Conversations for Change: Different Kinds of Minds

Temple Grandin, diagnosed with autism as a child, talks about how her mind works—sharing her ability to “think in pictures,” which helps her solve problems that neurotypical brains might miss. She makes the case that the world needs people on the autism spectrum: visual thinkers, pattern thinkers, verbal thinkers, and all kinds of kids.


Jannie: Good afternoon everyone. Welcome to NCWIT Conversations for Change: An Online Thought Leadership Series. My name is Jannie Fernandez and I am the director of the K-12 Alliance and TECHNOLOchicas at NCWIT. It is my pleasure to welcome you to the series which features speakers with a diverse range of opinions and hopefully provocative ideas and worldviews. We wouldn’t be here today without the support of our sponsors. I would also like to thank the viewing audience in advance for your patience should we experience any technical difficulties. Today’s conversation will consist of a 20-minute presentation by Dr.Temple Grandin, followed by a 15-minute interview, and we’ll conclude with 20 minutes of Q & A from the audience. We will try to get to as many questions as possible in the Q & A window. Therefore, if you decide to stick around for a few more minutes after 6:00 p.m. we’ll try to get to all of your questions.

Now on to our programming.

Temple Grandin, diagnosed with autism as a child, talks about how her mind works, sharing her ability to think in pictures which helps her solve problems that neurotypical brains might miss. She makes the case that the world needs people on the autism spectrum: visual thinkers, pattern thinkers,verbal thinkers, and all kinds of students. Dr. Grandin, welcome, I’ll let you take it from here.

TEMPLE: It’s really great to be here today. And by video conference. Been doing a lot of video conferences lately. I am currently a Professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University. And when I was a little kid I had all the symptoms of autism. No speech, and I got a lot of really good education. Now the thing I want to ask you today, I have a picture there of Michelangelo. I want to ask a question. What would happen to some of these great minds in today’s educational system? He was a 6th grade drop-out. He didn’t want to study Latin and write business documents. Well, what would happen to him today?

On my next slide I show Steve Jobs and Einstein. Einstein had no speech until age 3. He would probably be in an autism class today. Steve was bullied in school, and the only places where he was not bullied and where he had friends was shared interests. Shared interests. Where would they be today?

And on my next slide I show Thomas Edison, the inventor of the light bulb. He was a hyperactive high school drop-out. He also managed to burn up the baggage car of a train. Probably would have gotten him in a lot more trouble today. Fortunately, he was raised in a home with lots of books and learned how to make things. Where would he be today?

Next person I want to show is Jane Goodall. She did her famous work with a two-year secretarial degree. That’s what she had. That’s all her family could afford. This is an example of someone having a vision, and she ended up doing her famous work that was her credential.

The next slide I talk about Stephen Spielberg, dyslexic, bullied in school. Now one of the things that got him into movies is he had a movie camera when he was a child. This brings up a really important thing. How do students get into careers? I get asked this all the time about the cattle industry. How did I get into that? I was exposed to it when I was 15 years old, when I went from the East Coast out to Arizona. I think a lot of kids today are not getting exposed to enough stuff to figure out what they might want to do.

The next slide on the different kinds of minds is a really important slide. When I first started out and worked in the cattle industry, I thought everybody was a visual thinker like me. Everything I think about is a picture. And the HBO movie showed perfectly exactly how my mind works. It’s called an object visualizer, and there was research done on this. But us object visualizers can’t do algebra. And what concerns me is that we’re getting screened out. We’re getting screened out of things like auto mechanics, welding, things we could be really good at. We got a gigantic shortage of skilled trades. Now another kind of mind is the pattern thinker, the visual-spatial, this is you computer guys. You are the visual spatial guys. Patterns, numbers.

And then you have people who are totally verbal. Education today is a lot of verbal thinkers. Very abstract. People with autism tend to be into detail. And then another person often has dyslexia and they’re an auditory learner. They’re going to learn better through their ears. Now there’s scientific research that shows this is true. Of course I’ll put the book up here, The Autistic Brain. I’ve got the scientific research in there. Some of the papers I sent to your organizers, there is one called a PET meta-analysis. And they found with the object visualizer and the visual spatial use different parts of the brain. The object visualizer use the part of the brain for “what is something,” and visual spatial is for “where is something.” And then there is another scientist called [unclear], I don’t know how to pronounce it, and she’s got papers. And then there is a few people that have no visual thinking at all, and they are called aphantasia. I’ve got some references for that.

The next slide shows some of my brain scan results. It turns out I’ve got a really big visual thinking circuit. Some of the internet trunk-lined to the visual cortex. Next slide shows another picture of my visual cortex, and then, on the next slide it shows that my working memory, I don’t have any working memory. Now if I was a computer, I got the cloud for memory, whichever cloud you like. Microsoft cloud, Amazon cloud, whichever cloud you like, I got the cloud. But I’m only a 286 processor. Very, very small working memory. I have problems with remembering sequence. So I need a pilot’s checklist where I can write down step one, step two, step three.

My next slide I want to answer, how do you know what kind of thinker a kid is? This showed up when I was in about third grade. Good at art. Usually the visual thinkers they love Legos, and good at art, and they’re also the kids that can fix anything. We have a lot of kids today growing up in a world totally separated from the world of physical things. In my class I have a drawing class. Would you believe that we have students that don’t have a ruler anywhere in their house. No real world. And — the thing about these visual thinkers, they can fix anything but can’t do algebra. See, it’s too abstract, nothing to visualize. Then the math thinker, they’re the computer people. And — often like music, and then you have verbal thinkers that think completely in words. Now the thing is, we need the different kinds of minds. Because the different minds complement each other. Take your phone out. Interface of that phone was designed by Steve Jobs. He was an artist. But the engineers had to make it work.

The next slide is my grandfather’s auto pilot. My grandfather was a co-inventor of the autopilot for airplanes. He was a mathematical thinker, and he worked with a guy who was probably autistic, they came up with the ideas of the three different coils. This is the different minds working together.

The next slide talks about the classes we have to keep in the schools. We have got to keep the hands-on classes in the schools: art, sewing, cooking, theater, musical instruments, welding, creative writing. Because of COVID, I’ve had to teach my classes online. That’s been a learning experience. Lectures work pretty well online. We can have good discussion groups. But a lot of the hands-on things will not work online. What I recommend to the universities if you can only partially reopen, put the lectures online. But all the hands-on stuff they need come in to school and do. Certain things that are not going to work online. Now I know the computer people they’ve built the stuff we’re talking on right now. Their stuff works well online. Mathematics, statistics, my students took a statistics class online that was really good. They also took beef practicum online, that was terrible. There are certain things you have to get out in the field. And we have to keep these classes. Also they expose kids to a lot of different things they can go into for careers. I was reading an article in my chemistry and engineering news, there is one chemist there really successful and she loved chemistry class in high school. She probably wouldn’t have loved it as well without the lab. That’s why we have to keep these things.

The next slide I talk about the arts foster success. A Nobel prize winner was 50% more likely to have an arts and crafts hobby than some other scientist. Yes, that’s why we need to be keeping these things.

