Outside of Sottile Theater on Nov. 27, students and Charleston residents pressed anxiously against the theater doors, all of them trying to get in to see one woman – Temple Grandin, renowned author and Animal Science professor.
Grandin, the subject of the Emmy-winning HBO movie with the same name, has made revolutionary changes for the humane handling of livestock. Her career has inspired books and several lecture tours, including the one that stopped here at the College of Charleston, “The World Needs All Kinds of Minds.”
Tickets for the lecture, which began at 7 p.m., were sold at 5:30 p.m. the same day. Grandin spoke about the different methods behind human thinking and how they can work together. Her talk brought out more people than the theater could hold. A lecture hall in New Science Center was used for all those who couldn’t get a seat in Sottile.
Grandin emphasized how people with autism and similar conditions, like Grandin, can work with neurotypical people. Specifically, Grandin said that the different ways that people think complement each other, and modern schooling isn’t doing enough to praise individual learning styles and mental processing in students.
Grandin is what she calls a photo realistic, or visual thinker. She thinks in movies in her head, and uses bottom-up processing, or specific examples of things from her life to categorize information. She said that the average person usually does the opposite, using top-down processing. Neurotypical people tend to think in words, and over generalize information. Grandin argued these people make assumptions based on previous experiences to fit unknown objects or situations into pre-described categories. The argument for the interaction between these two types of thinkers was the crux of Grandin’s argument.
Neither type of thinking is necessarily better. Bottom-up processors are able to focus in on the details much better than a top-down thinker would. Grandin cited BP’s safety regulations (and Oil-Spill catastrophe) as example of bottom-up style thinking getting pushed aside, she said, “They have lots of little rules, like always use the handrails, you need a lid on your coffee so it doesn’t spill, but they overlooked the details for big things.” The drawback? Because bottom-up processors conceptualize based on specific examples, in order to get a fully informed idea, Grandin said you have to “go see a lot of stuff.”
This is where we need both kinds of thinking. According to Grandin, because “normal people tend to ignore details,” it would serve them well to partner with autistic people. “Autistic people zoom in on the details.” At the same time, Grandin acknowledged that she tends to get overwhelmed with all the details around her. Her gift for being able to see and think like the animals she’s helped doesn’t translate well for organizing her books or lectures. She needs the help of a top-down thinker to help her focus her details into the big picture.
When we see the results of different kinds of thinkers working together, we realize that these differences, especially when studied in Grandin’s life, are for the better.