Autism advocate Temple Grandin on supporting different ways of thinking Temple Grandin's story changed the way the world understands autism. She speaks about the many ways people interpret the world, the different kinds of thinkers and how to support them all.

How do different thinkers interpret the world?

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It's the TED RADIO HOUR from NPR. I'm Manoush Zomorodi.

TEMPLE GRANDIN: Hi. Hi. Great to be here. Hopefully this sound's going to be up to your level of quality.

ZOMORODI: And welcome to our special series - Mind, Body, Spirit.

GRANDIN: I was very severe looking, no speech until age 4. You know, back in the late '40s, when I was born, I was the kind of kid they just put in an institution.

ZOMORODI: This is Temple Grandin. You may know her because she changed the way the world thinks about autism. But we'll get to that.


ZOMORODI: As a child, Temple loved working with tools.

GRANDIN: My favorite classes in elementary school were art, sewing and woodworking. And if I hadn't had those classes, I would have just been lost - absolutely lost.

ZOMORODI: Temple loved building and designing things - conversation, not so much. As a teenager, she spent a summer on her aunt's ranch, where she realized she related more to animals than to humans.

GRANDIN: That's right. And people thought this was really weird.

ZOMORODI: She later took that understanding and revolutionized the cattle industry by designing more humane slaughterhouses. She also became a professor of animal science - all of which she says was only possible because of one thing - how her mind works.

GRANDIN: Well, everything I think about is a picture. And when I was young, I thought everybody thought in pictures the same way I thought. I didn't even know that verbal thinking existed.

ZOMORODI: When she learned that her mind worked differently, Temple started researching and writing about visual thinking and how it relates to autism. In 1986, she wrote her first book, "Emergence: Labeled Autistic," a firsthand account of what life was like for her. Later, her story was turned into a movie starring Claire Danes.


LAURENCE FISHBURNE: And the Emmy goes to Temple Grandin.


CLAIRE DANES: (As Temple Grandin) My name is Temple Grandin. I'm not like other people. I think in pictures. And I connect them.

GRANDIN: And in my TED Talk I gave just over 10 years ago, it was titled The World Needs All Kinds of Minds. And this is one of the big points I want to get across to people.

ZOMORODI: Here's Temple Grandin on the TED stage.


GRANDIN: So what is thinking in pictures? It's literally movies in your head. My mind works like Google for images. Like, if I say think about a church steeple, most people get this sort of generalized generic one. I see only specific pictures. They flash up into my memory just like Google for pictures.

ZOMORODI: OK, so what pops into your mind if I say pumpkin?

GRANDIN: I'm seeing pumpkins that we carved when I was a child. We threw them in a compost heap we had in a field, and they grew into pumpkins. My mind - so now I'm seeing various composting devices. And now I'm seeing some fake pumpkins at our supermarket.

ZOMORODI: How about teapot?

GRANDIN: Well, I'm seeing a teapot over in England that had a cozy around it. I'm seeing a teapot we had as kids that when the water boiled, it whistled. Weak tea, I was allowed to have as a child with lemon. Dreadful teapot - the lid falls off, splashes in the cup and makes a big mess.


GRANDIN: Now, the thing is, the visual thinker's just one kind of mind. You see, the autistic mind tends to be a specialist mind - good at one thing, bad at something else. And where I was bad was algebra. And I was never allowed to take geometry or trig - gigantic mistake. I'm finding a lot of kids that need to skip algebra, go right to geometry and trig. Now, another kind of mind is the pattern thinker - more abstract. These are your engineers, your computer programmers. And then there's a verbal mind. They know every fact about everything.


ZOMORODI: Seventy years ago, doctors probably wouldn't have believed that Temple Grandin was capable of all she ended up achieving. But we now know that people's minds work differently. In fact, ideas about how we think, move and feel have been debated for millennia, and they are constantly evolving. So where are we now? This is our special three-part series Mind Body Spirit. Maybe that phrase sounds a little trite or cliched, a hallmark of the #self-care, #wellness industry - #MindBodySpirit. Well, we have decided to reclaim it.

ADIE DELANEY: I've learned through experience that they are inextricably linked, whether I like it or not.

ZOMORODI: Over the next three episodes, we'll explore how our brains make sense of the world and ourselves.

TOM OXLEY: For me, the huge mystery is the unconscious.

DAN HARRIS: This kind of bicep curl for your brain can impact your capacity to feel love.

ZOMORODI: We'll hear fresh perspectives on touch, consent and feeling good in our bodies...

RYAN HEFFINGTON: You can't really dance and be sad or - you know, it just doesn't work.

ZOMORODI: ...And hear stories about salvaging the human psyche, even in truly soul-destroying situations.

TANIA LUNA: I think some of the magic comes from the pain and the beauty coexisting.

LEE THOMAS: Your spirit is that unshakeable part of you that you define and feed.

ZOMORODI: So let's get to Part 1 - The Mind.

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