Temple Grandin: An Outsider like the Rest of Us
“Different.” “Out of place.” “Strange.”
Rare is the person who has not at some time felt the pains of being an outsider.
Temple Grandin is an extreme example who has wrestled her differentness into triumphs.
She is perhaps the most famous of the world’s countless professionally successful people with autism. Her pioneering understanding of animals, drawing on her own special sensitivities, has made her one of the world’s leading designers of facilities to increase the humane treatment of livestock. A feature-length film on her early years starring Claire Danes was shown this winter on HBO.
An expert on animal behavior who holds a Ph.D in Animal Science from the University of Illinois, she is a professor at Colorado State University who has designed humane handling systems for half the cattle-processing facilities in the US. Many include ramps created to channel animals’ natural movements and impulses for herding.
She grew up with what doctors originally wrote off as incurable peculiarities – withdrawal, skittishness, difficulty responding to other people. Thanks to a mother who refused to give up on her, she eventually found teachers and mentors who encouraged her interests in science, supported her awakening sense of her own creative powers, tolerated her stubborn streak, and eventually recognized her gifts.
After her early designs for handling cattle proved that animals could be managed not only with less cruelty but at lower costs than was common, her career began to take off. So did her willingness to be an advocate for others with conditions on what is now called the “autistic spectrum.”
She now has written seven books and 700 articles, is in high demand as a speaker, and has been featured on media from People to the Today Show. When Pace’s Professor of Education Dianne Zager, director of the Center for Teaching and Research in Autism, wrote “Autism Spectrum Disorders: Identification, Education, and Treatment,” now in its third edition, Grandin wrote the introduction.
Grandin’s appearance at Pace dovetails with this year’s Common Reading selection, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” a bestselling novel that imaginatively takes readers inside the brave and funny perceptions of a brilliant 15-year-old who happens to have autism.
For reasons that are much debated, the incidence of people with autistic-spectrum issues appears to be increasing in the US and other parts of the world. But Grandin’s story is less about people who can too easily be dismissed as different than it is about the moments of being the “other” that most people have been through.
As one observer noted, “Grandin’s books about her interior life as an autistic person have increased the world's understanding of the condition with personal immediacy…. She is revered … perhaps because …she is a voice for those who are sometimes challenged to make themselves heard.”