Thinking Along the Autism Spectrum

By Peter Connor

There's a Lot of Information on the Fire Hydrant

On February 12, 2010 Dr. Temple Grandin, Professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University and world renowned livestock-handling facilities designer, addressed the annual Long Beach TED conference, a gathering of the world’s most fascinating thinkers and doers. Challenged to give the talk of her life, and given 18 minutes in which to do it, she spoke about the different-thinking kinds of minds the world has to offer and the need for putting a focused and conscious effort into nurturing and developing children so blessed.

Grandin knows. She has one of those different-thinking kinds of minds, one that lives in the Autism Spectrum, where thinking processes are organized along a continuum of lines much different than those found in other human beings.

"In the normal human mind, language covers up the visual thinking," she told her audience (Grandin, 2010). She explained how animals are sensory-based thinkers; that, lacking language, they do all their thinking in pictures, sounds, and smells.

"Think about how much information there is on the local fire hydrant," Grandin tosses out (2010). For a dog, there’s a ton: who’s been there, how long ago, whether the visitor was friendly or not, signs of a potential mate, etc. All very specific information, most of which will—for humans—get masked out by the language skills and tools with which they typically do their thinking.

She went on to explain the different kinds of ways people minds are wired and admonished the world to pay attention to those smart-geeky-nerdy kids who aren't very social, and plugs the importance of mentoring those who think along the autism spectrum so that they end up where the rest of the world needs them, in Silicon Valley, and all the other innovative hotbeds of creativity the world provides.

It's a thought-provoking talk, the subject of which ought to be part of any discussion on diversity in education. Thanks to the creative commons licensing to which TED subscribes, you may view the live video by clicking on the image above.


Ted: Ideas Worth Spreading (Producer). (2010). Temple Grandin: Retrieved from The world needs all kinds of minds [Online Video].

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