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WTS 2 and 5

Thinking in Pictures, Expanded Edition: My Life with Autism


by Temple Grandin
Alexandra Esser
Saint Marys University of Minnesota
Schools of Graduate and Professional Programs
Portfolio Entry for Wisconsin Teacher Standard 2
Independent Book Study
James Sauter, Advisor
Spring 2016

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Selected Wisconsin Teacher Standard Descriptors


Wisconsin Teacher Standard (WTS) 2: Teachers know how children grow.
The teacher understands how children with broad ranges of ability learn and provides
instruction that supports their intellectual, social, and personal development.
Knowledge. The teacher understands how learning occurs-how students construct
knowledge, acquire skills, and develop habits of mind-and knows how to use instructional
strategies that promote student learning for a wide range of student abilities.
Dispositions. The teacher appreciates individual variation within each area of
development, shows respect for the diverse talents of all learners, and is committed to help them
develop self-confidence and competence.
Performances. The teacher accesses students thinking and experiences as a basis for
instructional activities by, for example, encouraging discussion, listening to group interaction,
and eliciting samples of student thinking orally and in writing.

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Danielson Domain
Domain 1: Planning and Preparation
Component 1b: Demonstrating Knowledge of Students
Element: Knowledge of students varied approaches of learning

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Book Study
The book I chose for this independent book study is Thinking in Pictures, Expanded
Edition: My Life with Autism by Temple Grandin. I initially selected this title because a speech
and language pathologist whom I have known since I was child recommended it to me.
Although none of my current students lie on the autism spectrum, I have had students in the past
with autism. If or when I have a student with autism again in any of my classes, I felt it would
help both the student with autism and me to be a more effective teacher if I have a better
understanding of how students with autism communicate or learn to communicate in their native
language (NL). Understanding more about autism in general will also help with better classroom
management and teaching strategies for students with autism.
Through reading this book and other resources on teaching students with autism, I
imagine I will learn techniques that may also benefit students who do not have autism. From my
limited experience teaching students with autism, I learned that it was helpful to structure my
lessons in a similar order each day so the students with autism would know what to expect. By
having similarly structured lessons each day, I found I was better able to organize my materials,
which probably benefited other students in class as well.
I chose to connect this book study to WTS 2. My goal is to better understand how
children with autism learn, and deliver instruction that supports their intellectual, social, and
personal development. I want to use the knowledge I gain about students with autism to both
design appropriate instructional activities for students with autism, and help them develop selfconfidence and competence learning a target language (TL).

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Chapter I: Thinking in Pictures


The book begins with Grandins recollections of her experiences as a child with autism,
and further explains that the way her brain functions allowed her to be so successful in the
livestock industry. Grandins visual spatial abilities were so high, that she could test run
drawings of equipment for flaws before they were produced. Despite these abilities, Grandin
noted she had to connect abstract thoughts to concrete pictures before should could conceptualize
their meaning. Some other issues that many people with autism face are problems with their
bodily boundaries, thinking in details rather than big picture, difficulty processing longer verbal
instructions or information, making uncommon word associations, and delayed or difficulty
learning to speak.
In my experience with students with autism, I noticed that students have difficulty
interacting in different social situations. I was not aware that students might make word
associations while communicating or not have strong verbal skills while learning. Grandin
stressed that social skills in people with autism must be taught and are not learned the same way
people without autism learn them.
Chapter II: The Great Continuum
In regard to foreign languages, Grandin said she cannot pick words out of a conversation
in a foreign language until I have seen them written first (Grandin, 2008, Chapter 2, Section 2,
para. 10). While this is not a rule for every person with autism, it is helpful to know that students
with autism might be the same as Grandin. I have noticed that some of my current students are
the same way, however, so I do not think this is a particular trait exclusive to people with autism.

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Chapter III: The Squeeze Machine


This chapter summarized common sensory problems found in people with autism, as well
as useful ways to address these problems. Although the ways for helping people deal with
sensory problems can be quite helpful, most of the strategies are not easily implemented in a
regular classroom setting. For example, Grandin developed what is called a squeeze machine, in
which a person with autism can lie, and pressure is applied around the person until the person
feels calmer. Other strategies addressed light sensitivity, loud noise sensitivity, or other touch
sensitivities. At the end of the chapter, Grandin noted that many kids with autism found out
about autism through reading about it. Grandin felt it would be more helpful for teachers and
educators to teach kids with autism about autism in addition to special education services. When
kids are more informed about how their brains work, they are likely to be more equipped to deal
with their autism.
Chapter IV: Learning Empathy
In the 1970s, it was thought that autism was caused when a mother distanced herself from
or rejected her child. Today, we know that this emotional disconnect as a part of autism is
caused by neurological abnormalities that shut the child off from normal touching and hugging
(Grandin, 2008, Chapter 4, Section 1, para. 9). In order for a child with autism to develop a sense
of empathy, he or she has to learn to resist this urge to not be touched and learn to accept
touching and hugging.
Another way to help kids with autism learn empathy is to do to them what they have done
to somebody else. Sometimes, the only way for a kid to understand that somebody else may not
like to be spit on is for them to be spit on and feel how somebody else may. In the school

