In her popular TED Talk, Temple Grandin, a person born with Autism who achieved excelling success in life, presents her experience of learning with Autism. We’re going to spend this article learning about her main beliefs on teachings children with Autism and how you can apply them to your own students.
First of all, it is important to get to know your student. Knowing how your child thinks and learns will change the way you approach teaching them. This is much more than just being aware of their level of social skills. It is also necessary to be aware of any sensory issues a child may have, as this will affect their learning environment. For example, they may be bothered by certain lighting or sounds. Most importantly, however, what type of thinker are they? Temple highlights three kinds of thinkers expressed in children with Autism.
1. Visual Thinkers
Photo-realistic visual thinkers, as Temple calls them, are learners who have the ability to think in detailed pictures. Temple recounts her own experience of being asked to picture a church steeple. While most people would picture a fairly standard generic steeple, she sees a specific steeple she has seen on a particular church, and has a detailed image in her head. These kinds of thinkers place sensory-based information into specific categories.
2. Pattern Thinkers
Although Grandin talks extensively about visual thinkers, she points out that “not every autistic kid is going to be a visual thinker” (5:01 of TED Talk). Pattern thinkers are those who have minds geared toward Math, or Music. They may have trouble reading or writing, but excel in seeing patterns of numbers. One thing Grandin noticed is their ability to create intricate origami.
3. Verbal Thinkers
Finally, there are the minds that are word-based. These thinkers are able to memorize facts about nearly anything, and often make excellent journalists. In addition to this, Temple mentions that many children with autism who are verbal thinkers are good actors, due to their learning social skills like being in a play.
Once you have a better understanding of your learner’s way of thinking, you can help them develop their interests. For example, a pattern thinker who is fixated on planes can be taught Math with planes. Use their interests or fixations to motivate the learner. Then, find a mentor, tutor, or experts in their field of interest to help light the spark for their learning.
We’ve written about examples on this blog including:
When different, specific minds like these work together, they would be able to complement each other’s abilities very well in order to solve a problem in a thorough way. But it all starts with getting to know your learner and how they think, so that you can use that to spark their interest to gear them towards such a goal.