Now I get asked, how did I get started in the industry when I was so weird?

The next slide says “when you’re weird, what do you do?” Well what I did for interviews is I showed off a portfolio of my work. When you’re weird, you have to just show off the work. Sell the work.

The next slide shows one of my drawings. So I go in for an interview and I put the drawings out on the table. You sell the work. Let’s say it’s programming work. You come in with an iPad or whatever tablet you want to use without a lot of weird junk on the cover, and say, well here’s the code, and here’s the app that I made with it. In other words, show off the work. So that’s one of my hand-drawn drawings. And I noticed an interestingly disturbing thing when my industry went from hand-drafting to computers in the mid-’90s, we started getting weird mistakes on drawings. Like the center of the circle was not in the center of the circle. Strange perceptual mistakes on drawings they weren’t seeing it. And the person who was drawing it had never built anything or never drawn anything by hand.

Next slide shows another one of my drawings. People thought I was really weird, let’s show them that. I got respect. They go you drew that? Well maybe we will hire you. I’m going to show a little bit more of the stuff that’s in my portfolio. Next slide shows one of my jobs from the ’70s. In fact this is the facility thigh duplicated for the movie — I love the fact that the projects in the movie were right. Another thing that was really right was my science teacher. My science teacher gave me a reason for studying. You didn’t study just to study. You studied as a pathway to a goal of becoming a scientist.

The next slide shows the replica they made for the HBO movie. This turned me on so much it because like going back on the construction project in the ’70s, and then on my next slide I show my brochure, real professional, you have to remember this is ‘70s and ‘80s, color printing was very expensive so I wanted nice classy paper, but not colored paper. Now what you want to do with that portfolio is a 30-second “wow.” You put it out there in front of them and people go “wow.” The next slide shows another one of my jobs. I did that one in the ’80s and I’m going to show the original pictures, they are in black and white. We’ll show that on the next slide. That’s the original project, my brochure from the 1970s, and we’ll show another picture of that. And you know when you’re different, sell your work.

All right, now the next slide is going to bring up a question. I am very concerned that our educational system is screening out us visual thinkers, you need us. You need us and you need us bad. Prevent messes like Fukushima. I found out why Fukushima flooded — I go, you got to be kidding. Why didn’t they put water-tight doors in there. Engineers calculate risk, visual thinkers see it. I see the water coming over the seawall, it’s going to shove the doors out. And that electrically run emergency cooling pump is going to be under water and it’s not going to work. I can’t design a nuclear reactor, but maybe I need to design the safety systems. Because I see the water going in there with really, really disastrous results.

The next slide I’m going to be talking about aviation, the Boeing. Mathematicians calculate risk, visual thinkers see risk. They also can see a solution to the problem. Water-tight doors. Now I’m seeing submarine movies and they had lots of water-tight doors. And engineers love their jargon. Impact with terrain that’s jargon for crashing. Now why don’t you just come out and say it, crashing.

Next slide let’s look at a picture of the Max airplane. When I learned what an angle of attack censor was, it’s this little tiny thing you can barely see. Now just imagine this stuck on the side of a plane. It’s about this big. Wired directly to active flight controls and a bird rips it off and breaks it. And when that happened, it went into automatic dive. It was wired to automatic flight controls without telling the pilots. Now there are other mistakes that got made but when I saw that little tiny thing and I saw how fragile it was, I am going, you got to be joking. When I first read about it I didn’t know what it was, but the next time I went to the airport I certainly did look. It’s been a while since I’ve been to the airport.

All right, the next slide shows some things where we’ve lost the skill to build it. It’s a big food processing plant, and you see all this conveying equipment, this is what I call the “clever engineering department.” In the last three years we’ve had two big brand-new pork plants, two brand-new chicken processing plants and all of this type of equipment you see here is imported. We’ve lost the skills to build it. The people that I worked with, back in the ’70s, ’80s and the ’90s on putting in equipment, they’ve retired, and I’m going to estimate I worked with about five people that probably were autistic, and I’ve worked with people that were dyslexic. About 20% of the people I worked with. They were — and they were saved by metal shop. But now they don’t get to take anymore. And we don’t make elevators anymore, or ski lifts. We’re losing skills. You like to buy things online; you have conveyors in the warehouses that move things around; they’re from Europe. There was a big poultry plant, 100 shipping containers. That’s 100 semi-loads of stuff brought over here on a boat. We’re losing skills.

Okay, we’ll go to the next slide. The thing I found when I worked on these big plants, and I worked for every one of the major meat companies. The visual thinkers, they call them the draftsman, but he actually designs a whole entire layout, and they also build the equipment. One guy I worked with, he is autistic, never formally diagnosed, he got 20 packets, the guy I worked with years ago. And — they do the clever engineering department. Then you have the math thinkers; they do refrigeration and boilers. We don’t understand that stuff; it’s too dangerous, I don’t understand those things. Calculate roof trusses, and I’ve seen this division of the labor. Every company I’ve worked with. And I’ve worked with a bunch of them. And the problem is the retiring visual thinkers are not getting replaced. I think this is a real worry.

Let’s go to the next slide.

And I talk about visual thinking, visual thinking, artificial intelligence, we’re bottom-up thinkers. And then I read an article in one of the nature magazines about the melanoma, AI diagnosing melanoma, you see lots of specific examples. That’s bottom-up. That’s bottom-up thinking. I’ve also been looking at a lot of treatments for COVID. I’m at the at-risk population. And I’m piecing together a lot of little pieces, and if I get it I think I can treat, it but I’m not going to mention any drugs because it’s all turned into politics. So I run the other way. Concepts are formed from specific examples. You see, it’s bottom-up thinking. And when I found out that’s how computers do it. Top-down thinkers are the verbal, we have to like — it’s very big overarching ideas, but how do you implement it in a specific way? Think about it. Top-down versus bottom-up. But the different kinds of minds can complement each other. The first step is knowing that different minds exist. I’ve used co-authors in some of my books and the reason for that is organization. I need that for organization. Different minds can complement each other and work together.

Let’s go to the next slide.

And — here are some tips for working with minds that are different. I have no working memory. This 286 may have the cloud  for memory, but I need a pilot’s checklist if I don’t know the task well. You take these kids that are different, there’s a tendency for them to get overprotected, and they’re also not getting exposed to math. I’ve run into a lot of parents. They have a little math genius and they don’t do anything to expose them to interesting stuff. Patterns. Look up protein symmetry. Protein symmetry. You just can’t believe some of the beautiful patterns you’ll see. Show them Wolfram matematica, Khan Academy, I talked to parents of autistic kids, and they’re getting too stuck in the autism box. I’ve been out to Silicon Valley. Last year, I was in a room with 100 programmers in it, and then it’s absolutely silent. We need to limit screen time. I mean what would happen to Einstein today, he would be a video game addict. And give the kids choices of activities. We always have to work on stretching them. And I want to just finish up and with a question on my final slide, and then we have lots of time for questions.