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setting, educators should clearly use their own discretion to determine whether this strategy is
appropriate or not.
Chapter V: The Ways of the World
Throughout the entire book, Grandin has repeatedly written that people with autism need
to learn everything by rote in order to live acceptably normal lives. Personal skills such as
dressing and grooming have to be carefully addressed, because the feel of some fabrics or a razor
for shaving can be unbearable for some people with autism. At the same time, people with
autism still have to maintain acceptable appearances if they wish to have jobs or have any social
interactions. In professional settings, people with autism are often misunderstood as being rude
when they are just being direct. It can be helpful for bosses or managers to provide work
environments for people with autism that limit social interactions or situations that people with
autism not capable of handling.
One consideration for educators who have students with autism is to not let the autism or
Aspergers label hinder a child in any way. If the child seems to be interested or fixated on
something, the educator should channel that interest to help the child grow in other areas as well.
For example, if a child is interested in history, a German teacher might ask the child to research
an important historical event in Germanys history to teach to the class.
Chapter VI: Believer in Biochemistry
Since research about medications for treating symptoms for autism first began, a lot of
progress has been made for reducing symptoms such as anxiety, panic attacks, or ADHD. As a
German teacher, I hardly know anything about the effects of different medications on students
with autism or other emotional or behavioral disorders. During my student teaching semester, I
did notice, however, when certain students were given new medications for ADHD, but I am not

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trained enough to understand which medications will cause which side-effects. In this chapter,
Grandin wrote that parents and medical professionals should only try one thing at a time and in
smaller doses (Grandin, 2008, Chapter 6, Section 8, para. 1) to avoid harmful side-effects or
ultimately treating a symptom that may not actually be apparent. As with any medication or
treatment, Grandin also noted to stop treatments or medications that simply do not work, and
continue those that are helpful.
Chapter VII: Dating Data
This chapter briefly discussed how relationships for people with autism might develop or
appear, and how these relationships differ from relationships for people without autism. For
people without autism, most relationships have some element of physical or sexual attraction.
For people with autism, relationships form because of similar interests, not because of physical
attraction (Grandin, 2008, Chapter 7, Section 1, para. 6). People with autism also have trouble
reading social cues and can sometimes be taken advantage of emotionally, financially, or
socially. As a teacher, I can try to watch how students interact with students with autism, and
teach other students that it is not right to laugh or make fun of somebody with autism.
Since many social cues are lost on people with autism, they often have an easier time
forming relationships over the phone or other forms of technology. Although this can be a
beneficial way for people with autism to form relationships or interact with other people without
the pressure of reading social cues, I can see how this might be dangerous given the widespread
use of many forms of social media in todays world. Implications for educators or parents might
be watch which forms of social media a child with autism might use, and closely monitor how he
or she interacts on the social media to avoid potential problems.
Chapter VIII: A Cows Eye View

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After reading this chapter, it is overwhelmingly evident how passionate Grandin is about
her work in the treatment and handling of livestock and cattle. Over a third of all livestock
plants in the United States use equipment Grandin has developed, and Grandin credits her
success to her autism. Grandin has clearly had many difficulties living with and learning about
her autism, but it is fascinating that she has been able to see how she can use her form of autism
to her advantage. As an educator it is important to help students with autism figure out what
they are truly passionate about, and then find a creative way for them to use that passion
professionally. All cases of students with autism are different, and although special education
teachers are probably aware of everything Grandin has discussed in this book, it is enlightening
for me to see a small part of what special education teachers have to accomplish in such a short
time with students with autism. I think that special education teachers are too often
underappreciated and over-worked.
Chapter IX: Artists and Accountants
As in the previous chapter, Grandin again explains here how her ability to see things from
an animals perspective and to visualize her equipments performance before it runs has led to
her success with livestock handling. Grandin further compares the way an animals brain works
to the way an autistic persons brain works. Some similarities include the way both brains sense
fear, the idea that they do not really require language in order to think, the way savant brains can
memorize vast amounts of information, their ability to think in details, their sensitivities to
sound, and their simpler emotional similarities. It seems that much can be admired about these
similarities, but there is still a lot we dont understand about what exactly causes autism in the
first place. I imagine as time goes on, we will not only learn about the specific causes of autism,

