Temple Grandin is a cattle scientist first and autistic second. She is not defined by autism, rather she embraces her differences from others and utilizes her strengths to the utmost degree. Grandin credits her family for always being supportive of her passions and encouraging her to pursue her talents that would have otherwise gone unnoticed.
In the 1950s, and at the age of two and a half, Grandin was taken to a neurologist after experiencing developmental delays. The neurologist told Grandin’s mother that she had brain damage and would never live a normal life. It wasn’t until age three and a half that Grandin spoke her first word. As Grandin became older, she became fixated on three things: 1) model rockets, 2) electronics and 3) horses.
Grandin’s obsessions and thought process were different than most children her age. Grandin describes herself as a photo realistic visual thinker; she thinks in pictures. For example, if her mother told her to stop, Grandin focused on the key word and a picture of a stop sign appeared in her mind. However, it’s not just any stop sign, it’s a specific stop sign that may be from 10 years ago. Her thoughts in pictures are extremely detailed and ultimately lead to other thoughts in the form of pictures. Grandin doesn’t see the words, she sees the pictures.
As a photo realistic visual thinker with a passion for animals, it was only natural that Grandin would revolutionize the cattle industry in North America because of her brain and the way it works.
Grandin visited a cattle ranch one day and noticed that the cows were extremely frightened every time they were pushed through channels on their way to the slaughterhouse. Grandin also noticed that there was a flag blowing in the wind and immediately concluded that cows do not like rapid movement and high contrast. From this conclusion, Grandin created a geometric series of channels and pathways to help the cows enter the slaughterhouse smoothly and without fear. Over half of the slaughterhouses in North America now use Grandin’s humane creation.
As someone who was once labeled as having brain damage, Grandin embraced her differences from those around her and pursued her strong passions. Individuals with autism can be labeled, rather than encouraged to embrace their different ways of thinking. One of the moments I loved most during Grandin’s TED Talk is that any time a child comes up to talk to her about being autistic, she encourages the child to talk about a passion they have, rather than autism. Grandin wants to help develop autistic children’s strengths, rather than focus on their weaknesses. This allows the child to grow and move past the limitations that have been set out for them. Grandin has accomplished many things in her life as a result of embracing her different way of thinking and never feeling as though she has limitations in life. This is something we can all learn from in life.