What’s the ultimate goal of education. Where is a student ten years after high school graduation? Ten years after high school graduation I was doing those dip vat projects. We have to start looking at the goal. Not just — not, I’ve seen a lot of kids that graduate with honors from college. But they never learned how to work. Biggest problems I’m seeing is not teaching some of these kids how to work. And that’s at the end of my formal comments, I know we have lots of questions. And so I think now we’ll go to the questions.

JANNIE: Thank you so much for that, Dr. Grandin, just to follow up and before we move on to the next portion of our session today, just to remind you that the Q and A pop-up screen is there for you to post your questions and then I’ll be able to ask them after this short interview. So we’ll move on to the next portion which is our quick interview. Dr. Grandin, you talked about examples. You talked about how different types of minds complement one another. Do you — can you provide a couple of examples of that?

TEMPLE: I gave one example of the iPhone. An artist designing the interface so it’s simple to use, but the engineers had to make sure when you swipe it, it actually worked. I talked about using co-authors on my books because I tend to jump around and I’m associative. I need that linear organization. And the first step is realizing different minds are there. And then looking at the plant of these food plants. All the super clever equipment is made by the visual thinkers. Like I went to one plant they have super clever tool on the end of a standard robotic arm. Tool was non-electronic but it was super clever. Well the visual thinker did not make the robotic arm, but they made the thing that’s on the end of the robotic arm. That would be an example of different minds working together.

JANNIE: Wonderful. You often talk about your belief that society needs people on the autism spectrum. That they will be the ones that will solve the world’s most serious problems. Given that autism may be considered a communication disorder, what has been your process to have your ideas heard and validated when you speak in front of academics, students, people in the cattle industry, how have you made your voice heard?

TEMPLE: Well first of all, we wouldn’t have computers without people with autism. Now I’ve been to Silicon Valley. They avoid the labels. They’re worried it’s going to hold them back. One of the things that helped me communicate well, I have decent writing skills. I’m seeing some very serious problems right now with writing skills, and it’s because students have getting through school, maybe they take tests but they haven’t written book reports, or had a teacher mark up their term papers, but haven’t actually learned how to write. Because I would do a project and then I wrote about it. That was an important part of my career. Things don’t happen overnight. When I was in graduate school I walked out of my first public speaking, then I learned, have good slides, then if you freeze you have the slides to refer to. Those are some things, but you start off slowly and keep on learning.

JANNIE: Great, Thank you so much for that, so our next question: self-determination and a clear understanding of one’s own ability play a major role in our life, particularly during critical junctions or transitions such as high school to college, college to career. Can you share a list of important questions you would recommend students should ask themselves when they’re transitioning into a new stage of their lives?

TEMPLE: Well first of all we have to teach kids how to work. I’m seeing too many autistic kids aren’t learning work skills. The other thing is get exposed to enough stuff, so… I got exposed to the cattle industry, that’s why I’m in it. If I hadn’t gone to my aunt’s ranch I wouldn’t be in the cattle industry. It’s that simple. The other thing is, get work experience before you graduate from high school. When you’re in college, volunteer to help out on research projects. Every department — I don’t care what department it is, there is all these research projects, just look them up on the school web page. Get involved in that. Do career-relevant internships. I’ve talked to a lady at the airport and her daughter was an engineer and she tried an aviation internship and a farm implement internship; she liked the airplanes better. That’s an example — she liked both, but she liked the airplanes better. Also in doing the internships you may say, I just hate that. Well it’s also important to find that out too.

JANNIE: Wonderful, thank you. You’ve touched on this a little bit during your presentation, particularly when you were speaking about artificial intelligence. Given that individuals with autism frequently experience challenges with communication, why is it important to address this in the creation of new technologies like machine learning, computer interaction, artificial intelligence.

TEMPLE: I’ll tell you it’s stuff that’s not going to work on online classes, and it is the hands-on labs. I was just talking to our veterinarian students this morning and we’ve discussed this. And they have a class where they learn how to calf cows, how to deliver calves, that does not work in a video. We just discussed that this morning.

JANNIE: How do you see individuals in the autism spectrum contributing to the field of computing? You’ve mentioned it a little bit, but can you perhaps elaborate a little bit more? What kinds of technology are they creating?

TEMPLE: Well we’re talking on technology right now created by the autistic brain. It’s just that simple. One of the things is let’s make interfaces simple. What made the iPhone so successful and then all the copies of it, the interface does not require a big book of instructions. I don’t think a mathematician would have made that good interface. That’s why you need the different kinds of minds. I remember Google when it first came out. Just a blank screen with a search box in it. Nothing to learn how to use. But the simplest stuff, I mean, I went on a web page, real pretty web page. Where is the search box? Well it was this little tiny magnifying glass up on the toolbar. Well I’m sorry, I didn’t know that that means the search box. Amazon puts it right there in your — right big across the whole screen on your phone. Make it simple.

JANNIE: Like you mentioned earlier, very concrete, to the point, simplified.

TEMPLE: The other thing with people with autism on the job, they need to know exactly what they’re supposed to do. You don’t just say “design new software.” You give them a specific outcome that you want the software to do. On this platform, this much memory, this kind of chips or whatever, and it’s the specific outcome. That’s what I do with my projects. I would — go out and measure the site, let’s say we’re remodeling stuff. What am I allowed to tear out? Do you own the field on the other side of that fence, I’m going to tear the fence out and use the field. I map out what I’m going to call site restrictions. The cost of the job. Sort of fit certain outcomes. That’s one thing I learned to do in project meetings. It wasn’t just vague, uh, “design something new.”

JANNIE: So certainly then a piece of advice for educators or managers, people in the tech workforce working with individuals with autism or on the spectrum.

TEMPLE: Workforce, you have plenty of them already. You got lots of them.

JANNIE: And then you’d definitely recommend that concrete, direct instructions, step-by-step, and an outcome is advisible.

TEMPLE: And if they make a big social booboo, on my first job I criticized some welding and I said it looked like pigeon doo doo, that wasn’t very nice, and the plant manager took me into his office in private and told me it was not acceptable to call the welding pigeon doo doo, and I had to apologize. He also explained the chain of command, that the welder worked for him, and that if I didn’t like the welding I should have gone to him first. But he didn’t scream at me. He explained to me in private, quietly, what I should do. That’s the important thing.

JANNIE: Thank you for that. So at NCWIT we talk about, and the research reports, how having role models is important. How finding mentors is really important in order to support and encourage women and girls to persist in the computing field. What role models or mentors did you have growing up and what specific advice was helpful from them as you navigated your professional journey?

TEMPLE: Well first of all I started with the cattle industry in the ‘70s at the Arizona feed yards. Being a woman was a much bigger barrier then autism ever was — I had to make myself really good at what I did. And my great science teacher, there was a contractor named Jim who had seen some of my drawings, he recognized my abilities and he seeked me out. He was a really important mentor getting me started in the construction industry. You see this again, he was attracted to my work. He had seen some of my work. And we started, he had a really tiny construction company, he just did it out of his house. He now owns a really big construction company. But — he saw that I had ability.

