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Dr. Temple Grandin’s Argument on Visual Thinking and Autism Research Paper

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Updated: May 5th, 2022


Dr. Temple Grandin believes that abilities to visualize and to see concepts and meaning in images are a great advantage in comparison with those people who think verbally. She also suggests that children with autism should be good at drawing, building associative patterns, and the understanding world in abstract terms, therefore, teachers should work out visually-oriented approaches than those used to develop the skills of children with no brain pathologies. In this respect, thinking in pictures and working with graphics, equipment, images can strengthen the autism memories and assist them in developing social and communicative skills. For example, autistic children can associate the word ‘dog’ with ‘going outside’, which is, at a glance, seems to be a weird association. However, wider logical chains can reveal that this meaning is possible to construct specific situations and experiences. Particular details and pictures can provoke feelings, emotions that once have been arisen because of a certain object.

Consequently, even though an autistic child uses a word meaning in an irrelevant manner, teacher’s task lies in understanding those associated patterns because this is the only way an individual can provide the actual understanding of the material world. Analysis of visual approaches and deviation from verbal methods and usage of mental processing through image rotation can much more efficient than medical intervention.

Main Discussion

Thinking in Pictures: A Non-Verbal Approach

According to Dr. Grandin’s research, the fact that visual thinkers cannot generalize and build verbal concepts does not mean that they have certain disabilities. It is just the same verbal learners who ignore visual details and refer to more generalized concepts. In other words, this can be perceived as a different way of thinking and an effective approach to interpreting things rather than a disorder to be medically intervened. Instead, visualization can be recognized as a specific pattern of a cognitive process (Dettmer et al. 163). With regard to this, a teacher should focus on a visual representation of information to help children overcome difficulties while transiting from one activity to another in different settings and communities. Tissot and Evans also support the idea that traditional approaches to teaching in working with visual learners are ineffective because they depend largely on auditory instructions (425). Due to the fact that autism involves a spectrum of brain disorders, autistic children need a range of abilities and skills to benefit from those oral lectures. A visual-oriented method will help children acquire new knowledge, modify them in mental images, and gain more visual experience.

Certainly, verbal behavior should also be practiced for impaired children to feel at easy while communicating with their verbal-oriented peers. In this respect, sentence comprehension can be carried with the help of imaginary thinking and visualization. Hence, Kana et al. introduce the idea that the linguistic content must be analyzed and be mentally imaged to relate this mental image to the verbal sentence (2484). In this respect, the extent to which an autistic child understands that sentence depends on its imagery content. Such a misbalance between verbal and visual representation is present because of decreased connectivity (Kana et al. 2485). In order to solve the problem, visual support enhancement is one of the most effective ways to foster children’s adaptation.

Abstract Thought

Development and enhancement of abstract thinking is as important as the development of verbal and writing skills. In this respect, children may think of a concrete object when considering a more generalized word. Hence, images of dove, Indian peace pipe and peace agreement can come to the forth when autistic individuals want to understand the meaning of the word peace. Just like images and visualization help to understand a particular verbal expression, imitation pattern can also become powerful tools for associative thinking. In particular, Ingersoll and Schreibman offer a naturalistic behavior approach for autistic children to imitate the situation and understand their meaning (487). This intervention is potentially important because it correlates with Dr. Grandin’s suggestion about enhancing the visual potential and encouraging the development the strengths of visual thinkers. Indeed, imitation techniques can helpful in overcoming the verbal barrier and improving communicative and social skills of a child.

Thinking in pictures, however, does not always help visual thinkers understand certain abstract notions, which is, apparently, the main reason for social impairment. Due to the fact that most of abstract notions arise from concrete situations and cases, it is possible to introduce a behavioral approach proposed by Ingresoll and Schreibman as well because it can contribute significantly to expanding visual skills for understanding abstract semantics (488). Once again, Grandin’s idea of focusing on strong side has turned out to be effective. Similar to Ingresoll and Schreibman, Gray also resorts to behavioral patterns for developing and improving social skills of autistic children (169). Although a child has an image-based memory, each word, specifically the one that is difficult to turn into image, children can still introduce visual pattern to realize the meaning of words. In this respect, Gray provides example picture schedules that assist students in comprehending the sequence of classroom activities (170). The introduced intervention seems to provide teacher with another dimension of learning where words should depend on pictures, color, and symbols. Such visual-based strategies create a foundation for further study premised on individual needs and abilities. Presentation of social stories can motivate autistic children to distinguish between social notions such the ones of morality, behavior, and ethics.

Visual Thinking and Imagery

According to Dr. Grandin, patients with such kind of disorder have low level of connection between verbal and visual brain systems. Her idea lies in searching for other brain connection that can foster children’s understanding of linguistic context. A more in-depth analysis of visual activities can reveal the all imagery can be mentally processed and modified by children so that images are rotated and analyzed to make the brain map expand. In this respect, imagery practice is as helpful as real practice because both activities contribute to inventing more effective methods for managing autism and decreased connectivity function.

