What are the similarities and differences between Temple Grandin and Stephen Wiltshire?

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carolynosborne eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Temple Grandin and Stephen Wiltshire share a neurology and a means of expression, however, their lives also differ significantly. Both Grandin and Wiltshire were diagnosed early with autism and needed to be taught skills and behaviors that people not on the autism spectrum take for granted. For example, both had to be taught social skills. Because of autism, both share having strong interests in very particular things and learning a lot about their special interests. In fact, they share an interest in drawing, although they use their prodigious skills in very different ways.

Temple Grandin wrote a book called Thinking in Pictures in which she compares her mind to a CAD program on a computer. She is a visual thinker, almost to the exclusion of language, and she has used this skill to design animal handling facilities; when she designs, she can see the entire building in her mind. She uses her enhanced fight or flight feelings, common in autism, as a means for understanding the animals as they move from one place to another and experience various events.

Stephen Wiltshire is also a visual thinker but his interest has been in automobiles and cityscapes. Like Grandin, he can visualize extremely well in his mind and make very complex, detailed drawings from just brief encounters, such as riding over a city in a helicopter.

Both Wiltshire and Grandin are examples of people who have constructed positive lives for themselves despite struggles to cope with social settings in which their ways of thinking are not understood by other people.  

jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Stephen Wiltshire and Temple Grandin are both very gifted people with autism who spent the early years of their childhoods unable to speak. Wiltshire is a British artist who is able to render entire cityscapes in detail after only having seen a scene for mere seconds. He was mute at birth and learned to speak fully at age 9 after receiving help. Working with the help of mentors and teachers, he became a commissioned artist as a child and now exhibits his work worldwide.

Temple Grandin was also born mute (she was born in Boston) and, with the encouragement of her parents and the help of speech therapists, learned to speak at age 3. Though she struggled to be accepted as a teenager and faced bullying, she was encouraged by her teachers and became a professor of animal science who specializes in the treatment and behavior of livestock. She is widely recognized as an expert in her field.

Both Grandin and Wiltshire were encouraged by teachers and mentors, and they grew from children who could not speak into talented adults. Though their fields are different, they show the abilities of people with autism and the importance of encouraging and helping children with autism to develop their special talents. They also both show extraordinary talents that so-called "neurotypical" people do not have, so having autism has helped them in their fields.