The other thing is you need to see doors. There is a scene in the HBO movie where I go up and get the editor’s card, because I realize if I wrote for that magazine, that would really help my career. Lots of times there is back doors and people don’t see them. That’s another thing I figured out. And when I talk to parents of autistic kids all the time, they’re too much worried about the job interviews. I said, work on the back doors. Half of all jobs are back door. I went out to one of the big tech companies and talked to a kid that was working out there, 73 years old, almost 73 years old, they’re all kids, that — but — and I asked him how he got this cool job. His professor knew somebody. That is an example of back door. And they’re everywhere. People just don’t see them.

JANNIE: Great, well you just spoke briefly about your HBO movie. And could you just share with us a little bit what that experience was like, and can you share with our audience how accurate it depicts the way you think and how accurately it depicts the way you work?

TEMPLE: The thinking, the visual thinking is shown absolutely accurately. That is how I think. And all the projects in the movie are accurate. It shows the things I’ve built, the optical illusion room, the dip vat, squeezing machining, these things were shown accurately. Mr.Caralot was shown very nicely; he got an honorary doctorate in the movie, which I thought was nice — but the work stuff is some of the most accurate stuff. I did get bull testicles put on my vehicle. That actually happened. That wasn’t nice and I was kicked out of a feed yard because the guys didn’t want me there. Being a woman in the ’70s you had to be three times better than a guy. When I worked — I also got respect writing for the farm magazine because they realized if I covered the Arizona cattle feeder’s meeting I would cover it accurately.

JANNIE: And I think I would like to ask you just one more question as it relates to role models and mentors and the role that our families play when it comes to persisting or choosing or finding a direction to pursue professionally. What role did your family play from a very early stage in your success story?

TEMPLE: My mother had a very good sense of how to stretch and push me. Always give me choices, always encourage me to try new things. There was a tendency when some kids get a label, like autism, dyslexia, ADHD, there is a lot of genetic cross-over, autism and ADHD 30% of the genetics crosses over, some of the brain scans also cross over especially on social issues. But she always knew how much to push me. There are parents that too much overprotect the kids, and they’re not going anywhere, they’re not learning basic skills. Bank account, shopping. I learned the meaning of money when I was seven years old. I got 50 cents a week for allowance. I could buy five comics with that, but if I wanted to buy a 69-cent airplane I had to save for two weeks. That was teaching saving, at a very young age I was taught that.

JANNIE: Well I will resume my questions and we’re going to hop on to the audience questions. There is a lot of them, bear with me while I read through them.

TEMPLE: That’s fine.

JANNIE: Let’s see, starting with, people want to know whether people have the one only kind of thinking. Some argue for hybrid thinkers, what is their place in the world for hybrid thinkers?

TEMPLE: Well a lot of people are hybrid thinkers, they’re mixers. But when people tend to get a label it tends to be more extreme. More extreme kind of mathematical pattern. More extreme visual. But some people do have mixtures. Another question I get asked is can you change a visual thinker into a math thinker. Well you’re probably not going to end up doing that. You’re going to make me an algebra expert because there is nothing there to visualize, what should have been done is maybe go to geometry, go to trig. But I’m concerned, we have certain school systems where you’re keeping a kid out of auto mechanics because you can’t do algebra. And there is often not enough respect for the visual thinkers. I went to a real fancy tech place that was making some really tech stuff. And I got, you know, went to all the engineering labs and stuff, but they never took me to the machine shop where they hand-built the equipment. And they couldn’t have had that equipment without that machine shop. And that would have been full of the visual thinkers. They weren’t getting enough credit for what they were doing.

JANNIE: So do you think that they are hybrid thinkers that lose their ability to think in different ways? Because lack of practice? So, for example, a visual thinker or a hybrid thinker losing the ability to think visually because it’s not being practiced —

TEMPLE: Well when you look at that Mazard PET analysis, where they did PET scans, the brain tends to go one way or the other. They’re almost kind of antagonistic. But we need visual thinkers. Because you didn’t have some old guy in the shop saying, you wire one angle of attack sensor directly to flight controls, and the plane has two of them, why did you do this? What I’ve learned is they don’t see it. You see a visual thinker sees risk. A visual thinker can also see, here’s a kid that’s having problems. Here’s a perfect job for them. And I can see them in that perfect job. It took me a while to learn that other people don’t see that. I was having a discussion today because I had written some stuff about big being fragile. Internet had some failures today. — there has been a lot of things going on in the meat industry right now, packing plants shutting down. And — somebody said to me well I don’t understand what you mean by that. Well, I won’t go back to Phoenix, Arizona, we had two big packing plants for beef and four medium-sized ones. Those medium sized one were a third of the supply, so if I break one of the nodes in the network, trying to put in it computer technology, I’m going to have a lot more supply than if I had just two big gigantic plants in Arizona; if I break one of them, I’ve lost half my supply. You see, it’s big, it’s very very efficient, cost-effective, but if you break one of those nodes, I don’t care if they are data center nodes or meat plant nodes, same thing. Big, it’s fragile. Very efficient, but it’s fragile. I don’t know what’s wrong with the internet, but something has been going in this state. Because it went down and I was scared that we weren’t going to be able to have this conference.

JANNIE: Well we’re here and grateful for that. Another viewer asked the following question: What are the best ways, techniques, strategies to recognize not only visual thinkers, but those that have different ways of thinking than ours.

TEMPLE: Well the first step is you have to realize different thinking exists. Like and this will usually show up second-grade, third-grade, you have kids who are little math geniuses, don’t bore them with the baby stuff. The other thing with the little math geniuses, don’t make them show their work. Let them do it in their head; they don’t think the same way. If they can do college math in third grade, let them do it. Because otherwise the kid turns into behavior problems. And I suggest introducing Scratch coding. I tell them I don’t how to program, but I know Python, Javascript, C++, you can get books and free stuff online,, there is all kinds of mathematic stuff online, expose your kid to it. Take Google images and start typing in math things; boy you’ll find the cool web pages if you do that.

JANNIE: Well going back to how you had your voice heard, and how you used to show your portfolios as a means to get your work out there, do you think, or how would you think organizations can adapt their recruitment and hiring processes to address the needs of people with autism to show their work?

TEMPLE: Well when you do the interview, ask them to bring a portfolio in. You see a portfolio works very well. Visual thinking, you can show cars you’ve repaired. You can show equipment you’ve designed. I talked about that tool on the end of the robotic arm. You can show pictures of that, videos of that, you can show mathematics, you can show programming; see, both the mathematical minds and visual thinkers can bring in a portfolio. Writers can bring in portfolios of some of their writing. But you don’t want to bring in a whole big thick thing like this. You want something where it’s a 30-second wow — they can look at it and go ooh, that’s nice code. Then you whip out the app or whatever it is that you made — and you show the work off. Now the thing is, I think you’re a word thinker because you ask a lot of very abstract questions. Somebody I was talking to some families last night, and they were talking about executive function and autism. Well, one of the things we talked about was the pilot’s checklist. Well that’s just where you need to have that because I don’t remember the sequence. But also, problems like not following a schedule, I never had that problem. But — then we talked about how do we deal with being everybody cooped up in the house. Why don’t you get the kids to look up life on the International Space Station. Because you’re talking about close quarters, they’ll give you a tour of the bathroom, and it’s not all spacewalks. It’s a lot of living in tight quarters. One of the things they’ve done is they have a schedule. Get up in the morning. Have a mid-day meal with everybody.

