I am super excited about the upcoming HBO biopic Temple Grandin, based on the life of lecturer, best-selling author, autism advocate and professor of animal science at Colorado State University, Dr. Temple Grandin.
Grandin, who is among the most famous individuals with autism in the world, was diagnosed with autism as a child in 1950. She overcame many personal and educational challenges before becoming an inventor and earning a Ph.D. in animal science. As an adult, she is an advocate for people on the autism spectrum, speaks regularly at autism conferences and offers advice to parents with autistic children. Grandin has also devoted much of her career to improving the treatment of livestock animals.
At age 18 she invented a device called a Hug Machine – a deep pressure device designed to calm hypersensitive persons. It is typically used to treat individuals with autism spectrum disorders. She came up with the idea after noting the way cattle were vaccinated while confined in a squeeze chute on her aunt’s ranch. After pressure was administered to the animals, they calmed down, and Grandin correctly predicted that such a device might settle her own hypersensitivity.
Grandin relates easily to animals and has to work hard to interact socially with other people. She says:
I’m a visual thinker, not a language-based thinker. My brain is like Google Images. 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.
Grandin harnessed her “disorder” to better understand animal behavior, and became one of the top designers of livestock facilities in the nation. She advises the livestock industry in animal behavior and has created improvements to animal handling systems in meat plants.
[T]he things that scare a prey/species animal like cattle are a whole lot of little visual details that people just don’t tend to notice. And one of the big problems they used to have is the people just wanted to get out there and yell and scream and push and shove and you know more and more prods. Rather than remove the things that the cattle were afraid of.
A few years ago, American Public Media accompanied Grandin on slaughterhouse inspections she performed for McDonald’s. The resulting story is fascinating, describing the influence Grandin has had on the meat industry and providing a glimpse into her everyday life.
I so strongly admire Dr. Grandin’s philosophy, her talents and her career. I bet she has to deal with some nasty sexism in her field, too. Temple Grandin is based upon Grandin’s memoirs, Emergence and Thinking in Pictures. It airs on HBO on Saturday, February 6.