This is the first in a series of guest articles from Autism Care UK looking at a famous faces across the autism spectrum, both current and historical. This first article looks at Temple Grandin.
Who is Temple Grandin?
There are a number of famous people with autism, and deciding where to start this series was a tough challenge. However we opted for Temple Grandin, because there are not many people can say that they have had an Emmy Award and Golden Globe Award winning film made about them and their experiences. She was also listed by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
Born in Boston, Massachusetts she was diagnosed with autism aged three in 1950. She was placed in a structured nursery school, and began speaking at aged four. Throughout her middle and high school years she was often bullied, with other students calling her ‘tape recorder’ due to her tendency to repeat things over and over again. Upon her graduation she went on to earn a bachelor’s degree as well as a master’s and doctoral degrees. She is now a bestselling author and a Professor at Colorado State University and. She is widely regarded for her work on autism advocacy and invented the ‘hug machine’ which is designed to calm hypersenstitive people.
In the spotlight.
Grandin first came to the public’s attention after bring described in Oliver Sacks’ book An Anthropologist on Mars. She has gone on to be featured throughout the mainstream media including high profile appearances on programmes such as Primtime Live, Larry King Live and The Today Show. In addition to her television appearances articles about her life have appeared in Time Magazine, People Magazine Forbes and The New York Times. In addition, in 2009 she was the focus of a three-hour interview on C-SPAN- In Depth with Temple Grandin. Most famously, Grandin was the focus of the 2010 film Temple Grandin which went on to win five Emmy Awards. The role of Grandin was played by Claire Danes.
Temple’s experience of Autism.
In terms of Grandin’s views on autism, based on her own personal experience she supports early intervention and supportive teachers who are able to direct a child’s fixations in constructive directions. Temple says that she is primarily a visual thinker, and as such words are to her, a second language. However, she attributes her success in livestock facility designer due to her extraordinary ability to recall details which is a common characteristics among those with visual memories. In describing her memory, she has liked it to watching a full-length movie in her head, which she is able to replay as many times as she wants which enables her to notice small details.
She is also able to view her memories using slightly different contexts by changing the positions of the lighting and shadows. Her insight into the minds of cattle has taught her to value the changes in details to which animals are particularly sensitive, and to use her visualization skills to design thoughtful and humane animal-handling equipment, the field in which she initially made her name. As a result of her autism Grandin has first-hand experience of the anxiety associated with feeling threatened by everything in her environment which cites as the motivation in her mission to both design and promote humane livestock handling processes including improved standards of slaughter.
Despite the issues she has had throughout her life as a result of autism throughout her life she has famously said “if I could snap my fingers and become non-autistic I would not do so. Autism is part of who I am.”