JANNIE: So you just mentioned, and you noticed that I’m a “word thinker.”

TEMPLE: You are definitely a word thinker because you ask very abstract very general kind of questions.

TEMPLE: Well with that said, how can diverse thinkers help each other? How can I help my coworkers who don’t speak up in a meeting, for example? How can a visual thinker help a verbal thinker?

TEMPLE: Well the first thing is they the first thing to realize is the skills can complement each other. And let’s say I want to do writing. That’s where verbal thinkers have helped me. And — it is recognizing that different kinds of thinking exists and they tend to be good at different sorts of things. One thing I’m concerned right now in education now that we’re going to be doing more stuff online is the mathematical thinkers; their stuff works really well online. And they make the equipment. But the veterinary students, calving class doesn’t work online. You’re trying to teach them how to deliver calves? That’s — not going to work online. You see that is more the visual thinking stuff.

JANNIE: And you know that you’re touching up on the current situation we’re in related to COVID-19, can you — from our audience wants to know if you can say more about the COVID-19 crisis and how you see possible steps forward. What advice do you have for the packing plants to combat the spread of COVID-19.

TEMPLE: Well they’ve done a lot. They’ve done things like stagger the shifts. They’ve put up all kinds of plastic partitions, they’re scrubbing everything. COVID is extremely infectious. They’re doing everything they can do. The problem is you have a lot of people in a small space. It’s just like a cruise ship. Let’s look at the places that have gotten infected. Cruise ships, prisons, and aircraft carriers. These are all places where you have a lot of people stuffed in a small space and at lunchtime they’re all going through the corridors, they are staggering shifts, they have put more tables in, they have plastic dividers where each person is now eating in a little stall, that’s not very fun, but these are things they’re trying to do to reduce the COVID spread. And the other thing is you pay sick people to stay home. That’s probably the single most important thing. But you can be spreading COVID when you don’t know you have it is the problem. But it’s not just meat packing plants. It’s other food processing plants. Frozen food, vegetable plants, they’re having problems. Any place where you have a lot of people together. Cruise ships, I can’t — I wouldn’t go on one of those now.

JANNIE: I don’t blame you, I wouldn’t either. Somebody else from the audience wants to know if you have any strategies a person can use to improve working memory?

TEMPLE: There are some strategies, you can do it, but the things is — it’s just easier to write down the pilot’s checklist. When I worked in a dairy, when I was in graduate school I worked in a dairy at Arizona State University, and they had a checklist up on the wall on how to set up the milking equipment. It was about ten steps. I would have been in a bunch of trouble if that checklist had not been up on the wall. That’s an easy thing to do, because if you did it wrong I can run soapy water into the milk tank, that would be a disaster, wreck a whole tank of milk. The pilot’s checklist is an easy work-around, that’s an engineering term, it’s a work-around.

JANNIE: So it’s about compensating, finding ways to compensate for —

TEMPLE: The thing is — we need our visual thinkers. We don’t, just in the last few years I went after another big fancy tech place. I can’t say where I went, but it was a year ago, and I signed a non-disclosure agreement. But you know factories they have a lot of stuff there they have to move things around in the factories, converyor belts and stuff, it’s from Germany. And the reason for that is because they have kept their skilled trades. We are paying for taking the hands-on classes out of the schools. And let’s say we still have to do more stuff online. Okay — if the university has to be partly closed, let’s keep all the labs at school and they can do the lectures online. And actually a lot of the math and computer stuff can be done online, but — we need our visual thinkers. Right now we’re weeding them out in this Boeing mess and the Fukushima mess, those are just examples of visual thinker goes, what? You are going to trust that little fragile thing? You wired that directly to flight controls and didn’t tell the pilots, what are you thinking? It’s obvious to me because I see it. And sometimes it’s something simple. — I have a saying, “Think simple.” But I see it as a picture. It’s not abstract, it’s a picture. I see a bird breaking the angle of attack sensor off.

JANNIE: So one of our audience members wants to know, you touched on this briefly earlier, but what compelled you to go into the animal science field? Who were you most influential educators in school, and what subjects did they teach?

TEMPLE: Well actually when I was in high school I wanted to be an experimental psychologist. If you saw the HBO movie, I was fascinated by optical illusions. And I wanted to study visual optical illusions, so I actually did a year towards a master’s in psychology. That didn’t work out, but I remember I got exposed to the cattle industry when I was 15. This gets back to exposing students to enough different things. And then I was just drawn back to that. And — also the Psych department at ASU at that time in the early ’70s was all stimulus — and I didn’t believe that, because I had taken an animal behavior class where I learned that animals do have innate and instinctual behaviors. But sometimes you don’t — I can’t emphasis enough that students need to get exposed to a lot of different things. Find out what you like, find out what you hate. It’s important.

JANNIE: Absolutely. That’s one of the missions that we have at NCWIT, especially when we work with K-12 students trying to bring computing experiences to them, so they can see themselves as the creators of future technological advances.

TEMPLE: The more stuff we can get them actually doing, and then they find out, I really like programming. I have parents — I can’t believe the parents that are in a programming field, and their kid is got an autism diagnosis is like 12 years old, good at math, and they never thought to introduce programming. I’m going you’ve got to be kidding. And I’m seeing too many kids getting addicted to video games, and nobody is teaching them how to do the programming to make the video game.

JANNIE: And to follow up what you just mentioned about parents, there is also a question here about how early should kids be tested for autism, and what advice do you have for parents and teachers to stretch their kids?

TEMPLE: First of all, I was two and a half years old, I wasn’t talking. You can even have babies that don’t have joint attention. You have to work with these little kids. Give the kid choices. Say well you could do art class or you can do wood shop. You can do cooking class or you can do sewing class. Give them some choices. And, but there is a tendency as soon as a kid gets a label, become too much of a label. So I can see why maybe companies in Silicon Valley are avoiding the labels because they’re afraid it’s going to hold them back. Now where the label helps is on relationships. Because I’ve got another book called “Different, Not Less.” It’s 14 older people diagnosed later in life all, in decent jobs, but it helped in their marriages and in their relationships. But I’m seeing too many kids with a label being held back when I think about the special ed. department, you know some really smart guys they had autism, dyslexia, ADHD, and they do the clever engineering department. And they were not getting replaced.

JANNIE: So on the same vein we’re talking about support at home from parents. And then when it comes to educators, there is two questions from the audience. How can teachers who are visual thinkers better communicate with students who are not visual thinkers?

