Neil deGrasse Tyson: ‘It Would Be Really Cool if There Were More Visual Thinkers in the World’

The education system has a very limited view of autism. It’s seen solely as a disorder. Children who have it are treated like they have been given nothing more than a disadvantage. Their alternative ways of thinking are not praised but rather questioned and often scrutinized.

Some would argue, however, that autism deserves a completely different kind of reaction from the public.

Some of the world’s greatest minds belong to autistic people like Temple Grandin, a professor of animal science at Colorado State University.

She is hailed by many as an incredible asset when it comes to research, and famed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson pondered the impact of her autism during the latest episode of Star Talk.

“Does [autism] give something to her or take something away,” he questioned before his guest joined him.

Her mind is “fascinating,” in Tyson’s words, but is that the result of her autism or just her “insightful” nature.

Grandin, an autism activist whose own life was chronicled by HBO in a self-titled film, joined Tyson and explained that she indeed offers a different way of thinking that is absolutely necessary in the world of science.

“In science we need both kinds of thinking,” Grandin told Tyson.

The two kinds of visual thinking she was referring to are “object photo-realistic thinking” and “more visual, spatial, where you are in space thinking.”

Object photo-realistic thinking is often associated with more artistic minds. This is the kind of thinking that makes Grandin stand out in science.

The latter form of visual thinking is more typically associated with math and science.

“What I’m really good at, when I read a journal article, is the methods — because when I read the methods section of an animal science or biology paper, I want to be able to understand how they did that experiment,” Grandin said.

That’s where other researchers tend to fail by focusing too closely on statistics and programs.

“Yes, you need to do statistics — that’s why I work with a statistician —but you also need my kind of mind to make sure people are fully describing how they did an experiment,” she added.

She believes that many more great minds like hers could be innovating STEM fields if they were pushed and shown their true potential.

Unfortunately, much more focus is placed on the areas where autistic people struggle rather than where they can excel.

“I’m worried that with all the emphasis on math, my kind of mind is being pushed off the team because we can’t do the algebra,” she added.

Tyson even noted that in his own field of astrophysics, much of the field is visual.

“You have to get into the computer and program it, but there are things we can only look at — you can’t poke it, you can’t stick it in a petri dish,” Tyson said as he cut away from the interview to insert commentary that was added later. “So it would be really cool if there were more visual thinkers in the world.”

Getting more of the visual thinkers who operate the way Grandin does even has the potential to vastly improve research and expedite scientific discoveries.

The key, Grandin says, is to make sure children with autism are being encouraged to try new things and expand their minds.

“I’m seeing far too many smart, geeky kids ending up in the basement playing video games because things aren’t being done to nurture their [visual] ability,” she added.

That’s because they aren’t being encouraged the way Grandin says her mother encouraged her.

“When I was a child my mother nursed my ability with art,” she added. “A lot of these kids want to draw the same thing all the time, and I did horse heads — but I was encouraged to draw lots of other things,” she continued. “I was taught to broaden that fixation out, to turn it into a skill you can use.”

It seems like such a simple solution, but it’s effective nonetheless.

Grandin just hopes that as time goes on, the stigmas around autism will vanish and more unique visual thinkers will find their place in the sciences.

6 Ways Technology Can Help Improve Autistic Children’s Development

vx2100Video Taping/YouTube 

Videos may help children with autism by holding their attention. YouTube has a variety of videos suitable for all age groups, and it is free to access. Video recording is a step further. Parents can record themselves and create engagement, enhance social skills and develop language skills when the child sees the video. These videos can help especially when the parent is at work or away.


Touch Devices

For children with autism, iPads can help increase their patience, focus and attention. There are so many different apps out there. Games and puzzles are some of the best tools to help your child.

Samsung’s ‘Look at Me’ App to Help Children with Autism Shows Serious Potential in Test Trial

Samsung’s new app is attempting to help children with autism improve their ability to make eye contact and enhance their overall social skills through a series of daily games and tests.

While many new apps have focused on getting users addicted to new versions of Tetris or making it easier to take selfies, Samsung has been paving the way for apps to become useful tools in the medical world.

The Seoul National University Bundang Hospital and Yonsie University’s department of psychology developed Samsung’s Look at Me app, which has already proven to be effective in its first trial run.

Through a series of cleverly devised games and challenges, children with autism can practice making certain facial expressions as well as decoding the expressions of others.

The app recommends a daily usage of at least 15 to 20 minutes.

While Samsung insisted that the effectiveness of the app is not conclusive just yet, parents in the first trial run have found the app to be extremely helpful.

More than half of the 20 children who used the app over the span of eight weeks showed substantial improvement in communicating with others and making more eye contact.

In a promotional video for the app, a mother opens up about the joys of being able to look into her son’s eyes after she had been struggling for years to get him to make consistent eye contact.

She explains that in the past she felt like there was a wall between her and her autistic son. But after spending time with the app, she said she has managed to develop a special bond with her son that she believes may not have been possible without Look at Me.

One organization, Autism Speaks Canada, believes the app shows serious promise and is working with Samsung to get tablets with Look at Me already preloaded on them into the hands of at least 200 more families with autistic children.

The app is also available for free on the Google Play store and has earned an impressive four-star rating out of a possible five stars.

If the app continues to be successful for other families, it could pave the way for more app developers to build on this technology and create more ways to help children with autism enhance their social skills.