Different Kinds of Minds: A Guide to Your Brain

Image of Different Kinds of Minds: A Guide to Your Brain
Release Date: 
November 28, 2023
Philomel Books
Reviewed by: 

“With a quick moving, practical and straightforward writing style, Grandin helps middle-grade readers stand to gain some valuable insights . . .”

At 76 years old, professor, animal scientist, international speaker, New York Times bestselling author, and autism advocate, Temple Grandin is far from slowing down into an obscure retirement. She’s moving full steam ahead and bringing kids along with her. In Different Kinds of Brains, Grandin delivers her message to middle-grade readers, offering them understanding, explanations, and hope. 

Although autistic herself, Grandin is able to articulate what being autistic really means: it’s another way the infinitely complex human brain works. There is not one simple way that people think, learn, or problem solve. Grandin identifies the two primary thinking processes as verbal—those who think in words, and visual—those who think in images. Within the visual realm she breaks this down further into object visual—thinking in pictures, and spatial visual—thinking in patterns.

Object visual thinkers tend to be artistic, hands-on, imaginative, and see the big picture of how things work. Spatial visual thinkers are obsessed with facts, can solve complex math problems in their head, and see patterns forming a mile away. Both object and spatial thinkers excel in certain subjects. Art, mechanical engineering, architecture, and design tend to be good fits for object visuals. Mathematics, music, programming, accounting, physics, and chemistry are areas where spatial visuals will find a more natural fit.

Grandin discusses the biased approach the educational system has for verbal thinkers who are great at learning through lectures, memorizing, spelling, and parroting information back through bubble sheet test scores. But this system is detrimental to visual thinkers who need a vastly different teaching style to succeed in the classroom. She uses her own life experience as an example for what needs to change in the school structure, but also adds snippets of biographical examples from a variety of famous inventors. Elias Howe, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, and many others make sidebar appearances throughout the book.

One particularly useful section in Different Kinds of Minds is the breakdown of jobs visual thinkers can aspire to and ways in which a young person can navigate apprenticeships or internships in various industries. This is an excellent way for kids to see where they may some day end up; life does not just stay put in middle-school mania forever. Kids who experience some resonance with Grandin’s situation will be encouraged to hang in there and keep going because life can be exceptionally satisfying as an adult. 

The primary message, after defining the different thinking styles, is that one style is not better or worse than another style. In fact, all styles are needed to solve complex puzzles in the real world. Grandin explains that on her projects she actually looks for object and spatial visual thinkers to have on her team because without them, solutions don’t work as well. She gives many examples throughout the book of how she was able to use her object visual superpowers to offer ideas that verbal thinkers would never have been able to “see.” Taking this concept one step further, Grandin believes that neurodiversity should be seen as an advantage and not a disability. She advocates for society to dig a little deeper in accepting all brain types in schools and the workforce.

Different Kinds of Brains is primarily a Temple Grandin autobiography focusing on her experience of learning with a visual brain, overcoming her autism diagnosis, and creating a career that suited her strengths. With a quick moving, practical and straightforward writing style, Grandin helps middle-grade readers stand to gain some valuable insights from one very prominent professor. Despite the equally prominent age gap, this is not your grandmother’s cliché life advice. Everything comes from one who is still walking the talk, as engaged and active as ever.