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but also how to help people better cope with some of the more challenging aspects of living with
autism.
Chapter X: Einsteins Second Cousin
Albert Einstein, Vincent van Gogh, Bill Gates, and Gregor Mendel have all exhibited
autistic traits or tendencies, and at the same time have contributed incredible gains for their
respective fields. It seems their ability to fixate on certain tasks and have higher intellectual
abilities are what helped them achieve what they did. Some of the autistic traits mentioned
included limited social interactions or skills, a disregard for their appearances, or inability to
thrive or learn in their initial learning environments. Even though people might say today that
they might not judge a person by his or her appearance or social skills, I notice too often at
school that students do just this to other kids who are not autistic. I think it is important to
remind students that not everybody has the current ability to dress or interact appropriately, but
with patience, most students can learn these skills.
Chapter XI: Stairway to Heaven
Grandin addressed how her personal views of religion changed over time based on her
life experiences. Since religion can be very abstract and difficult for autistic brains to grasp,
Grandin noted that it is helpful to teach positive actions when teaching religion rather than
negative actions. For example, in order to teach a child with autism to be kind to others, it might
be helpful to have that child volunteer to shovel a neighbors driveway rather than tell him or her
to just be kind.
Religion for Grandin also became a way for her to attain truth about the world around her
that she could otherwise not get from science. Many scientists such as Einstein have also said
that although science can explain a lot, religion is also necessary.

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Action Plan
Action Plan Summary Outline
The following action plan could be implemented if I have students with autism in a
beginning level German class:
1. Create a daily routine for the class that a student with autism might easily follow.
2. Design projects that allow students, particularly those with autism, to channel their
current interests to incorporate the learning objective for German in order for the them to feel
confident about German.
3. Introduce interpersonal activities as a chance to learn how to appropriately interact
socially acceptable within the German cultural, but at the same time help a student with autism
work on his or her social skills in general and feel more socially competent.
Targeted Student Learning Objective(s)
1. Standardized goal: Wisconsins Model Academic Standards for Foreign Languages
A.1. Conversations: Students will carry on a short conversation about personal interests,
including what they have done, are doing, and are planning to do.
2. Targeted learning objective: same
Task(s) and Essential Proficiency Criteria for Targeted Learning Objective(s)
1. Task: Students will have a short conversation that follows accepted social guidelines
with at least three different classmates to find out their classmates personal interests.
2. Criteria that Prove Proficiency in Meeting Targeted Learning Objective(s)
a. Each conversation will begin with an appropriate greeting and end with an
appropriate good-bye.

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b.

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Each student will appropriately and grammatically correctly ask two

questions and wait for a response.


c. Each student will appropriately and grammatically correctly answer two
questions asked of them.
Method(s) to Assess Progress of Proficiency for Targeted Learning Objective(s)
1. Check list: The teacher will have a list of each students name and check off when he
or she hears two appropriate questions and answers while students have their conversations.
2. Answer sheet: Each student will write out the answers in the third person that their
three classmates gave to the two questions to show they have listened to the answers.
Reflective Summary
While I read Grandins book, I was reminded how different kids with autism can be
from one another, yet still show similar ways of thinking or acting. In my first year of teaching, I
taught two boys with autism; one boy was in the face-to-face classroom setting and the other boy
was over distance learning. Of the two boys, I had the most difficulties with the one in the faceto-face setting. This may very well be because the boys lied on different parts of the spectrum,
but I wonder if the boy taking German over distance learning had an easier time because the
need for social interaction was not there. Although I will not teach these same boys again, I feel
that my experience teaching and the research I have done on autism would greatly change the
way I teach students with autism in the future. I am now more organized and methodical in my
approach to German, and this might help a more inflexible brain learn a second language. I also
do not take things students say personally anymore, and I know I would not react emotionally to
a student with autism in my class.

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If I stay in my current teaching position at Regis High School, I realize that my chances
of having students with autism are a lot lower than if I were at a public school. At the same time,
I want to be prepared to teach children with broad ranges of ability and foster their
intellectual, social, and personal development in my classroom.

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References
Grandin, T. (2008). The way I see it: A personal look at autism and Aspergers. Arlington, TX:
Future Horizons, Inc.
Grandin, T. (2008). Thinking in pictures, expanded edition: My life with autism. New York, NY:
Vintage.
Grandin, T. & Panek, R. (2013). The autistic brain: Thinking across the spectrum. New Yok,
NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Wire, V. (2005). Autistic spectrum disorders and learning foreign languages. Support for
Learning, 20(3), 123-128.