PITTSBURG, Kan. —
One of the most accomplished and best-known adults with autism will talk about her life, her challenges and her successes today in a free public presentation.
Temple Grandin, 65, a professor of animal science at Colorado State University, didn’t speak until she was 3 1/2 years old. In 1950, she was diagnosed with autism, and experts advised her parents to institutionalize the child. They chose not to do so.
School was difficult for her, but she found a mentor who recognized her interests and abilities. She eventually built a successful career as one of the few livestock-handling equipment designers in the world.
In a February 2010 presentation to scientists and engineers at Long Beach, Calif., that was captured and shared through the online nonprofit TED, Grandin explained that she thinks in pictures, not in language.
“My mind works like Google for images,” she said. “When I was a kid, I didn’t realize I was different. I thought everybody thought in pictures.”
She said her ability to think in pictures helps her solve problems that people with neurotypical brains might miss, and makes the case that the world needs people on the autism spectrum: visual thinkers, pattern thinkers, verbal thinkers and all kinds of “smart geeky kids.”
“Einstein, Mozart, Tesla would all probably be diagnosed as autistic spectrum today,” she said. “The thing about the autistic mind is it attends to details. The normal brain ignores the details. If you’re building a bridge, details are pretty important.”
It’s estimated that Grandin has designed the equipment in which half of the cattle in the U.S. are handled. She has consulted for companies such as Burger King and McDonald’s.
“In the early 1970s when I started, I got right down in the chute to see what cattle were seeing,” she said, noting her ability to immediately notice flags waving, a hose on the floor, a chain hanging down — all items that made the cattle balk but that nobody else had noticed.
“People thought that was crazy,” she said.
HBO brought Grandin’s story to the screen in 2010 with a full-length film, “Temple Grandin,” starring Claire Danes. She has been featured on National Public Radio and several television programs, including a BBC special, “The Woman Who Thinks Like a Cow,” along with “Primetime Live,” the “Today Show,” “Larry King Live,” “48 Hours,” and “20/20.”
Time magazine included Grandin in its 2010 list of the world’s most influential people, and she has been the subject of articles in People, Forbes, U.S. News & World Report and The New York Times. Grandin also has written numerous books.
Pittsburg resident Courtney Uebinger, whose son is autistic, said she can’t wait to hear Grandin’s story firsthand.
Uebinger called her “an inspiration.”
“I’m familiar with her work in the livestock industry, but it’s really her life and her accomplishments that give me hope as I raise my son,” she said. “She has overcome the extreme challenges that her disorder brought about to achieve far more than most neurotypical folks.”
Grandin’s public presentation, which begins at 6 p.m. at Memorial Auditorium, 503 N. Pine St., is sponsored by Pittsburg State University’s Center for Teaching, Learning and Technology, with support from the Helen S. Boylan Foundation.
TEMPLE GRANDIN also will speak to members of the Pittsburg State University faculty this morning, and to area livestock producers about livestock handling techniques and ways to reduce stress on animals at 1:30 p.m. in Sharon K. Dean Recital Hall in McCray Hall on the PSU campus.