"There's no way I would not want to be autistic," Temple Grandin asserts. "That's who I am."
she talks about her autism, a common mental development disorder, she
likens it to the number of Internet connections in a large office
building. Some departments have extra cables running to the brain, she
says, while others do not. She concludes, "I got hooked up, sort of, in
the logic department and visual thinking department, and I like the way
I think. I like my very clear, logical, visual kinds of thinking."
Grandin says growing up with autism a challenge at first
is known about autism today, and there was even less known when Grandin
was born in 1947. Unable to speak until she was 4 years old, she
credits a supportive family for helping develop her strengths.
was good at art, horrible at algebra," she recalls. "My parents really
encouraged art. And then later on, my mentor science teacher, he was
crucial in motivating me to study."
She describes her struggles
to fit in at school and her teenage years as "horrible," but she went
on to earn a bachelor's degree in psychology from Franklin Pierce
College in New Hampshire, a master's in animal science from Arizona
State University, and a doctorate from the University of Illinois in
Thinking visually in a language-oriented society has been
a challenge for Grandin. She says when she was younger, she didn't know
that other people didn't think in pictures like she does.
used to get into arguments with engineers, because I'd think, 'Couldn't
they see it? Couldn't they see it when they looked at the drawing that
it just wasn't going to work?'"
Ability to think visually helps woman see world from animals' perspective
Her heightened visual ability
also gives Grandin a unique insight into the minds of cattle. Like some
humans with autism, Grandin says cattle are also afraid of light, loud
sounds and objects that move suddenly.
"And then it became
obvious to me, when I learned that my thinking was different, that it
has to be more like how animals think. Because animals obviously DO
think. But some philosophers think it's impossible to have thinking
unless you have language. And I'm going [saying], 'Well that's just
Grandin began working with animals and designing
more humane ways of handling cattle in the early 1970s. But her ideas -
and career - were slow to find a following.
"People thought I was really weird," she admits, "So I had to sell my work, not my personality."
labored at more than 30 cattle feed yards throughout Arizona, analyzing
what worked and what didn't before putting all the pieces together to
create totally new and innovative designs.
"Most people out
there are treating cattle really badly," she observes. "But then you'd
find a few people - I'd call them the believers - that believed in what
I was doing. And I would work with those people. And the thing is, you
have to have perseverance. You have to just keep working on things."
Livestock facilities incorporate suggestions for more humane treatment
than one-third of all livestock facilities in the United States now
incorporate her practices, including Swift and Company, one of the
world's biggest meatpackers, based in Greeley, Colorado. Sheri Jenkins,
the company's director of food safety, technology and validation, is a
former student of Grandin.
"She'll want to walk the pens as
the animal would," Jenkins says, "aware of everything, and to get the
same feeling that they have, so that she can see from their point of
view what might be causing them to balk or to not want to move past
that point or to get really nervous or anything of that nature."
down the chute and getting that cow's eye view is important, Grandin
says, "[because] little details that we do not tend to notice, the
animals notice." She says most of the plants that follow her
recommendations only needed to make minor adjustments: installing
non-slip flooring, putting up solid sides where they were needed and
either adding a light or moving lights.
Grandin committed to improving animals' lives
In addition to
consulting with the meatpacking industry, Grandin spends most of her
time today teaching animal behavior courses at Colorado State
University, writing books and, especially, helping others with autism.
me, the most important meaning of life is that you actually do things
that improve things out there in the world," she insists, adding, "Too
many people get into a whole lot of ideology, but they're not doing
things on the ground [with practical results]."
Many people have
asked Grandin how she can care so much about animals while being
involved in the slaughter industry. Her answer is as clear and logical
as her thinking. Everything dies eventually, she says, but we humans
owe the animals we eat a good life while they're here.
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