Temple Grandin visits Carbondale on Tuesday
Post Independent Correspondent
Temple Grandin, a professor of animal science at Colorado State University and the most well-known adult in the world with autism, will give presentations Tuesday on autism and animal science at Carbondale’s Third Street Center. Her appearance is sold out.
Grandin was diagnosed with autism at the age of 2, and did not speak until the age of 4, communicating instead by screaming or humming. This was in 1950, when an autism diagnosis was thought to mean a child would have no chance at what society would consider a social, productive and successful life.
Psychiatrists recommended to her parents that Temple be institutionalized, but they refused to do so. They instead hired a nanny to help with her development, and from elementary school on, Grandin found mentors who were supportive and understanding of her different way of seeing the world around her.
Today Grandin holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology, a master’s and doctoral degree in animal science, and is known for her groundbreaking work in autism, particularly about the sensitivity to touch and her “hug machine.” Grandin has also developed her talents into a career as a livestock-handling equipment designer, which has allowed her to design facilities in which half of the cattle in the United States are handled. She has consulted with the likes of McDonald’s and Burger King.
“We generalize that autism is a death sentence when in fact nothing would get done without it,” Grandin said in a telephone interview. “Einstein didn’t speak until the age of 3, so he was most likely mildly autistic. Steve Jobs was probably on the spectrum. It isn’t like tuberculosis where you have it or you don’t. It’s a spectrum, we call it the autistic spectrum for a reason. We put too much emphasis on the deficits, and fail to realize nothing would get done if autism didn’t exist.”
Grandin emphasizes that today’s children who are labeled as autistic were the past’s geeks and nerds, and the people who create the world’s most innovative technology today.
“Kids get labeled as autistic, and somehow that equates to hopelessness, which is in fact wrong,” Grandin said. “There are different and special and talented kids who could grow up to be engineers and artists that shape the world as we see it. Too many intelligent kids are diagnosed as autistic and left to do nothing when there is always something to be done.
“Early intervention is key. Do not let them sit around doing nothing, when you can teach them something vital, whether it’s work skills or just learning how to shake someone’s hand. If you take out social circuitry for one specialized skill, you’ll come to realize this child is extremely gifted.”
Grandin makes the point that different minds think in different ways, and how each mind can eventually come to work together to form a solution to a problem one person might not be able to solve on their own.
Grandin is a visual thinker. She describes her way of thinking as typing in keywords to a search bar, and coming up with image after image in her mind like a Google Images search page. Math is not her specialty. Algebra, for Grandin, is the worst. It simply does not make sense to her. If she can’t see it, she cannot understand it, as well as she would if she could see the problem physically for herself. Her visual way of looking at the world is actually what has helped her to design livestock-handling equipment.
“My visual thinking has helped me to work with animals. I have been able to understand what scares a cow or how to keep the cows calm. I can do a test run of an invention in my head, and know what it does before something goes wrong. I never would have been able to do so if I was not a visual thinker, and if I did not have autism,” Grandin says. “There are math thinkers and word thinkers and visual thinkers, and these minds can come together to solve the world’s problems by seeing something another person’s brain cannot. You can’t do everything one way. Autism is a different way of looking at something.”
The Sopris Sun said that besides her talks, Grandin will tour Sustainable Settings Ranch and review plans for a dairy barn and livestock handling corrals.
Her visit was arranged by Ascendigo, a Carbondale-based nonprofit that works to provide a range of athletic, recreational and work opportunities for people with autism. She also will tour the Yellow House, a home that has been specifically modified to address the living needs of people with developmental disabilities, particularly autism.
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