|Rodeo Trail Ride. February 24th, 2012. Image by Houston Chronicle.|
Whether you are a native Houstonian or a recent transplant, early spring is likely to be an exciting time: The Rodeo is in town! I love the Rodeo, it reminds me of the pageantry of the August Fair in Chinandega (my childhood hometown in Nicaragua), and like in Chinandega, it seems that the excitement of the Rodeo is a city-wide phenomenon. There is a beautiful provincialism about this time of year that makes me forget I live in modern sprawling city, so similar to many other American cities, and instead I feel that Houston is a distinct place, with its own culture and its own flavor.
|The Rodeo Parade. Image by Mayra Beltran. Houston Chronicle.|
|Rodeo competitions. Image by the Houston Chronicle.|
Besides admiring the magnificent animals on display, every year brings something new to be discovered, like the time we visited on "Go Tejano" day and saw the beautiful and fearless amazons riding side saddle on their prancing horses, or like this year when we learned that Dr. Temple Grandin was to give a lecture! I know that the highlight of our evening should have been John Legend's concert (and it was great fun, don't get me wrong), but listening to Dr. Grandin recount her struggles with autism, and how she has applied her unique skills to the humane treatment of animals was a far more enjoyable experience.
|Dr. Temple Grandin speaks at the Houston Rodeo. Image by Nadia Palacios Lauterbach.|
Dr. Grandin, a professor of animal science at Colorado State University, described to us the inner workings of her brain (which she calls a visual brain), and how unlike most other people whose minds formulate concepts through vague ideas, Dr. Grandin carries in her mind a collection of concrete examples and specific images which she has seen or experienced throughout her life; this unique disposition allows her to categorize and solve problems, and understand the behavior of animals.
Dr. Grandin explained that autistic brains tend to be specialist brains, and she classifies them into three groups, each with advantages and disadvantages: Photo realistic thinkers (like her) who tend to be poor at algebra, pattern thinkers who excel in math and music but may have trouble reading, and verbal thinkers who know every fact about everything but cannot draw. The visual autistic brain, Dr. Grandin says, sees thoughts and words like a Google Image slide show, picking out the details while the "normal" brain ignores the details. "If someone says the word factory, most people think of a vague place. I think in detail of every factory I ever saw, like the John Deere plant in Moline. Animals are sensory thinkers, thinking in pictures, smells, sounds. They don’t think in terms of language. I don’t either."
Dr. Grandin's principal message is that the world needs different types of brains and children need a variety of stimuli to improve their learning; she advocates for a return to what she calls "hands on" classes, because language (the social aspect of our brain) obscures the visual thinking we share with animals: "to take art, drafting, music out of the schools is a critical mistake, as autistic kids need to have these programs to nurture their 'fixation'. These kids are really smart, and teachers need to know how to direct these kids." I couldn't agree more and I would venture to stay that all children, autistic or not, need art in their lives.
The Rodeo stays in Houston until March 18th.
|Image by Nadia Palacios Lauterbach.|