By: Ali Elizabeth Turner
On January 13, Athens State University invited Dr. Temple Grandin to speak as part of their year-long bicentennial celebration of the founding of the university in 1822. Her admonition to the audience was fitting and timely: “Do not baby your kids!”
Dr. Grandin could deservedly be nicknamed, “Triumphant Temple,” and at 75 is the best-known autistic person on the planet. She is funny, direct, well-spoken, hard-hitting, and has a tough time making eye contact. However, she has no problem making an impact, and her work in animal science is legendary.
Temple is a professor at Colorado State University. She has invented livestock-handling, stress-reducing equipment that is used all over the country, and she showed us her original drawings of her equipment ideas made long before they became standard. She travels the world lecturing on livestock and autism, and is the author of several books. The titles include: Make Us Human; The Way I See It: A Personal Look At Autism And Asperger’s; Animals In Translation; Thinking In Pictures; and Emergence: Labeled Autistic. She also is the subject of a biopic made in 2010 entitled simply, Temple Grandin. The movie won 7 Emmy Awards, a Golden Globe Award, and stars Claire Danes as Temple, David Straithern as Temple’s high school science teacher, and Julia Ormond as Temple’s mother. I found it noteworthy that Temple was highly pleased with the movie as to its accuracy, and I purchased the DVD.
Temple thinks literally and in pictures. For example, if someone were to say, “It’s a miracle,” the first image that comes to her is Christ walking on water. It was going from pictures to words that was the great challenge, and now she has no problem communicating.
Temple was quick to point out that it was her mother, teacher, and others who believed in her and worked with her to draw her out and develop her remarkable skills. She also in no uncertain terms told parents and autistic kids present in the audience that they needed to put away their highly addictive electronic devices and get outside. She is concerned that skills are being lost that are crucial to the autistic child’s survival, let alone success. They need things like woodshop, auto shop, animal husbandry, outdoor skills, getting sunshine, eating real food, and having a job.
The behavior of “helicopter parents,” those that hover and continually make excuses for their children, alarms Temple, and she flat out told a college-age autistic kid from the audience that he had no reason to not have a job. She also said that most autistic kids these days dream of being a great video game designer, and statistically, that will rarely happen. She believes in the precision and attention to detail that is often the ensign of an autistic person, and readily acknowledged that here in North Alabama, autistic engineers were a huge reason why we were able to put men on the moon.
Temple is a fan of autistic kids making a portfolio of their work in order to get jobs. She calls it “coming in the back door,” and it worked well in her life. It was a memorable evening, and I thank ASU for bringing her here. If people really listened, they learned something and were changed for the better.