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What has visual thinking got to do with my child?

Last week, I started listening to this audiobook by Temple Grandin. For those of you who have never heard of her, Temple is a professor of animal science, a livestock industry designer, and an Autistic. She describes herself in this way, showing that she is a person who has incredible strengths and talents that also happens to have Autism.

Temple never spoke until four and struggled to learn to read at school. She credits early intervention via speech pathology and her mother, teaching her phonics to her success in life communication. Hint, hint, nudge nudge, if you are reading this blog, you are already on the right path.

You see, Temple is what we call a visual thinker. Traditionally, psychologists and neurologists thought that you needed to understand language to have thought. Still, Temple describes herself as thinking in an ocean of pictures versus in a sea of words.

Temple's well-researched book describes how visual thinkers process the world differently and often need real-life examples to understand new concepts or learning versus language learners who tend to grasp abstract concepts more easily.

She describes how children who are visual thinkers need different opportunities to learn and thrive. In particular, she states that these children need hands-on experience in visual activities such as lego, drawing, sewing, cooking, woodwork, and fixing household appliances. She outlines the research that shows that visual thinkers often excel in roles such as engineering, design, construction, and aesthetic fields such as interior design or architecture.

Temple also points out how our children do not get much exposure to these tasks in today's society and how we are robbing them of the ability to find what they are good at. She goes further to add that visual thinkers are often those who become addicted to video games as it suits their learning profile perfectly.

Her advice is to limit devices and provide children with rich experiences and exposure to a diverse range of hands-on tasks so they can find their "thing" in life. Giving our children these opportunities when they are young puts them in good stead in finding employment later in life.

My fascination with this book is evident, given my writing above. Why? Because thinking is on a continuum from verbal to visual, most children I see in the clinic have difficulties with verbal tasks, indicating that they are visual thinkers. These kids have trouble grasping the language, understanding what has been said, taking a long time to process, and, at times, never truly understanding the concept due to their language deficits.

It has been well documented in the literature that children with Autism learn best when taught through visual means, which is why we use visual schedules, social stories, and video modeling for social skills.

But it is not only children with autism who are visual thinkers; our children with Developmental Language Disorders are often supported by visual learning. This is why we use programs that work on converting words into visual images for children to refer back to and remember what they heard, as they can reference the visual representation of the story rather than recall the words. It is why we use Shape Coding to teach grammar to school-aged children, as it explains the rules of grammar in a visual means. We use oral narrative retelling structures such as Story champs to help our children plan out their stories, particularly when requested to write. Finally, it is why we use Read 3, a multi-sensory literacy program with strong use of visual supports. But there are plenty of other ways to support your child versus attending speech pathology.

So this Christmas, add some visual board games, arts and crafts, and lego to the stocking stuffers, limit tech, and watch your little one thrive.


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