Temple Grandin’s triumph over the challenges of autism makes clear there is room and need in the world for many different kinds of minds.
Professor, inventor, author
Claire Danes starred as “Temple Grandin” in HBO’s award-winning 2010 biographical movie about Grandin’s autism and work in animal science. She is one of the top scientists in the humane livestock handling industry.Today she teaches courses on livestock behavior and facility design at Colorado State University and consults with the livestock industry on facility design, livestock handling and animal welfare.Grandin invented a hug machine, or squeeze box, designed to relieve stress using deep pressure, usually for autistic persons.Her books “Animals in Translation” and “Animals Make Us Human” were both on The New York Times best-seller list. Grandin.com
Grandin, 65, a professor of animal sciences at Colorado State University, spoke Tuesday at the College of Charleston’s Sottile Theatre. Her talk was titled “Thinking in Pictures,” which describes how she experiences the world.
Grandin didn’t talk until she was 4 years old, and medical professionals suggested to her mother that she be institutionalized. But Grandin grew up to earn a doctoral degree, become an expert in animal sciences, a noted voice on the humane treatment of livestock and an internationally renowned speaker and disability-rights advocate. HBO made a movie about Grandin’s life in 2010.
Grandin attributes much of her success to her mother, who pushed her to succeed despite having autism, and to a high school teacher, who championed her interest in science.
“Different kinds of minds are good at different things,” Grandin said. “And different types of minds can work well together.” People just think differently, she said.
For instance, some people are visual thinkers, who see pictures, and some others are pattern thinkers, who excel in music and math. “We’ve got to get rid of the fight between the accountants and the artists.”
Grandin, who revolutionized the humane handling of livestock, said some very different types of minds have made a huge impact on the world. “Half of Silicon Valley is on the spectrum,” she said, referring to the range of autism-like disorders.
Autism is a huge spectrum, she said. On one end you have Einstein. On the other, you have people who never will be able to pursue higher education.
In addition to her evening presentation, Grandin met during the day Tuesday with students in the college’s REACH program, which is for students with intellectual disabilities.
She had a tough-love approach with students, telling them they had to work hard to learn social rules if they wanted to be successful. “It’s like being in a play,” she said.
And she told students that when they begin searching for a job, they should look for ways to be hired other than “coming through the front door.” People with disabilities often are turned away by hiring managers and human resources departments, she said. So students should network and make connections instead of traditional job hunting methods, such as sending in resumes. “Find the back door,” she encouraged them.
She also told them to prepare portfolios or other displays of their work. “Sell your work rather than yourself,” she said.
Grandin said many people with disabilities today need to be pushed a bit harder to do things on their own, such as shopping and managing money. “Don’t have a handicapped mentality,” she said. “If you don’t stretch these kids, they don’t develop.”
But Grandin said she never would push people with disabilities into things they can’t do, such as a situation that might overload their senses.
Payson Fort, a student in the college’s REACH program, said she was inspired by Grandin’s talk. Fort, who’s from Spartanburg and plans to eventually work in the nursing field, said she was moved when Grandin shared with students about some horrible times in high school. Fort said high school also was difficult for her, socially and academically. “Math was horrible,” she said.
Grandin said it’s important for special education teachers to try different methods with different students to see what works. Unfortunately, she said, many special education teachers work well with students with the most severe disabilities, but many are not as good working with higher functioning students on how to succeed academically and live independently.
Charlee Sullivan, another REACH student, said she was inspired by Grandin’s talk with students. “She’s not letting autism get the best of her.”
Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491 or on Twitter @dianeknich.