Doctor’s suggestions can be approved by a number studies on cortex and decreased connectivity function. At this point, Koshino et al. present their research n the analysis of working memory for faces revealing that visually oriented analysis can be carried out with the help of frontal brain areas more proficiency which diminishes the reliance on posterior cortical regions (290). Other investigations initiated by Villalobos et al. provide deeper understanding of mirror neuron system of autistic patients (916). Major focus has been made on the analysis of linguistic impairments as well as functional connectivity carried out by means of visuomotor coordination. The results also show that there is a reduced connectivity with frontal areas that are responsible for language and mental processing (918). Along with Villalobos et al., Hughes has also presented evidence that is congruent with previous suggestions and hypotheses (21). Examining fusiform face and frontal area, the scholar has managed to provide evidence proving reduced connectivity among autistic children. The above-discussed researches justify Grandin’s idea to facilitate visual processing via other connected channels and creative new, more appropriate ways for perceiving information.

Developing Connections in Specialized Brains: Enhancing the Skills

As it has been proved earlier, there is a reduced connectivity between visual and verbal perception among children with autism. Consequently, the enhancement of visual perceptions, as proposed by Grandin, will contribute to defining and developing skills to think in pictures and process newly obtained images. The semantic associations are discovered, autistic patients will advance much faster their communicative and social skills.

Enhancing visual thinking and learning can help autistic children to be highly demand when it comes to such professions as computer graphics, programming, art and design, drawing and painting. Indeed virtual reality is a favorable environment for autistic individuals to work in. Approaches to teach social patterns of behavior with the help of theory of mind method can be significantly enhanced with the introduction of virtual space technology that can offer ways to combine all existing approaches (Pearson and Mitchel 432). As a result, the studies have shown that both theory of mind and behavior theories aimed at improving social skills have been considerably facilitated with the usage of virtually reality which can be an ideal instrument for practicing different social situation and behavioral patterns. In whole, the researchers also insist on the idea that using graphics and photography can promote clearer understanding of social situation with increased complexity. More importantly, with innate comprehension to be a priority, communication and socialization can become much more natural. Consequently, a complex of behavioral and cognitive approaches and intense usage of virtual reality technology is the best receipt for strengthening visual memories of children with autism.


With reference to above-presented examinations of approaches to autism children, the majority of studies approve Grandin’s idea to introduce unconventional method for treating verbal disorders. Hence, despite the fact that an autistic childe applies to a semantic filling of a word in an inappropriate way, teacher should be focused more enhancing and developing visual skills and mental processing of images to work out fixed patterns of effective intervention. Wrong perception of autistic children provides even more problems in understanding the disorder. In this respect, the doctor suggests that visual representation of information should be equally evaluated along the verbal analysis. Children with verbal impairment should not feel confused while attending classes and be more focused on acquiring new knowledge. After all, autism is not a diagnoses and it is by no means correlated with low intelligence capability. The only problem that might occur is communicative gap that emerges as a result of using different patterns of thinking and perceiving information. In whole, course on enhancing visual skills with the help of photography and imaginary association, re-structuring and re-evaluating teaching approaches and environment as well as orientation on developing new connectivity functions will considerably improve the situation. This multi-dimensional approach provides no necessity to medically intervene because children can cope with disorder via well-organized teaching and educational techniques.

Works Cited

Dettmer, Sarah, Simpson Richard, Smith Myles Brenda, and Jenifer B. Ganz. The Use of Visual Support to Facilitate Transitions of Students with Autism. Focus on Autism and Other Deviations and Disabilities. 15.3. (2000): 163-169.

Grandin, Temple. Autism and Visual Thought. , 2006.

Gray, Carol A. Social Stories and Comic Strip Conversations with Students with Asperger Syndrom and High-Functioning Autism. Ed. Eric Schopler, Gary B. Mesidov, and Linda J. Kunce. in Asperger Syndrome or High-Functioning Autism. US: Springer, 1998. Print. 168-182.

Highes, John R. Autism: The First Firm Finding: Underconnectivity? Epilepsy and Behavior. 11.1 (2007): pp 20-24.

Ingersoll, Brooke and Laura Schreibman. Teaching Reciprocal Imitation Skills to Young Children with Autism Using a Naturalistic Behavioral Approach: Effects of Language, Pretend Play and Joint Attention. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 36.4 (2006): 487-505.

Kana, Rajesh, Keller, Timothy, A., Cherkassky, Vladimir, L., Minshew, Nancy, J., and Marcel Adam Just. Sentence Comprehension in Autism: Thinking in Pictures with Decreased Functional Connectivity. A Journal of Neurology, 129.9 (2006): 2484-2493.

Koshino, Hideya, Kana Rajesh, Keller, Timothy, A., Cherkassky, Vladimir L., Minshew, Nancy, J. and Marcel Adam Just. FMRI Investigation of Working Memory for Faces in Autism: Visual Coding and Underconnectivity with Frontal Areas. Cerebral Cortex. 18.2 (2008): 289-300.

Pearson, Sam and Paul Mitchell. The Potential of Virtual Reality in Social Skills Training for People with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research. 46.5. (2002): 430-443.

Tissot, Catherine, and Roy Evans. Visual Teaching Strategies for Children with Autism. Early Child Development and Care. 173.4, pp. 425-433.

Villalobos, Michele E., Mizuno Akiko, Dahl Branelle C., Kemmotsu Nobuko, and Ralph-Alex Muller. Reduced Functional Connectivity between V1 and inferior cortex associated with visuomotor performance in autism. Neurolmage. 3.15 (2005): 916-915.

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