Dr. Temple Grandin: A One of a Kind Mind

She is an American professor of animal science at Colorado State University, a best-selling author, an autism activist, a consultant to the livestock industry on animal behavior and the inventor of the “hug box“, a device to calm those on the autism spectrum. In the 2010 Time 100 list of the one hundred most influential people in the world, named in the “Heroes” category, and she was the subject of the award-winning, biographical film, Temple Grandin.

When asked how autism helps her connect in a unique way to animals? She answered:

Autism helped me understand animals because I think in pictures. Since animals do not have language, their memories have to be sensory-based instead of word-based. In my early animal behavior work, I noticed that cattle often balked and refused to walk over shadows or pass a coat hung on a fence. In the 1970s, it was a new idea to look at things that cattle were seeing.

There is scientific evidence that animals think in pictures, and that this learning is very specific. When an animal is trained to tolerate one type of activity, it does not easily transfer to another similar activity. For example, habituating a horse to tolerate the sudden opening of an umbrella does not transfer to a flapping tarp. Animals often get specific fear memories that are associated with aversive events. A horse that had alcohol thrown in its eyes during a veterinary procedure became afraid of black cowboy hats. A white cowboy hat was safe and a black hat was scary. He was looking at a black cowboy hat when the alcohol was thrown.”

Dr. Grandin has been a pioneer in improving the handling and welfare of farm animals. Facilities that she has designed for handling livestock are used by many companies around the world, and she has been instrumental in implementing animal welfare auditing programs that are used by some of the biggest companies in the world including McDonalds, Wendy’s, and Whole Foods to name a few. She has appeared on numerous TV shows such as 20/20. Larry King Live, and Prime Time and written a number of books including Thinking in Pictures, Livestock Handling and Transport and The Autistic Brain. Her book Animals in Translation has been on the New York Times Bestseller List.

Dr. Grandin has received numerous awards including the Meritorious Achievement Award from the Livestock Conservation Institute, named a Distinguished Alumni at Franklin Pierce College and received an honorary doctorate from McGill University, University of Illinois, Texas A&M, Carnegie Mellon University, and Duke University. She has also won prestigious industry awards including the Richard L. Knowlton Award from Meat Marketing and Technology Magazine and the Industry Advancement Award from the American Meat Institute and the Beef Top 40 industry leaders and the Lifetime Achievement Award from The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. In 2011, Temple was inducted into the Cowgirl Hall of Fame. In 2015 she was given the Distinguished Service Award by the American Farm Bureau Federation and Meritorious Award from the OIE. HBO has premiered a movie about Temple’s early life and career with the livestock industry. The movie received seven Emmy awards, a Golden Globe, and a Peabody Award. In 2016, Temple was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and in 2017 she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York. She was also made a fellow by the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2018. 

To find out more about Dr. Grandin’s work and advocacy, we encourage you to can visit her official autism website, and the other to learn more about livestock behavior and facility design. Dr. Grandin’s one of a kind brilliant mind has made her one of the most influential advocates of her time, and it is an honor to highlight her as one of the most inspirational women in our International Women’s Month feature.

How Temple Grandin Overcame Challenges with Autism to Achieve Greatness

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