A few years ago I met Barb, a high school special education teacher. Barb had heard about Young Rembrandts and wondered how her special needs students would respond to our step-by-step method of teaching art. After some conversation about her students’ needs and our philosophy, we agreed to teach a series of four weekly classes. The classes surpassed all of our expectations. The students were fully engaged, successfully completed every drawing and were pleased to have been participants in art class. In Chapter Five of Being Visual, I share details about the initial fears of the teaching assistants, the experiences in the classrooms, our observations and our teaching method.
That successful classroom experience inspired me to conduct additional research on the learning styles and needs of both autistic and special needs children. Through conversation, Barb introduced me to a highly accomplished woman with autism, Temple Grandin. Around that same time an HBO movie, Temple Grandin, had been released. The movie was based on Temple’s book, Thinking in Pictures: My Life with Autism, which gave viewers insight into the visual mind of a person with autism.
One quiet evening, I curled up on the couch to watch the story of this remarkable woman’s life. I was instantly drawn into a new perspective of our world as it appeared to this highly visual learner. The movie makers did an extraordinary job illustrating the way a visual person sees and thinks, their overwhelming reliance on visual imagery to learn and the importance of them having a depth of imagery in their mental library. As a visual thinker, I am used to seeing visually. Yet, I was truly amazed at how well the movie enticed its viewers to experience “sight” through a visual person’s viewpoint.
Watching the movie and reading her books further ignited my curiosity and inspired even more research on the relationship between visual thinking and autism. I attended conferences to hear Temple speak. Talking briefly with her, she graciously agreed to let me share some of her many insights in my book, Being Visual. Temple’s wisdom and research has impacted education in profound ways and I am honored to be able to help share some of those insights.