLearning called “The Autistic Brain” (you can watch a full-length recording of her webinar here). Earlier this month, Dr. Grandin had the honor of being the keynote speaker at SXSWedu 2016 in Austin, TX. Her keynote address titled “Helping Different Kinds of Minds Solve Problems” attracted a huge, standing-room-only crowd.
Dr. Grandin’s story is well-known. After being diagnosed with autism in her early childhood years, Dr. Grandin’s family was advised to admit her to an institution. Her mother fought against this path and instead enlisted the expertise of therapists for early intervention services and exposed Temple to different subjects to find her interests. Despite the odds stacked against her, Dr. Grandin overcame the expectations of others and, to this day, succeeds in the study of livestock by designing better, more humane slaughter equipment. Dr. Grandin is currently a Professor of Livestock Behavior & Welfare at Colorado State University and is an active autism advocate.
Dr. Grandin credits this success to her therapists and family for supporting her and to helping her to find a subject area that both interested her and capitalized on her strengths. During her keynote, she outlined four types of learners. Typically Dr. Grandin references three types of learners (object visualizer, pattern thinkers, and language thinkers), but she included a fourth type of learner in her keynote.
Object Visualizers: Dr. Grandin is an object visualizer who always thought in pictures. She describes these learners as those who love art and building blocks. This type of learning has led her to greatness in designing slaughter equipment and imagining solutions to design problems; however, she was poor in algebra because she could not “see” the solutions to equations.
Pattern Thinkers: Dr. Grandin describes these individuals as the mathematicians and the “Silicon Valley scientists.” They are often very good with patterns, but may have trouble with reading.
Language Thinkers: These individuals are into verbal facts and lists and often memorize schedules or historic events. She further describes these people as very linear in their thinking, as they will know everything there is to know about their favorite subjects, but they are often poor at drawing.
Auditory Thinkers: Children who learn best with their ears are auditory thinkers. Some auditory thinkers can hear a song once and play it back. However, they are often weak with visualization.
According to Dr. Grandin, educators often focus on students’ weaknesses when they should really be focusing on students’ strengths. She does not deny that the weaknesses exist; she just firmly believes that more good can come from focusing on a student’s strengths and then providing them with instruction that is aligned to their particular learning type.
Students can be a mixture of these types of learners, and Dr. Grandin reminds attendees that when different types of learners work together, greatness can happen. An example, she provided was the creation of the iPhone. Steve Jobs, a visionary and most likely a visual learner, had to work with engineers and programmers to make his vision come to life. Without this collaboration, innovation would be hard to find.
Dr. Grandin’s whole point is: students are more than their diagnosis. Students may have autism or have ADHD, but that’s not why they aren’t succeeding. They aren’t succeeding because their strengths don’t match the type of learning they are being presented with in the classroom. Everyone can excel given they are provided with content in a way that interests them and activates their strengths.
To watch Dr. Grandin’s keynote address in its entirety click here.