TEMPLE: First of all you have to realize that different kinds of thought exist. And I sent a reference list in to your organization, which I hope you can make available to everybody. It shows you the science. I’ve got if I can just go a little bit over these papers. I don’t think I’m going to read all these references. But — there is references, older references and new references that the object visualizer. I’m scientifically calling it an object visualizer, the mathematician mind is the visual spatial. Now you start typing those two words into Google Scholar, you’ll start finding papers called like the PET meta analysis, Mazard, the PET brain study, another scientist whose name I don’t know how to pronounce, her papers are referenced in my book “The Autistic Brain.” But remember there are some new papers that have come out that show the more evidence that these different kinds of thinking actually do exist. Like for example the object visualizers tend to get into fine arts. The mathematicians gravitate to engineering. And the psychologists, they’re all verbal thinkers. That’s a new paper that came out in 2018. Perez and Fabello. That’s really an interesting study, that’s relatively new, that’s on my reference list; and then I have the Aphantasia where some of the people are good at math and they have no visual thinking. If I would say to you right now, visualize going into the supermarket. I’m trying to pick someplace that I know you’re probably at home now, but visualize going to the supermarket. I see the two supermarkets that I go to. King Soopers and Whole Foods. They are right besides each other. I see them. But someone Aphantasia, if I say think about your office at the university, they don’t see it. Most people can see their own house or car, but I just discovered Aphantasia. Spelled A-P-H-A-N-T-A-S-I-A. And they can have good visual spatial and math and they’ve got no object visualizing. They’re not that common. I’ve talked to maybe five or six of them. And these are people I know didn’t have anything wrong with their eyes because they all drove cars, so I know their vision was good.

JANNIE: So continuing on the topic of support mechanisms so to speak, people on our chat are interested to know on the physical space. How can you set up an ideal work environment knowing that you think in a particular way, and how do you get your company or hiring manager to accommodate that?

TEMPLE: Well that’s real vague, I got to have a specific example. Let’s go back to the food processing plant. Or let’s go back to the Mars Rover. The Mars Rover. The mathematician calculates all the orbits and all of that. The visual thinkers down in the machine shop build the rover. All right, the food processing plant. All that clever equipment, packaging machines, conveyors, that’s the visual thinkers. Boilers and refrigeration, we don’t touch that stuff. We don’t understand it, it’s scary, dangerous, that’s for the mathematicians. But that’s — this is I’ve seen this division of the work. In every food plant I’ve been in. And I’ve worked on construction projects probably in about 20 of them. Big ones and small ones. And look at they — lots of times the visual thinkers don’t get enough credit. There would be no Mars Rover without the machine shop. Don’t forget that. Made by hand.

JANNIE: So — another question here that is specifically about how you think. As a visual thinker can you share with someone what autism may “see” when they think about emotions love, hate, joy, sadness, fear.

TEMPLE: Now you say “love,” I saw a green Volkswagen bug yesterday. A genuine bug. And now I’m seeing Herbie the Love Bug. But I saw this Volkswagen bug yesterday. It was such a pretty, beautiful looking Volkswagen bug, I was admiring it. Now I’m seeing Beatles song, rainbows, love, love. Then I actually had a truck a small truck in the ’70s, it was called a “LUV” pick up, light utility vehicle. You see — then again it’s pictures. I’m also seeing things like — mom hugging her kid. A dog, petting a dog. But it’s visual. It’s not — I don’t see the word. But I just — just saw this green Volkswagen bug yesterday. It was such a beautiful bug, I was behind it for a couple of miles, and beside it.

JANNIE: I think — I just want to share from the chat from the Q and A pop-up window from our audience they are loving hearing what you have to say. They’re very excited to be here. I think you should definitely include a picture of your truck on your next set of slides for your future presentation.

TEMPLE: Well one thing I can do, you saw my drawings. Another thing I can show off, I’m a shameless book promoter. This is my book “Calling All Minds” it’s all the little things I made as a child. One of the things in it is my bird kite, and kids are going to have to tinker to make this work. I couldn’t get the same art paper I had a child, I had to use file folder. I have stuff in the book about why golf balls with dimples fly further. I’ve got a lot of aviation stuff. I have made parachutes. We have kids today that have never flown a paper airplane. I did a book signing for that book two years ago right outside of Denver. Elementary school kids, one-third had never made a paper airplane. So that’s in it, a simple paper airplane is in there. Cutting out a paper snowflake. Doctors have complained to me they’re having a hard time teaching the medical students how to sew up cuts because they’ve never sewed and they’ve never used scissors. We have to get hands-on things going back into schools and I’m learning a lot about doing stuff online, but there are certain classes that are not going to work online. I cannot emphasize that enough. Most of the computer stuff probably will work online except for some hardware, a few hardware classes.

JANNIE: This next question comes from a participant’s child. Their child wants to know how the hug machine calms cattle. And also, what is your key to connecting with animals and are there correlations to working with people?

TEMPLE: Well animals live in a sensory-based world. What is it seeing, smelling, hearing. They’re very much into tone of voice. High-pitched sounds tend to be alarm calls. They react to soothing tone of voice. Now for a lot of people deep pressures is calming. That’s why people like things like massages. I watched cattle going into this thing called a squeeze chute, that’s a device they used to hold cattle when they vaccinate them. And I noticed that some of these cattle, this was on my next-door neighbor’s ranch near my aunt’s ranch, kind of relaxed, so I went and tried it, because I had horrendous panic attacks, horrible panic attacks all through my 20s. Horrible colitis attacks, and I take anti-depressant medication for that. And it saved me, absolutely saved me. That’s why I have to drink so much water. If you want to read my experiences about anxiety and antidepressant medication it’s right here in “Thinking in Pictures.” But I don’t think I’d be here without the anti-depressants. I’ve been on them since 1980. It also cleared up the colitis that I had. Another thing that helps is a burst of hard exercise. I do 100 sit ups every night. It took me six months to work up to that. Then my sciatic nerve started to hurt me now I do modified push-ups, I hate exercising, but I find that that burst of exercise helps on the anxiety in the way a long walk doesn’t. I also do a walk every day now for my back. But that’s for my back. And the anxiety I’ve got to do that burst of hard exercise. Well, you better work up slowly to that or you’re going to have a heart attack.

JANNIE: Well we have a lot more questions to ask you, but because we know you would be able to stick around for a few more minutes but there is still some closing remarks we would want to share with those of whew who are here who cannot stick around past the hour — a request would be for you to please share your wishes and words of encouragement to the graduating class of 2020.

TEMPLE: Get out there and solve problems. One thing I’ve always liked to do is I like to figure out how to solve problems. We need to figure out how to fix things in the world. Right now we need some ways to treat COVID better. There is a lot of things we need there. And we need to figure out how to solve the problems and not squabble.

JANNIE: Great. Well, for those of you who cannot stick around any longer I just wanted to first of all thank you, Dr. Grandin, for sharing all this useful and thoughtful information. As you all know, NCWIT research suggests that diverse teams yield better results and drive innovation. It is important to acknowledge that individuals with disabilities and those who are on the autism spectrum should have a voice and play a part in revolutionizing the face of technology. Better stated —

TEMPLE: They’ve already done it.

