Temple Grandin, PhD, is considered one of the most accomplished and well-known adults with autism in the world. A professor of animal sciences at Colorado State University, her insights into animal behavior and her innovations in livestock handling have revolutionized farm-animal welfare. Grandin received an honorary doctor of humanities degree in 2014.
Dr. Grandin has also inspired people around the world as a champion for individuals with autism and their families.
Her accomplishments as an acclaimed international speaker, best-selling author and tireless advocate earned her a place among Time magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in the World” in 2010.
Her early life story was the subject of the acclaimed 2010 HBO biopic, Temple Grandin, which won seven Emmy awards, a Golden Globe and a Peabody Award.
Promoting the humane treatment of animals
As a child, Grandin developed a unique bond with animals. Her insights into animal behavior, as well as insights gained from her autism, have led Dr. Grandin to become a world leader in the design of humane livestock handling facilities that are used on ranches, in feedlots, and in meatpacking plants worldwide.
Half the cattle in the United States and Canada are handled in equipment she has designed for meat plants. She has also developed animal welfare guidelines for the meat industry and consulted with McDonald’s, Wendy’s International, Burger King, Chipotle, Whole Foods and other companies on animal welfare.
“People feed, shelter, and breed cattle and hogs, and in return the animals provide food and clothing. We must never abuse them, because that would break an ancient contract. We owe it to animals to give them decent living conditions and a painless death,” Dr. Grandin wrote in Thinking in Pictures: My Life with Autism.
Living with autism
Dr. Grandin’s mission is deeply connected to her autism. Born in 1947 in Boston, she had signs of severe autism, including no speech, by the age of 2. After being diagnosed with autism as a toddler, her mother defied the advice of doctors and kept her out of an institution.
Many hours of speech therapy and intensive teaching enabled her to learn speech. Mentoring by a science teacher and visits to her aunt’s ranch in Arizona helped her survive high school and motivated her to pursue a career as a scientist and livestock equipment designer.
“Normal people have an incredible lack of empathy,” Dr. Grandin said during an interview on National Public Radio. “They have good emotional empathy, but they don’t have much empathy for the autistic kid who is screaming at the baseball game because he can’t stand the sensory overload. Or the autistic kid having a meltdown in the school cafeteria because there’s too much stimulation.”
Dr. Grandin earned a bachelor’s degree at Franklin Pierce College in 1970. Among her jobs after graduation were livestock editor for the Arizona Farmer Ranchman and an equipment designer for Corral Industries.
In 1975, she earned a master’s degree in animal science at Arizona State University. Her thesis focused on the behavior of cattle in different squeeze chutes, which are designed to calm anxiety.
After earning a doctorate in animal science from the University of Illinois in 1989, she joined the Colorado State University faculty, where she remains.
Dr. Grandin’s adaptation to her autism is the topic of the title story in Oliver Sacks’ An Anthropologist on Mars. “I don’t want my thoughts to die with me, I want to have done something. I’m not interested in power, or piles of money. I want to leave something behind. I want to make a positive contribution — know that my life has meaning,” she told Sacks.
Her book Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior, which she co-authored, was a New York Times best seller.
Other books by Dr. Grandin include: Emergence: Labeled Autistic; The Way I See It: A Personal Look at Autism & Asperger’s; Animals Make Us Human: Creating the Best Life for Animals; and The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum.
Dr. Grandin, who lives in Fort Collins, Colorado, is the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including more than 10 honorary degrees.