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Temple Grandin's Three Types of Thinkers in Autism

By Gbollard @gbollard
I've looked at a lot of Aspergers theory over the years and while I agree with some of it, I find that I disagree with other bits. One theory that I really like is Temple Grandin's observations on the three different types of thinkers;
Temple claims that there are three types of thinkers in Autism and while people don't exclusively belong in a single group, they usually lean towards one set of patterns more than the others.
Temple's three types are;
  • Visual
  • Music/Maths
  • Verbal

Visual ThinkersThe idea is that the visual thinkers are those who need to "see" things in order to understand them. They're more likely to draw a picture or build an object when trying to work out a problem. Temple herself seems to be a visual thinker, her photographic memory clearly supports the idea.
Young visual thinkers tend to be keen on building blocks such as lego and possibly on woodwork or other craft projects.
Music and Mathematical ThinkersThese types of thinkers find patterns in everything. In fact, I'm surprised that Temple didn't refer to them simply as "pattern thinkers". They could be very good at music or mathematics, both of which are full of patterns. Of course, they might be good at one and not the other.
Verbal ThinkersThese are the thinkers who like words and speech. They love to make lists and will often memorize things such as train timetables & routes, stories in alphabetical order and even mundane things like software product codes. There doesn't need to be a pattern, there just needs to be words.
Finding a HomeIn thinking about Temple's theories, I naturally felt the urge to try to find my place. It was difficult at first because I felt that I fell across all three types. I'm very visual and will often draw during lectures rather than take notes because I can look at my drawings and remember what was being said while I was drawing a particular thing.
I'm also quite pattern-centric and I find patterns everywhere. I try to resist putting things in order but I can't quite help myself and will often sort Books or DVDs into their correct order - even in a shop. It's embarrassing and I try to be discreet but I sometimes have trouble breaking out of chaos.
In the end, I looked at my writing, my books, my word-for-word recall of conversations (and things I've read) and the fact that I have several lists, literally hundreds, in storage on my computer which I refer to regularly. I'm obviously primarily a verbal thinker.
Why does this all matter?I know that some people are already thinking, "No, not another label!", people are individuals and they're right of course. People really are individuals and as the saying goes, "If you've met one person on the autism spectrum, then you've met ONE person on the autism spectrum".
That's all well and good and it's nice to play the politically correct card every so often but the fact is that this label could be quite helpful. You see, as parents and teachers, we want our children to learn. Understanding that there are three major types of learning and that a child may lean more towards one than the others is important. It helps us to choose the most effective teaching patterns for a given child.
For example, a visual learner will get the best results from history lessons if they watch Historical Movies, they'll do best at reading if the words and their meanings are shown to them and they'll do well in mathematics problems like geometry where shapes are involved but won't do so well on abstract theory. Color coding things will also help pattern learners as will labelled Polaroid shots.
Pattern learners are more likely to excel in mathematics problems for which there is an established pattern. This includes multiplication tables and algebraic formulae. Their history lessons could probably benefit from a layer of abstraction and perhaps they would do best to examine the similarities and differences between similarly aged civilizations. Other good patterns occur in Science and language structure.
The verbal learners will handle prose much better than the other types of learners. They may be more able to deal with prose based mathematics questions, will be able to memorize lists such as the periodic table of elements and may find that rote learning works better for them.
Figuring out your child's preferred learning types could enable you to better address their academic needs.

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