Temple Grandin at TED2010: The world needs all kinds of minds

Temple Grandin's presentation at TED2010 was probably my favorite. Here it is.

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 smart geeky kids.
Temple Grandin: The world needs all kinds of minds


  1. Always a refreshing change from the usual Eugenics arguments that you hear from organisations such as Autism Speaks promoting “cures” for the terrible curse of Autism. Just think: a little more research on the Human Genome and we can isolate an Autism Predilection gene. Then hideous abominations (who don’t even make effective eye contact between 1.5 and 2.5 seconds duration!!!!!!!!!), such as Grandin here, need never trouble us again. We can abort them before they ever draw breath: along with gays, left-handed people and any females surplus to current requirements.

  2. If you can find it, I recommend watching Errol Morris’s First Person episode featuring Dr. Grandin. Most of the episodes are great but her episode, especially, illuminated a lot of things re: autism and Asperger’s for me.

  3. As united hackers association chair i can agree. WHY?
    Because i see things like described n patterns. I was able to code in C++ without any tutelage basic debugging etc because i recognized patterns in areas where things worked and where they didn’t.

    THIS could mean that the best coders are autistic in my pattern sense.

    Imagine that….

  4. I have an autistic brother. Many of his issues are likely peripheral to his autism, and are the result of teachers and aids lack of understanding of autism and severe underestimation of his mental capabilities. He is likely smarter than many people, something which becomes evident only after a long time, because of his shyness and difficulties communicating.
    He has a perfect memory, excellent spelling, and demonstrates knowledge of complex subjects that he was never directly taught. All of this is hidden inside a kid who moves extremely slowly, almost never talks, and will fail almost any test he takes because of his anxiety.
    I don’t entirely agree with the idea of autism as just a different of thinking. The are many aspects of autism that significantly impair more than just social functionality. That being said, some of the social deficits of autism are more just ignoring the conventions of society rather than a true deficit. Why does it matter if you look at the person you’re talking to? We all have little behaviours we use to cope with stress, autistic people just have different ones, and specialization can have benefits (there’s a reason PhD’s exist). There’s a difference between what’s simply out of the ordinary and what is actually bad.

  5. I heard of Temple Grandin some years ago, but just saw the movie last week, and now this. What good sense. I’m in danger of developing a little hero worship at this point.

  6. I am glad this talk went up so soon, while the movie “Temple Grandin” is still currently showing on HBO http://bit.ly/cGeqTH and I’d encourage everyone to watch them both. Temple Grandin was one of those TED speakers with presence and approachability as an attendee at the conference itself, and whose story is one of those you’ll find yourself connecting at many levels.

    Here are the links to the Errol Morris First Person episode:


    Steve Nelson

  7. I have an 11 yo son with Aspergers (or per the new DSM-V:ASD). Dr. Grandin is right, understanding and recognizing the importance of reaching the child is imperative to their success. HOWEVER, even here in NYC, finding a school tolerant of his differences and the behavioral issues that are inherent (what the good Dr. lightheartedly refers to goofballing) is like finding, i don’t know the grail, or affordable renewable energy policies able to pass a viciously bipartisan government?

    Many of the special ed schools were not wont to take him bc he did not have any learning disabilities (?!?!), and were I to send him to public school chances are good that his bizarre affectations (eg-he just used a pen to draw in the hairs he just plucked out of his eyebrows) would likely have him devoured within a fortnight by his classmates. Anyway, she fails to point out finding appropriate educational placements are pretty darned impossible. That we need more specialized schools is darn tootin’ right.

  8. They all clap but have you ever tried to email anyone at a company up on the food chain? just not going to happen. The autistic kid with the silicon valley parents get all the help.

  9. Interesting, when I pictured a steeple, I pictured a pattern of building. With a bit of effort I was able to turn that into specific pictures, but my thinking seems to be process orientated rather than spatially orientated or something like that.

    Amusingly, as I’m writing this along with watching, she then mentions dyslexia and “pattern thinking”. Nicely, I’ve been previously defined as both autistic spectrum and dyslexic tendencies, not to mention unintentional echoing in the last paragraph. Some confirmation three.

    I also think the stuff about fixation is brilliant and one place the internet can really help; if ideas are linked by enough different forms of similarity, and these can be made into a path, then people can move quite happily between subjects and hopefully onto useful unsolved ones.

    “Lighting that spark” is not merely about enthusiasm, (especially for autistic guys who don’t implement those shear-forces of charismatic influence) but making metaphorical bridges so that people can see the value in a subject in similar terms to their previous interests; showing that the things they like expand beyond those tightly defined areas they currently understand.

    As a metaphor, I suspect that many autistic people are like canal users in a city that has only ponds! Their patterns of interest are not linked together by the standard adjacencies of the society they are in. If the canals could coexist with the roads, perhaps they would be as flexible. Or perhaps not, maybe there is a fundimental rigidity associated with autism, as has been suggested before, but that doesn’t match up with the free-flowing association I see in high functioning autistics, and equally I have seen some non-autistic fascinatingly rigid people, who stick to specific domains of social interaction. The two may be only partially correlated, in some 1.5D state space.

    Thanks for the link!

  10. My experience is that it’s crucial to recognize that many problems with exceptional kids are caused by how they are treated by others, not by their conditions.

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