JANNIE: Better stated by Dr. Grandin, the world needs better types of minds. So what’s next? Please join us for the next conversation, titled Connecting Generations, this Friday May 8th 12pm MT, and as you know evaluation is a core practice for NCWIT, so please take a minute to complete the short pop-up survey to provide feedback on this session. We use of course this information to improve our work. I would like to thank our presenter, Dr. Temple Grandin for a thought-provoking and inspiring conversation. Also, to those of you who registered to attend this session and those of you watching on YouTube live, thank you again to our sponsors who have made these Conversations for Change series possible. We’re truly appreciative, and finally I want to thank all the people behind the scenes who make this webinar possible. Our Q and A and room monitors, our event staff, our research team, and NCWIT leadership, thank you for tuning in and have a wonderful evening for those of you that can’t stick around. For those of you that can continue on the call, I will go ahead and select a few more of the questions that were posted on the Q and A. So very quickly let me pull up that window.

Okay, Dr. Grandin, people are really interested in your life’s experience. What was your elementary school experience like and what were some of your biggest challenges how did you overcome them?

TEMPLE: Elementary school was good. They had really good small schools, small classes, quiet, structured. Also Mrs. Dietz explained to the other kids that I had a disability that was not visible like a wheelchair, and that is now what I learned is called peer-mediated intervention. And I’ve actually got a paper online how horses, and how as a teenager with autism — I can’t remember the title of my own paper but it has to do with learning how to work and getting friends through horses. High school was a disaster of bullying. A large school did not work for me. I got sent to a special boarding school and for the first three years I basically ran their horse barn. And I was learning how to work. It was a big problem. Not seeing kids learning working skills. Because that’s different than academic skills. And I had some friends who shared interests. Horseback riding, model rockets. Get the kid involved in a lot of different things where you can get a friend through a shared interest. That’s really important.

JANNIE: Great. So another question from our audience is if you had the opportunity to design a computer lab for students, would it be different for middle schools than for high school, or for the students you teach at the university?

TEMPLE: Of course you have real little kids you’re going to have to have things for little kids you’re going to have to make sure they don’t get out online into something bad. But I think we have got to show kids — like I’m amazed that come where I look at my science and nature magazines, they — the geometrical patterns that are inside of all kinds of different things, viruses, bacteria, protein symmetry, you look that up. Fractals, all these beautiful geometrical patterns that are inside lots of different things that’s a very cool thing you can show kids. Let’s teach them programming. It’s that little Sphero ball, they like that because you make a physical thing actually do something. See and I like that. — but we want to get them doing things. Also we need to just, kids have got to learn how to write. And — that’s going to require teachers marking up their work. Because right now in the last five years we’re getting graduate students in with awful writing skills. They just don’t know to do — how do you write up the method section of an experiment and just write it up clearly. And I find out that the student got all the way to graduate school and had never done a book report. And book reports are good because you have to summarize the book and then you critique it.

JANNIE: I used to teach high school science for ten years, and I know the struggle of seeing students that don’t know how to write a report. So — I’m with you on that one.

TEMPLE: That was something I learned how to do before I got to high school. I learned that in middle school.

JANNIE: Absolutely. So — somebody here on the audience wanted to follow up on advice for parents. You mentioned or talked about over-protecting children. What is the best way to discipline?

TEMPLE: Well it depends what they did. You see again, you see I have to get — and I find the same problem when people ask me about animal behavior. They say well my dog’s crazy. Well I don’t know what he did, happy jumping on someone, or it bit them. You see I have to have a lot more information. What do I do with autistic kids in the classroom, I don’t know even know what age of kid we’re dealing with here. Now real little kids that are age three, I can give you some pretty generalized answers for that. But once they get older I need to know what the problem in the classrooms is, there can be problems with noise or there can be problems with multitasking. Those can often be issues — but I have to have a lot more information on whether it’s an animal behavior question or an autism question. I have to usually ask five to seven questions before I can get enough information to actually answer it. I had a lady say “my horse goes berserk.” Well I finally found out, he only went berserk in one specific place. And that’s when his halter was tied with two ropes, it’s called a cross-ties. He’d had an accident in cross-ties; he was fine everywhere else. But I had to ask at least five or six questions before I found out before I found out in the cross-ties is the only place the horse went berserk; but I couldn’t answer the question until I knew that. How do I answer “my horse went berserk”? That’s too vague.

JANNIE: It’s not concrete enough of a question for you to be able to…

TEMPLE: There’s no way to answer it.

JANNIE: Right. So going into a different topic, which is advocacy. Folks from our audience want to know how important is it for people with autism to build community with each other?

TEMPLE: I think it is important. The other thing is, when I was in college and I failed my first math quiz I did something about it. It was called get tutoring before you flunk the course, and I did that. There is a lot of students where — they don’t ask for help soon enough.

JANNIE: So has there been a time in your life where you’ve made acquaintances or made connections with friends or colleagues that are also in the autism spectrum?

TEMPLE: Oh very definitely. In fact there were people that helped me that were on the autism spectrum but of course they are all undiagnosed. I can think back to this one lady, she was the dean’s wife. I look back on her, she was definitely an autistic and she was somebody that helped me.

JANNIE: Do you think that the autistic community has sufficient advocacy people not just within the autism spectrum speaking on their behalf, but allies for example? Speaking for the importance of having students with disabilities or on the spectrum participating in certain fields?

TEMPLE: One of the problems is I’m seeing too many people where the disability becomes the primary identity. Autism is an important part of who I am but being a scientist and a professor, that comes first. I think career comes first. What’s made my life interesting is career. And — I see eight-year-olds walk up to me, and all they want to do is autism advocacy. I had already been ten years in the cattle industry, and being a woman was a much bigger handicap I’ll tell you that right now. And — but I’m seeing where they get so far into that. And then I go out to Silicon Valley to major tech companies and they’re avoiding labels. I think I understand the reason why they avoid the labels, they’re worried about it holding them back. But that’s something I’ve noticed a lot of tech companies is that way. But where it would help some of those people is with relationships. I just — “Different Not Less” book, if you read that, 14 people give their own stories. But — you look at somebody, okay, going back to the people, I’m not saying that all these people that I mentioned like Michelangelo, I don’t know what he was like. The one thing that’s very well documented is the sixth-grade drop-out and that his dad hated art. Hated it. And wanted him to do a proper learned profession. That’s extremely well documented. Where would he end up today? Playing video games in the basement? Have some kind of a label? I don’t know.

JANNIE: So do, are you saying that you see a problem with labels or that labels can be problematic?

TEMPLE: Well labels have a place, but I’m seeing too much of “becoming the label”. I’ve always been someone who wants to break out of the silos. I was just talking to my graduate student this morning doing a journal article on horse training. I want to bridge the gap between the practical horse training and some of the science of how animals learn. There is a tendency lots of times for people to get too much in their silo. And I’ve gone into major corporations, non-tech major corporations. I can’t give — I can’t name them. Big names that have nothing to do with computers or with the livestock industry, let’s put it that way. And I’ve actually seen situations, I’ve seen this happen at universities too, where the disability group sort of builds their own silo and don’t communicate with the rest of campus. I went to a college last year that had a veterinary program, and they didn’t think to contact the veterinary program. And they came up to me at the talk and they were kind of annoyed about it. That’s an example of getting too much in the silo. I always — I’ve always wanted to bust out of the silos, and it’s not easy.

