Dr. Temple Grandin did not speak until she was four years old. She was labeled as “brain damaged” as a child. As an adolescent, she was called “nerdy,” “weird,” or “tape recorder,” as she often repeated herself. Her conversational and social skills did not fit the norm, but for Temple Grandin, her separation from societal strictures is exactly what allowed her to become the successful and empathetic academician, autism advocate, and prodigious animal scientist she is today.
Dr. Grandin’s diagnosis with autism at age two did not doom her to a life of unproductivity. Neither she nor her parents believed that her differences were enough to make her “lesser,” and with the help of her family and dedicated mentors, Temple Grandin defied the odds. She earned a degree in psychology from Franklin Pierce College, a master’s degree in animal science from Arizona State University, and a doctoral degree in animal science from the University of Illinois. Her academic achievements alone speak volumes against the diagnosis, which many assumed would sentence her to an unaccomplished life. But her actions and the way she has utilized her unique ways of thinking and understanding are evidence of remarkable perseverance and persistence.
Dr. Grandin realized early on that the way her brain works is special—she “thinks in pictures” and understands the surrounding world in a different way than her peers. She was ostracized and teased by her peers as a young girl. The innate challenges of adolescence were amplified because of her autism, but the power of hurtful words was not strong enough to deter Temple Grandin. She set her focus on her studies; she honed in on her skills and refined her talents, all the while working to understand and modify the characteristics of her autism. And although she worked to normalize socially, it was her sensitivity to the generally unnoticed that gave her an articulate empathy and helped her to explain to the world the unusual and complex behavior of people living with autism.
Because of her own triumphs in spite of personal challenges, she continues to encourage children with autism and their parents to allow these children to succeed—to push them to reach their full potential, even though the path may not seem “normal” to many. Her long-standing advocacy in the autistic community has given voice to those who cannot express themselves easily.
Alongside her autism advocacy, Dr. Grandin is a leading voice in animal treatment—particularly in the arena of large-scale livestock facilities. She has invented farm equipment for humane handling of livestock, created out of her understanding of how animals think, behave, and react to stimuli. She is able to “think like a cow,” she says, and has served as a valuable consultant for major international corporations dealing with animals. She now serves as a professor of animal sciences at Colorado State University, teaching students to see from her point of view and to better understand the world around them by examining it through a different lens.
Dr. Temple Grandin is autistic. But that label is not a negative defining point for her life. She is an author, a lecturer, a professor, a scientist, an activist, a humanitarian, and a brilliant thinker. She is cited in journals and books and is the subject of a Grammy award-winning film. She is different, and she always has been. But she did not allow her differences to isolate her. She utilized them to enhance the lives of others.
Hers is truly an investment in a life of uncompromising commitment.