Anne Carpenter’s May Book Review

TITLE: Visual Thinking: The Hidden Gifts of People Who Think in Pictures, Patterns, and Abstractions

AUTHOR: Grandin, Temple with Betsy Lerner

SUBJECT AREA: Autism-Sensory Processing-Visual Thinking

PUBLISHER: Riverhead Books




Out of all the many books that Temple Grandin, the Grand Dame of Autism, has written her newest title Visual Thinking: The Hidden Gifts of People Who Think In Pictures, Patterns, and Abstractions, is by far the most fascinating and riveting book I have read so far this year.

Temple starts out by describing what visual thinking is with two main kinds-object visualizers and pattern visualizers with the former thinking in vivid, technicolor images and videos in their heads while the latter tends to see patterns and tends to be better at mathematical concepts and functions. Temple is an object thinker and like her, I see vivid images in my head such as photorealistic image of a house in Hawaii flanked by feathery palm trees. Grandin describes visual thinking as being on a spectrum with varying degrees. For example, I am primarily a visual thinker but also am highly verbal so she presents this as a much more complex process than we might think.

She also describes the awful trend of very bright, talented people being screened out due to the overuse of standardized tests that rely on you guessed it-verbal thinking and processing effectively eliminating the brilliant visualizers that could be the next Einstein or Picasso. In addition, the author describes how our current educational system has eliminated hands-on learning and experiences such as shop classes and art and this has shortchanged students with autism as they tend to learn best by doing something hands-on and through visual means.

Grandin decries the lack of great engineers who use visual thinking to anticipate possible disaster before it happens such as a leak in a pipe that could cause a catastrophic flood long before disaster strikes. Instead, entities behind our infrastructure are now more motivated by cost cutting thereby compromising important safety measures. This is a point that Grandin can’t emphasize strongly enough as we can see from what happed with Chernobyl and the Fukushima nuclear power plant after that earthquake and tsunami.

The book also discusses how people with different visual thinking styles can collaborate, thereby coming up with unique and constructive solutions to major problems that have yet to be solved.

Grandin also delves into her favorite concept-that of how animals think and see the world. We are now realizing that animals are much more sentient that we had thought with dogs having the most acute sense of smell and owls being able to swivel their heads around for a full view of their surroundings. Let’s not forget about horses-they have a sixth sense so if you walk in back of a horse watch out! It will kick you-take it from me, I had that happen! Many animals startle easily so it is important to move calmly and gently around livestock.

Temple’s newest book goes into fascinating detail about how many machines were designed through visual thinking and the people who designed them and with her easy-to-understand writing style, I was riveted at every page. I felt so drawn in by what she had to say that I almost felt as though I was being transformed into a new person, it was that powerful. While this book may be too scholarly and intense for the busy mom with an autistic teen who melts down frequently or an overwhelmed teacher, I still think it’s worth reading and I am glad to know that it is a popular title right now-Dr. Grandin deserves the honor!

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