By Heather O.
(I don’t think this is going to be funny, and it doesn’t involve my kids. I won’t be offended if you skip it. If you are a visual person, however, and think you have some ideas about how I can be a more visual person, well please, read on.)
I’m a verbal person. I don’t know if I can say I’m a verbal learner, but I do think better if I can talk through things, either with a friend, my husband, or whatever. For example, when I’m preparing a RS lesson, or a talk, I prepare by talking it through, sometimes preparing a lesson in front of my mirror in the bathroom. I know, it makes me sound crazy, but it’s the best way I know of to organize my thoughts—I speak them out loud to organize them. I wrote speeches for debate in high school this way, too. I guess you could say I wrote them backwards–I’d make up a speech by talking first, then write it down so I wouldn’t forget what I said. Basically, if I had a speech to write, I’d lock myself in my bedroom and talk to myself for a few hours.
I’ve mentioned before that I’m learning how to do a different kind of speech therapy using equine movement as a treatment strategy to facilitate functional outcomes. That’s a fancy way of saying some kids talk better if you stick them on a horse. It’s really really cool, and I’m learning everything I can about it. I’m also trying to learn everything I can about horses, as I didn’t grow up around them, and have only even ridden them a handful of times in my life.
The materials I’ve gathered on horses have taught me at least two things so far:
1) Horses are prey animals, so they are actually closer in temperament to a deer than, say, a dog, who is a predator
2) Horses are visual creatures with extreme sensory perceptions.
Humans are not extreme sensory creatures. Or, at least, not in the way animals are. In order to have higher intellectual processing, we screen out a lot of sensory input in our environment. We couldn’t function the way we do if every coat flapping on a fence freaked us out, or if we couldn’t decipher shadows on the ground as just shadows and not uneven or dangerous footing. We screen and tune out the concrete so we can focus on the abstract. It’s what sets us apart from animals, who are not really very capable of abstract thought, despite what the animal psychics tell us about cats having ESP.
(Incidentally, this is one of the common problems with autistic folks. Often their mental attention is caught up with the sensory details in their environment, and it’s sometimes difficult to get them past those details, be it visual, auditory, or tactile input.)
I’m not a very visual person. I can remember struggling with this as far back as Kindergarten. So often, adults and teachers give kids a blank piece of paper and some crayons and say, “Draw a picture!” I know lots of kids love this. But I would sit and wonder what they wanted me to draw. I would watch other kids to figure out what THEY were drawing, because for the life of me, I couldn’t come up with a single thing. I was always relieved when we had to draw something from a story, because then I would have a subject for my art. But I couldn’t (and still can’t) draw very well, and it was always a struggle.
In 6th grade, I had a teacher who was very VERY visual. She was an excellent artist who loved to draw, and she assigned all kinds of art projects to us. I’m sure she thought she was providing a wonderful open learning environment for her students, and for some kids, I’m sure it worked. For me, it was a slog, and I hated it. I was much happier writing lists of word definitions than drawing a picture of our talents. (Yes, that was a real assignment from our teacher, a part of a “get to know you” activity at the beginning of the year. She hung all our pictures up on the wall with our names beside them. My picture sucked, and I had to look at it next to the other drawings for months.)
So my question is, can a verbal thinker be taught to think visually? Can somebody who memorizes driving routes before she can understand how a city is laid out on a map be taught to seek out visual stimuli in her environment, to think like a prey animal who won’t step on a yellow hoola-hoop on the ground because it’s just TOO SCARY? Can I learn to think like a horse, or am I doomed to be the absent minded human?
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