Many of us know someone with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a condition characterized by speech and cognitive delays as well as behavioral challenges. The condition affects 1 in every 59 people, according to the CDC. Before the condition was practically a household name, Temple Grandin brought many of its aspects to light.
If you've never heard of Temple Grandin, you may be surprised by the impact she had on how we view ASD, as well as her impact on animal rights issues.
Temple Grandin, born in 1947, was diagnosed with autism as a young child. She was unable to speak until the age of four and displayed unusual behaviors such as tearing the fabric off of furniture and spinning toys and other objects for visual stimulation. Doctors initially diagnosed her with brain damage and encouraged Temple's mother to institutionalize her. Instead, Temple's mother arranged for speech therapy and enrolled her in school. Although socializing in a school setting was difficult for Temple, she made her way through high school and ultimately graduated.
Despite her autism diagnosis, Temple Grandin not only finished high school but continued her education and earned a number of degrees. In 1970, Temple received a degree in psychology. She went on to earn a master's degree in animal science in 1970 and a doctoral degree in animal science in 1989.
In the 1980s, Dr. Ruth Sullivan, one of the founders of The Autism Society of America (ASA), approached Temple Grandin and asked if she'd be willing to speak about her condition. Temple agreed and gave a successful speech at the next year's ASA conference, providing an adult point-of-view for mothers in attendance whose children had ASD. Temple Grandin continues to this day to speak publicly about how autism affects her life and advocates early intervention for children with the condition.
Temple Grandin's fame grew after Oliver Sacks published "An Anthropologist on Mars" in 1995. In Sacks' acclaimed book, Temple Grandin gives an account of how she feels living in a world populated with lifeforms (other humans, in other words) that she enjoys observing but struggles to relate to in a meaningful way.
At age 18, Temple Grandin invented the hug machine in response to her need for deep pressure but discomfort at being hugged or held. Initially, her hug machine was frowned upon at her university, but her science teacher encouraged her to perfect its design. Hug machines, which provide deep pressure evenly across both sides of the body, is still used today by people with ASD.
Temple Grandin has written about her affinity for animals and is well-known for her stance on animal rights. She has published several papers and essays arguing for improved and more humane conditions for animal livestock. Temple currently serves as a consultant to the livestock industry regarding animal behavior and treatment.
Temple Grandin noticed the restraining devices used on livestock at the time often caused the animals unnecessary pain and stress. Temple invented a new restraint system that included a well-lit area for the animals to see, a nonslip floor to reduce injuries and minimal noise to frighten the livestock. Temple Grandin's center-track animal restraint system is now used to handle nearly half of the cattle in North America.
Temple Grandin's book, "The Way I See It," became a best-seller and was expanded in 2015 to include new research on autism and Asperger's syndrome. She also wrote "Thinking in Pictures," which details her visual way of seeing the world and interpreting information around her. Her book, "The Autistic Brain," takes a more scientific look at how ASD affects brain patterns. Temple also wrote the critically-acclaimed novels, "Animals in Translation" and "Animals Make Us Human."
Temple Grandin received a Proggy award from PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) for her work in the improvement of animal-handling systems. She also received a Double Helix Medal for her involvement in autism awareness and research. In 2010, Temple Grandin was inducted in the "Times 100" list of most influential people in their "Heroes" category.
The 2010 movie, Temple Grandin, starring Claire Danes, was released by HBO Pictures. This biographical film details many of Temple Grandin's challenges and triumphs and went on to win a Golden Globe and numerous other awards and nominations. During the award ceremony, Temple Grandin took the stage to praise the film's portrayal of autism and to advocate for continued education regarding the condition.