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The Life and Legacy of Temple Grandin

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Temple Grandin, an extraordinary woman with autism described herself as different, but not less. In the 1950s and 60s, there was less tolerance for people with autism, than there is today. No one understood Grandin, or what she was feeling inside, some even doubted she had a brain. Grandin’s determination and intelligence as well as the support of a few key people in her life helped her achieve her goals of changing people’s perception of autism, and overcoming the intolerance of others. These traits are crucial for the success of almost any young person, but are even more essential to people with autism and other disabilities. At a time when autism was rarely researched or known, Temple Grandin exhibited determination and hard work while struggling with the disease herself, as she fought for the rights of autistic individuals and the humane treatment of animals. Her passion for animal rights was always overlooked by others that dismissed her because of her developmental disorder, however her legacy lives on through her inventions and the conversation she began around the discrimination, others like her were facing.

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Growing up as a silent and unresponsive toddler, Grandin’s parents knew she was different. From a very young age, Grandin’s life drastically changed as she spent the rest of her life in darkness and silence, which was caused by her autism. According to Geraldine Collier author of “Picture Hope: Picture Temple Grandin”, at age two and a half Grandin had no interest for others. The illness Temple Grandin underwent had a significant impact on her life; Grandin had to learn how to adapt to her new lifestyle from a young age. As she was adjusting to her new life, she encountered several obstacles along the way. For instance, Catherine Johnson author of “Animals in Translation”, expressed that Grandin’s lack of communication skills led her to “get kicked out of high school because of her violence toward other students.” Grandin’s disability made it difficult to make friends and play with peers, in most social situations she didn’t know what to do. This caused her behavior to change drastically as she noticed how constricted her life was compared to others around her. Grandin’s frustration led her to use violence as a way of releasing anger. In the book “The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum”, the author Richard Panek describes how “Some people believe that individuals with autism do not have emotions. Grandin has emotions, but they are more like the emotions of a child than of an adult.” Temple felt ashamed and assaulted by her own sensory system. She never knew why she was different, but the information carried to her brain was like a gambled mess. Kids with autism have their own ways of dealing with painful noises, confusing words, and overwhelming sensations. Temple’s story is far more than overcoming a disability; her life shows us the courage and creativity of a person the blessing of having autism.

Along her journey there were many people who encouraged Grandin to pursue her dreams and never let go of hope. Grandin was not afraid of openly discussing her fears and challenges she faced in both her professional and personal relationships. Mentors like William Carlock, who worked with her since high school at a very young age, believed she had great potential for success. In Grandin’s TED-Ed video, she recalled how her science teacher pushed her to pursue her passion, rather than hold back because of her disability. Temple was able to overcome what could have been a limitation, her autism, with help from Carlock who nurtured her obsessions and let her autism become a source of strength. Being autistic has its good and bads, and Temple took control and embraced her autism for the greater good. When Grandin was 15, she was sent to her aunt’s ranch in the West, this would be a very important moment in her life. While at the ranch, Grandin interacted with her aunt’s cattle and realized the deep connection she felt for them. She observed that she and the cattle viewed the world in the same way; she believes her ability to ‘think in pictures’ like a cow derives from her autism. Here she encountered the cattle chute for the first time, and made the connection between its calming pressure for the cattle and her own nervous system. She felt a sense of empathy for them that she couldn’t feel for people. Her love for animals only grew larger, as she began to develop a unique connection with these animals. This later allowed her to make improvements in the in the meatpacking industry, when she noticed the poor treatment of animals.

When Grandin entered the work field, she became one of the greatest inventors in her field. She started working in feedlots, which were horrible in the 1970s. Workers didn’t take the animals thoughts or emotions into account. They only focused on forcing the cattle to move along the assembly line, leading to group panic, injuries and even death. Given her empathy for cattle, Temple felt their emotions at every step of the process, “I felt their fear, pain and sense of panic”. Grandin went through the entire production as if she were an animal, and made changes based on what the animal would see and feel. The men in the feedlots laughed at her crazy ideas of ‘cattle psychology’, but when her design was done, they were blown away when the cattle moved flawlessly through the feedlot. When Temple joined the cattle industry, many people disapproved of Grandin because of her autism, and believed she could not do well in her job. Her communication with others was often blunt, and as a result she sometimes found herself alienated from co-workers. Grandin later found she had a unique connection with animals, which most of her colleagues did not have, giving her a perspective like that of no other expert in her field. In her interview with Rosalie Winward, Grandin states:

I think in pictures. Words are like a second language to me. I translate both spoken and written words into full-color movies, complete with sound, which run like a VCR tape in my head. When somebody speaks to me, his words are instantly translated into pictures. Language-based thinkers often find this phenomenon difficult to understand, but in my job as an equiptmentent designer for the livesotck industry, visual thinking is a tremendous advantage. Grandin’s natural inclination toward visual thinking, leads her to process animal thinking through a completely different visual lens. Not everyone is a visual thinker, and most people without autism have a tendency to overlook, or not even register the visual aspect of things. Grandin’s visual thinking is a key point that emphasizes her central idea, and her success in the meatpacking industry. Grandin was one of the first scientists to share her opinion on the treatment of cattle in livestock facilities. Grandin believed that animals being mistreated in livestock facilities was a big problem. In her book, “Thinking In Pictures: My Life With Autism”, she discusses how she developed a curved lane design system for meatpacking industries, to make it more comfortable for cattle as they are getting ready to be slaughtered. Grandin witnessed many insufficiencies in the meatpacking industry and cruelty towards animals. She has helped many companies in the meatpacking industry to become more efficient and respectful toward animals by reducing their stresses. Temple believes that even the animals who feed us deserve to be handled with the utmost respect and be handled properly. Grandin is different because she is autistic, but she used autism to her advantage. Animal behavior was right field for Grandin, because she was missing the social understanding, which she made up for in understanding animals.

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Grandin has had many achievements, as well as start her own organization. At a time when autism was rarely researched or known, Temple Grandin exhibited determination and hard work while struggling with the disease herself, as she fought for the rights of autistic individuals and the humane treatment of animals. Her passion for animal rights was always overlooked by others that dismissed her because of her developmental disorder, however her legacy lives on through her inventions and the conversation she began around the discrimination others like her, were facing. Temple Grandin’s determination and hard work while struggling with autism, a disorder unknown at the time, helped her fight for the rights of autistic individuals and the humane treatment of animals. Some people may have given up due to the multiple obstacles, but Grandin stopped thinking of her autism as a weakness, and instead embraced her disability, using it to fuel her passion for change in society. Along the way, Grandin faced much opposition from those in her community, but Grandin overcame this struggle and let her voice be heard. Grandin’s fight for change has earned her mass recognition, which has spread her voice for change and has created a positive impact for people all around the world.

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