JANNIE: I think we may have time for two more questions. One of them comes from a hiring manager who’s is watching. And — he or she would like to know how they can improve job interviews for someone who has autism.

TEMPLE: Well let’s say it’s a visual thinking job, or it’s a computer job, there is work that can be shown off. Code, apps they made, have them come in and display the portfolio. Because let’s say you’re hiring them to do programming, you’re not hiring them to be a social butterfly; you’re hiring them to do programming. And I would encourage the person to put together a portfolio of code you can kind of show off in a short time. They can look at it and — you don’t want a huge gigantic book that thick of stuff. You want something where they can say, you show a page of code and look at it and say wow, cool. Good. Or — show them a machine, that picture of a machine they designed. You know, show off the work. Because that’s how I did an interview. I was putting the drawings on the table just like it showed in the movie. My actual drawings are in that movie. I just loved that.

JANNIE: I love that movie. It made me follow your work, and I’m certainly due to watch it for the third time. We have a question from a 7-year-old child that wants to know how long it took you to create some of your machines.

TEMPLE: Well like the squeeze machine, it took well, the real nice one I spent about six weeks just working on it slowly. Others I built a little faster.

JANNIE: So there is no — does the process, is the process the same whether —

TEMPLE: Another interesting thing — when I was doing carpentry work, the squeeze machine is mostly carpentry work, and when I was designing it, I actually designed it in the shop. I designed it as I was going, in the shop. Then, when I was doing the steel and concrete work, I had to take the shop and put it on the drawing. That was something I had to do. The other thing I had to do was teach myself how to read drawings. How to relate the lines on the drawing to the real structure. I got this great big beautiful hand-drawn drawing of the Swift plant in Arizona. I walked around in that plant for two days. I had to learn that a little square on the floor was a concrete column that held up the roof. I had to learn to see that. And — I did it by walking around with the drawings. That’s how I learned how to see that. And then there was a draftsman named Davey that was a super good draftsman. And he — I just sort of like got the same drawing tools and started pretending I was Davey. Before I could do that, I had to learn how to relate the line on a drawing to the real things. Because when I did the squeeze machine and they duplicated it very nicely in the movie — there were two — the junky plywood one and then the better one — that was just designed in the shop. And the drawings for that are online. You can look at the drawings — but — I did those drawings way later, years later. But then I had to like, take the shop and put it on the drawing. So in my mind, I could build the thing in my mind and see it as I drew it.

JANNIE: So regardless of the outcome you wanted to achieve, your thought process and your process itself of creating something was essentially the same. Just different end products, different time frames.

TEMPLE: Well I — look — see when I first built the squeeze machine, everything I ever did I designed in the shop. I didn’t have drawings. Or I might have the little cruder sketches, but then when we’re going to the steel and concrete structures, I had to start drawing them. I started out by taking this drawing and then I would go out to the feed yard and measure their handling facility, and then I would draw it and then I would go back to see if my drawing was accurate. See, I had to relate the lines on the drawing to the physical structure. And the — then I’m — I have talked to people that teach drafting. And — also I have gotten drawings from major meat companies. They’re really pretty terrible. CAD drawings. And I find out that they’re done by someone who has never built anything — never drawn by hand. And they leave out the detail. I got a drawing last year for steel and concrete work and it had no rebar in part of it, no reinforcement rods. I said well how are you fastening this pipe to this piece of concrete. Are you using weld-plates, how are you doing it? It wasn’t on the drawing. They had left out the details, I couldn’t believe it. And that came out of a major engineering firm.

JANNIE: Interesting. So in respect of everybody’s time I would like to ask you one last brief question. And this is from somebody in the audience. They have a coworker who is autistic, and they don’t speak up during team meetings. She has great ideas but does not voice them during meetings. What can we do to make sure their ideas are heard?

TEMPLE: Well maybe her boss needs to voice them at the meetings. And say well Susie, or whatever her name is, had some ideas. And — I — you know she’s shy to bring it up at the meetings. But she may have the ideas that really work. Especially the department that builds a lot of stuff — the technology we’re using right now came from autism. Let me just finish up, I should have said this in my regular talk. There is a paper called Genomic Tradeoffs, Autism, and Schizophrenia: The Steep Price for the Human Brain. The same genes that make the brain big also cause autism and schizophrenia, you can’t get rid of it. You see where’s a little bit of autism, geeks and nerds, where does that end, and autism starts? There is no black and white dividing line.

JANNIE: Yeah, there’s no one experience from one individual and one end of the spectrum is at all similar to any other person, on the opposite end of the spectrum.

TEMPLE: Different people, what I’ve found when I worked in the factories is how the labor got divided up. People that worked on the boilers and refrigeration they did not make the clever packaging machine. And the people that I worked with never worked on refrigeration and boilers, too mathematical. And then what’s happened now, we got these new plants, okay, a U.S. engineering firm made the building, they did the boilers and refrigeration, but all the clever equipment that goes inside came over in 100 shipping containers. No, I’ve seen this pattern — I don’t think if it’s now or — but I’m really concerned about losing skills. We are losing important skills for building things.

JANNIE: Well, I am delighted it has been an absolute pleasure to chat with you. I can sit here and continue chatting with you the rest of the evening if I could. I know our audience has expressed their gratitude and their love for being part of this conversation today. NCWIT is very grateful for the time you’ve dedicated to us, to the audience here on our webinar and on YouTube that are watching. And I just hope that you continue to do the great work and inspiring work that you are doing for many, many years to come.

TEMPLE: Well it was great, and I guess we’re going to leave the meeting now?

JANNIE: I believe so. It’s 6:15, so just so you know a lot of people on the chat, on the Q and A are saying thank you, and they’re very pleased to see you.

TEMPLE: It was really good to be here by video, and I would have liked to have been in person, but nobody could do that because of COVID. But it’s been great to be here by chat, so I’m going to take this arrow here and put it on “leave the meeting,” and — thank you so much for having me.

JANNIE: Thank you Dr. Grandin, have a wonderful evening. Thank you everybody for tuning in.

TEMPLE: Ok great, thank you.


Hoffler, T.N. et al. (2016) More evidence for three types of cognitive style: Validating the object-spatial imagery and verbal questionnaire using eye tracking when learning with texts and pictures, Applied Cognitive Psychology 31,,3300.

Keogh, R. and Pearson, J. (2019) The blind mind: No sensory visual imagery in aphantasia, Cortex, 105:53-60.

Kozhevnikov, M. et al. (2002) Revising the visualizer- verbalizer dimension: Evidence for two types of visualizers, Cognition and Instruction, 20:47-77.

Kozhevnikov, M. et al. (2005) Spatial versus object visualizers: A new characterization for visual cognitive style, Memory and Cognition 33(4):710-726.

Mazard, A. et al. (2004) A PET meta analysis of object sand spatial mental imagery, European Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 16:673-695.

Perez-Febello, M.J. et al. (2018) Object-spatial imagery in fine arts, psychology and engineering, Thinking skills and creativity, 27:131-138.

Selcuk, E. et al. (2017) Object-spatial imagery and verbal cognitive style in high school students, Perceptual and motor skills, March 16, 2017.

Scroll to Top