By Greta Klein
Staff writer

Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes can be difficult to do. Especially when your thought process might be completely different compared to someone else’s. Even though something may seem apparent to you, it might not be that way to others.

Temple Grandin, an animal scientist and advocate for autism, came up with this concept naturally because she is an extreme object visualizer.

Photo by HutchCC marketing

“When I first started out working with cattle back in my twenties, I didn’t know that other people didn’t think in pictures,” Grandin said. “So it was obvious to me to get down in the shoots and see what the cows were seeing. It wasn’t until my late thirties that I figured out (that) other people thought in words.”

Grandin was in Hutchinson on Tuesday as the fourth and final speaker for the 2023 Dillon Lecture Series.

“(Having autism) really helped me with animals because animals don’t think in words,” Grandin said.

As an extreme object visualizer, Grandin selects words throughout a conversation and brings up images in her brain when a word is said.

“Visual thinking is seeing,” Grandin said. “These pictures are coming up in my mind, they are associated. There is a logic to the association. You said right to repair, of course the tractors came up first then the iPhones.”

Since Grandin is a visual thinker, she also is able to ‘see risk’.

“It’s a different type of thinking,” Grandin said. “For example, I’m sitting on the aisle seat on a plane and the guy beside me puts a plastic cup of water on his open laptop next to his keyboard, that is seeing risk.”

Grandin is well known for more than just her work as an animal scientist and autism advocate. She happens to be a well-published author as well.

Her books, “Animals in Translation”, “Animals Make Us Human”, “The Autistic Brain, and Thinking in Pictures” are all New York Times bestsellers.

“Having books on the New York Bestseller list is really a wonderful thing,” Grandin said. “When I did my recent book ‘Visual Thinking’, I would write a rough draft for each chapter that was not very organized and Betsy (Lerner), my very verbal coauthor, straightened them out.”

Despite being popular now, Grandin had some challenges throughout her journey.

“I went to a small elementary school and I didn’t have any (bullying happen),” Grandin said. “My third grade teacher explained to the other children that I had a disability not visible like a wheelchair or a seeing-eye dog. She explained that to the other kids so they could help me instead of bullying me.”

While grade school was free of bullying, high school was a different story for Grandin.

“High school was a nightmare of bullying, worst part of my life,” Grandin said. “The only place I was not bullied was friends through shared interest. Horseback riding, bottle rocks, and electronics. That’s where I had friends.”

Even though Grandin has surpassed bullying, she is concerned for future autistic children.

“My worry is that the next Temple Grandin is getting screened out by the algebra class,” Grandin said. “(Algebra) is for your pattern thinkers. I have to have a picture to think. I’m very concerned we’re screening out my kind of thinker, you need us.” 

Grandin’s concerns go beyond the educational aspect for children with autism.

“They don’t know how to do life skills,” Grandin said. “Where I see a real problem, smart kids on the autism spectrum (are) not making a successful transfer into work.”

Despite Grandin having concerns about future autistic children, she finds the meaning of life in the little things.

“I used to look at life in complicated stuff,” Grandin said. “It’s the meaning of life when someone walks up to me and says my kids are in college because of your book. That makes my day.”

Grandin does not do all the advocating for herself, she does it for the children that are like her.

“I want to help the kids that are different get out and be constructive members of society and get into careers they will like.”

The next Dillon Lecture Series speech will be given by Janelle Shane an Artificial Intelligence Humorist, Author and Research Scientist. She will make an appearance at 10:30 a.m. Feb. 20 at the Hutchinson Sports Arena.

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