[guest post by Dana]
There is a lot of good stuff in this op-ed by Professor Temple Grandin (Colorado State University). Grandin, who is autistic, discusses the role of visual thinkers in society and the need to provide avenues of learning that meet the needs of the neurodivergent so that they, in turn, can meet the needs of today’s society. Much of what she says speaks to my heart on a personal level, so I’m very glad to see her write about the subject:
When I was younger, I believed that everybody thought in photo-realistic pictures the same way I did, with images clicking through my mind a little bit like PowerPoint slides or TikTok videos.
I had no idea that most people are more word-centric than I am. For many, words, not pictures, shape thought. …
I was born in the late 1940s just as the diagnosis of autism was being applied to kids like me. I had no language until age 4 and was first diagnosed as brain damaged. Today, many people would say that I’m neurodivergent — a term that encompasses not only autism but also dyslexia, A.D.H.D. and other learning problems…
Still, many aspects of our society are not set up to allow visual thinkers — which so many of us neurodivergent folks are — to thrive. In fact, many aspects of our society seem set up specifically so we will fail. Schools force students into a one-size-fits-all curriculum. The workplace relies too much on résumés and G.P.A.s to assess candidates’ worth. This must change not only because neurodivergent people, and all visual thinkers, deserve better but also because without a major shift in how we think about how we learn, American innovation will be stifled.
Today, Taiwan produces the majority of the world’s highest tech silicon chips. Much of the specialized mechanical equipment used for processing meat is made in Holland and Germany. When I visited the Steve Jobs Theater in California, pre-Covid, I discovered that the glass walls were created by an Italian company. The massive carbon fiber roof that looks like a spaceship was imported from Dubai. The reason this equipment is coming from outside the United States can be traced in part to differences in educational systems. In Italy and the Netherlands, for instance, a student at about age 14 decides whether to go the university route or the vocational route. The vocational route is not looked down on or regarded as a lesser form of intelligence. And that’s how it should be everywhere because the skill sets of visual thinkers are essential to finding real-world solutions to society’s many problems.
Anybody who thinks that we are all hardwired to see the world the same, and to learn and process information the same is blind. Parents whose children fall under the banner of neurodivergent understand the truth of what Grandin says. They have watched their loved ones struggle to adapt to a standard learning style when they are simply unable to do so. But the good news is, as Grandin points out, that the word neurodivergent is now an accepted term speaks to “a growing understanding about the different ways that brains work.” This is a positive development that will continue to benefit families but will also benefit society at large as our need for innovation increases.
You can read more about Temple Grandin here.