Through the mind of Temple
The room was packed, every seat in the house was full. The lights dimmed down and a spotlight was focused on the stage. Out stepped a member of Chadron High School’s FFA Chapter, welcoming Temple Grandin, professor of animal science at Colorado State University, Fort Collins, to the stage.
After spending the day talking in sessions on specific topics about autism and cattle handling, Grandin took the stage Thursday night to talk about her life and how autism led her to where she is now.
When Grandin was about 2 years old, she was diagnosed with autism, but her parents did not let her become a stereotypical autistic child. They pushed her out of her comfort zone and forced her to become comfortable with social situations of all sorts.
They urged her to get jobs as soon as she was able, and sent her on trips to visit family. One of the most pivotal moments in Grandin’s life was when she was in her teens. Her mother told her that she was going to visit her aunt for either two weeks, or for the entire summer. Grandin was given the choice of deciding how long to stay, but not going was not an option.
So off she went to her aunt and uncle’s ranch in Arizona, where she was first introduced to ranching and the cattle industry. This trip sparked Grandin’s interest in changing the way the cattle industry looked at handling methods.
During the talk, there was one point that Grandin kept going back to. Identifying a person’s learning type is the key to finding a career or hobby that he or she can be successful at. Grandin identified the types of learners as visual learners, pattern and spatial learners, verbal learners, and auditory learners.
“Now there’s a lot of conflicts out there in the world. The techies hate the suits, the people in the field can’t stand the academics, they fight over whether observation is real science,” Grandin said. “Artists can’t stand the accountants. Now the first step in getting over some of these conflicts is understanding that people think differently.”
She went on to say that by today’s standards, Einstein would be considered autistic because he didn’t speak until age 3.
“Steve Jobs was a weird loner and he brought snakes to school and turned them loose in his elementary school classroom. He was also a filthy, dirty, hippie,” Grandin said as the crowd burst into laughter.
Grandin identified herself as a visual learner, and said that is what helps her see how things are going to go wrong with not only cattle handling facilities, but also construction projects of any kind.
“I am a photo realistic, visual thinker. Everything I think about is a picture,” Grandin said.
Grandin interacted with the audience, pulling up a picture of a cow that was stopped in an alleyway, staring at the ground and not moving. She asked the audience to test their visual thinking skills, and identify why that animal was hesitant to more forward. The answer was that there was a bright reflection of light on the cement that caught the animal’s eye and made it wary to walk over the spot.
This is just one example of how Grandin can take a cattle handling facility and improve the way that the cattle respond to the environment. Throughout the talk, she identified several easy ways that ranchers can improve their facilities. One was by moving cars or other foreign objects from the line of sight of cattle while they are passing through a facility, and another was by arranging the facility in a curve so that the cattle think they are going back to where they came from.
Grandin tied her life story into a lesson about identifying the type of learner that a child is, and then pushing them to stretch their comfort zones, making them more functioning members of society. With that it is no excuse for an autistic kid to hole himself in his room because of the diagnosis. She suggested to parents in the audience that if they have autistic children, they should be putting them in situations to prepare them for school and other social settings.
One of Grandin’s main points was that all kids need to get a job doing something. It can be something as small as cleaning the neighbor’s house as long as it is a job. She told the audience that one of her first jobs was cleaning horse stalls, and it was something that she did for a long time growing up.
She pulled examples from her life about walking through doors that opened in front of her instead of letting them close, saying that even if you aren’t 100 percent ready to take an opportunity, you can tell somebody that and ask for a short amount of time to get ready.
Grandin did that when she was building her first dipping vat, a plunge vat used to drench cattle and treat them. She asked the people who approached her about starting the project if she could have three weeks to get her drawings done instead of telling them no because she wasn’t ready. Grandin also talked about the mentors in her life, and told the audience that mentors are one of the most important parts of being successful.
There was something in Grandin’s presentation for everyone, from ranchers to teachers, and students to businessmen. It was a well-rounded presentation that every listener in the room could walk away from feeling like they had learned something valuable.