Different Kinds of Thinking

Today we discussed the different ways people think. Most people have a certain way they think and learn, whether it be visually, verbally, or in patterns. It is vitally important for teachers and therapists to understand and recognize these different kinds of thinking so that we can support the child’s needs and foster their abilities, rather than training them to think differently. 

Temple Grandin is a world renowned author and advocate for those with Autism. She has her Ph.D in Animal Sciences and is a professor at Colorado State University, and she is diagnosed with Autism. I highly recommend reading her article “Thinking In Pictures” where she talks about her style of thinking, how she came to understand it, and how she now uses it to her benefit. In her article, she outlines the 3 types of thinking in the specialized brains of those with autism.

  1. Visual thinkers, like me, think in photographically specific images. There are degrees of specificity of visual thinking. I can test run a machine in my head with full motion. Interviews with nonautistic visual thinkers indicated that they can only visualize still images. These images may range in specificity from images of specific places to more vague conceptual images. Learning algebra was impossible and a foreign language was difficult. Highly specific visual thinkers should skip algebra and study more visual forms of math such as trigonometry or geometry. Children who are visual thinkers will often be good at drawing, other arts, and building things with building toys such as Lego’s. Many children who are visual thinkers like maps, flags, and photographs. Visual thinkers are well suited to jobs in drafting, graphic design, training animals, auto mechanics, jewelry making, construction, and factory automation.
  2. Music and math thinkers think in patterns. These people often excel at math, chess, and computer programming. Some of these individuals have explained to me that they see patterns and relationships between patterns and numbers instead of photographic images. As children they may play music by ear and be interested in music. Music and math minds often have careers in computer programming, chemistry, statistics, engineering, music, and physics. Written language is not required for pattern thinking. The pre-literate Incas used complex bundles of knotted cords to keep track of taxes, labor, and trading among a thousand people.
  3. Verbal logic thinkers think in word details. They often love history, foreign languages, weather statistics, and stock market reports. As children they often have a vast knowledge of sports scores. They are not visual thinkers and they are often poor at drawing. Children with speech delays are more likely to become visual or music and math thinkers. Many of these individuals had no speech delays, and they became word specialists. These individuals have found successful careers in language translation, journalism, accounting, speech therapy, special education, library work, or financial analysis.

You can read the full article here: http://www.grandin.com/inc/visual.thinking.html

I also recommend watching her TedTalk about different kinds of thinking and how individuals with highly specialized ways of thinking should be encouraged to pursue their abilities rather than being held back because of the unique way they think and learn.


While it is extremely important for us to teach children useful, everyday skills, as well as functional social skills, the first step in reaching a child with special needs is recognizing how they process, retain, and express information. Once we are able to identify that, we can work with them to adjust how they cope with difficult situations, teach them how to express their thoughts and emotions, and help them become independent individuals.

It is an interesting exercise to take some time to identify how YOU think and learn and how it effects your daily life! Give it a try! 

Til next time,



Eleven percent of children in the United States have been diagnosed with ADHD and 1 in 88 children have been identified with having autism.  People who have these diagnoses exhibit trouble with cognition, specifically with attention and inhibitory control.  So why use music therapy to help with attention?

  • Rhythm creates a temporal structure for neurons to fire
  • Rhythm creates an organized time frame, helps with learning and perception
  • Rhythm can create the right amount of predictability
  • Pleasant music increases blood flow to the basal ganglia and prefrontal cortex and decreases blood flow to the flight or fight response area in the amygdala

Below is an example of an ABA therapist working on joint attention with a child with autism.  Music therapists use similar techniques, but using musical instruments and songs.

Here is an example of a music therapist working on joint attention with a child.  You can also see how well the child’s attention is sustained while playing an instrument.  Playing an instrument is a great way for someone to practice and develop sustaining attention to a task as well as other types of attention and cognitive skills.

Mary Jane

Meet the Intern Behind the Posts: Michelle “Toby” Tobias

Toby, intern at the Music Therapy Center of California, is pursuing her degree in Music Therapy with a concentration in Vocal Performance from Radford University. Toby’s primary instrument is voice, but she has been playing guitar and piano since her early teens. She also enjoys writing and recording original songs and playing with other musicians as well.

Toby first decided to study music therapy in 2007 when she was interning at Invisible Children, a San Diego based non-profit raising awareness and funds for ex-child soldiers in east Africa. While working with youth and other volunteers from around the United States, Toby learned about what it means to pursue your passions and started contemplating what it was she wanted pursue and if it could help others. After watching a short documentary about music therapy and rehabilitation overseas, she decided pursuing music therapy as a career was a way for her to both follow her love for music and to serve people in her community.

“I can’t imagine a life without music. Listening to and playing music has always been a way for me to express my thoughts and feelings and make connections with others. I love that music therapy is so multifaceted; the scientific research is fascinating, but it doesn’t get in the way of music being fun and engaging for groups and individuals. I love sharing special moments with people through music and I’m excited to be working in a field where I am able to bring positive change to their lives by creating music together!”


Speech and Language


This is my first post as an intern at MTCCA and I’m excited to share with others the amazing things I’m learning about music therapy and the work that we do!

Today we were talking about speech and language development through music. Music is an amazing tool to help develop and enhance language skills of kids and adults of all backgrounds. Because of the inherent structural qualities in music, like tempo & rhythm, melody, and repetitions of sections or verses, our brains and bodies can quickly connect with what we are hearing, oftentimes without even thinking about it! One of the reasons the brain work so well in the context of music is because once we connect with a rhythm and structure of a song we can anticipate what is coming next and we want there to be a resolution to our anticipation.

Here is a cool example of anticipation in music lead by the multi-talented speaker and musician, Bobby McFerrin. Watch for what happens at the 38 second mark!


Now, this example does not have to do specifically with speech and language, but it is a good example of how we respond to music when we are anticipating what should be next. Because music is fun and engaging for so many individuals, they are motivated to work to keep the music or the singing going. So for a child who is engaged in music making, but has difficulties with speech or language, we will often sing a line or phrase they know well except for the last word and pause the music until they verbalize that target word, then the music continues. For example, “Up above the world so_____, like a diamond in the _____,” and so on. This prompt is very basic, but it can work as a foundation for children who are learning how and when to give appropriate responses, producing accurate articulation, making eye contact and watching for cues, and so much more!

That’s my realization of the day! Stay tuned for more interesting thoughts and information about music therapy in our next post!

-Michelle “Toby” Tobias