“A bridge will fall apart if you ignore the details.” To some, this all-too-simple and quite obvious quote is nothing more than a mere remark. However, if there’s one detail (no pun intended) that makes this quote worthy of discussion, it’s the term “details,” which is a concept that goes untouched far too often in our world and is something to which we need to pay a little more attention.
The author of the previously mentioned quote is Dr. Temple Grandin, a woman who has taken her unique traits and characteristics of her case of the autism spectrum to better the world in a myriad of ways. In particular, she has taken her unique sensory issues to create devices that have helped comfort not only humans, but animals as well. And, in order to see more frequent inventions that benefit our world, she stresses the idea that we must place an emphasis on helping those “geeky, nerdy, smart kids” with autism find what interests and motivates them and relate those interests to the real world. I must say, after reading her book, “Thinking in Pictures: and Other Reports from My Life with Autism,” I became a huge fan, but after seeing her Ted Talks video (featured below), I think it’s safe to say I’m her biggest fan (if you believe you’re her biggest fan, you can meet me out by the flagpole tomorrow- I’ll be there).
According to Dr. Grandin, the autism spectrum is a humungous continuum ranging from nonverbal individuals all the way to brilliant scientists and artists, from Einstein to Tessla to even Mozart. Individuals of these calibers do something differently than the average Joe- they think in pictures rather than language, which is precisely how Grandin thinks. She says that there are really only three types of thinkers: photo realistic thinkers, pattern thinkers, and verbal mind thinkers. Because I’m such a strong proponent of Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences (something for which you should put your coffee down to research), I also support her philosophy, which goes a little something like this: photo realistic thinkers (like Temple herself) think of everything in pictures and movies, but struggle with concepts like algebra; pattern thinkers are fascinated with music and math, but struggle with reading; and verbal minds know facts about everything you can think of, but are poor at drawing. As we can see, according to this logic, everyone has both strengths and weaknesses in their intellect (precisely the premise of the Theory of Multiple Intelligences), so it is our duty to find those strengths in our young brains of the future and capitalize on those strengths and lessen the focus on students’ weaknesses. But, how do we accomplish this “easier-said-than-done” task and to which students is she referring? The solution: “You gotta show kids interesting stuff.”
Now, by “interesting stuff,” I’m eluding to topics that pique student interests and turn them on to learning. And as for which type of student, I’m speaking of students on the autism spectrum (the focus of this discussion). Many students on the autism spectrum happen to be fixated on certain objects, ideas, or concepts in particular and focus on those areas of interest and become masters of their area. An example Temple provides of how to put those interests to use in the real world is by creating scenarios that incorporate their specific interests. For example, if a student is fascinated by cars of any kind and they have skills in science, provide them real-world science problems that involve the use of cars, causing them to become much more susceptible to solving those problems. So, in Temple’s case, she put her foci to use to solve real-world issues. For example, if you read her book, “Thinking in Pictures…” you’ll discover that she created two inventions that not only help people and animals, but also save lives. Her “squeeze machine,” which is a revolutionary device which allows individuals with autism to receive the necessary physical feeling of touch, while allowing them to avoid fear by not having to touch others, is an example of her putting to use her fascination with sensory issues and solving a real problem. Another example of this is her capability of relating to and feeling how animals do, such as when she would relate to cattle and their eyesight, fear, and thought process prior to entering vats. This caused her to invent a system that took away that fear for cattle and solved yet another real-world problem.
As a future educator, not only will I need to focus on tailoring my assignments to meet the needs of each individual (differentiated instruction), but I’ll also need to make sure I create asignmnets that are relevan to my students’ strengths and interests. Many students in special education programs, particularly those with Autism Spectrum Disroder, have unique fascinations in which they invest countless hours mastering that area. I’m one who likes to capitalize on success and strengths, rather than beat a dead horse by focusing on a concept or idea that isn’t relevant to a student or even capable of them understanding it. Finding those strengths and interests in my students is exactly what I’m going to do.