Temple Grandin (1947–) is a renowned advocate and expert in two very different fields: animal welfare and autism. A prolific author on both subjects, Grandin has taught at Colorado State University (CSU) since 1990. Her focus on animal welfare, particularly cattle, changed the way animals are handled across the country. At the same time, her books on living with autism helped bring greater recognition of the unique capabilities of those who “think in pictures,” as she put it in 1996. Grandin is a dynamic, popular public speaker, and is featured in an Emmy-winning HBO biographical drama, Temple Grandin (2010). She is a highly sought-after advisor for graduate students at CSU, who describe her as an instructor who is caring, inquisitive, and sharp witted.
Born in Boston, Massachusetts, on August 29, 1947, Mary Temple Grandin was the oldest child of Richard Grandin and Eustacia Purves. Doctors diagnosed young Temple with brain damage at the age of two, and Grandin credits her mother with resisting the then-popular notion of institutionalizing children with disabilities. She received many different diagnoses but was not diagnosed with autism until adulthood.
Grandin was nonverbal until the age of three, so the primary focus of her first stage of education was learning to speak. In several of her books, Grandin is candid about her early childhood struggles. She longed for close human relationships but lacked the communication skills to forge them. Struggling to communicate led her to find deeper connections with animals, who offered unconditional emotional connection. Her visual thinking skills helped her put herself in the animals’ place, allowing her to envision more humane environments for them.
Later, Grandin received one-on-one instruction in a wide variety of topics in addition to her private school education. As a young student, she changed schools often to better accommodate her needs. She graduated from Franklin Pierce College in 1970 with a degree in psychology. In 1975 she completed her master’s degree in animal science from Arizona State University. Grandin also holds a PhD in animal science from the University of Illinois, completed in 1989.
In 1990 she decided to move to Colorado and work at Colorado State University. She did not follow the usual channels for employment but instead called and appeared in person regularly until a teaching position became available. She has now taught at CSU for more than thirty years.
In 1996 Grandin published her autobiography, Thinking in Pictures, which profoundly affected the disabled community and the rest of the world. She explained that her mind creates images associated with everything seen and heard, describing the experience as a video constantly playing in her head. She offered many examples of how her abilities have helped her solve problems that stumped others. Most of her books emphasize how this type of thinking provides advantages for the people who do it and everyone else. She is a firm believer in the unique abilities of all individuals, and she encourages people on the autism spectrum to find work that they are passionate about and comfortable with. By emphasizing what people on the autism spectrum are capable of, she changed the narrative and offered new hope and possibilities.
Work in Animal Welfare
Grandin has also become known as one of the world’s most influential and knowledgeable advocates for the humane treatment of animals. In 2009 she published Animals Make Us Human, exploring how humans and animals reciprocally fulfill one another’s emotional needs. Grandin has been among the most influential voices calling for the meat industry to treat animals more humanely. Her research showed that more humane conditions produce better meat, reduce illness, and make facilities safer for workers. Acting on her findings, Grandin applied her highly developed visual thinking to redesign cattle pens and other livestock-holding equipment, envisioning each step that the animals took and removing anything that would cause them additional stress. Her designs are now used by international corporations such as JBS, and more than half of the cattle in North America are processed using Grandin’s revolutionary systems.
Grandin is the author of more than twenty books. Her best-known books about autism include The Way I See It, The Autistic Brain, and Different, Not Less. She has also published several books aimed at educators and advocates who work with people on the autism spectrum, including The Outdoor Scientist: The Wonder of Observing the Natural World. In addition to Animals Make Us Human, her books on animal welfare include Humane Livestock Handling and Guide to Working with Farm Animals. Several of her books have been best sellers. In 2010 Time magazine named Grandin one of the “100 People Who Affect Our World.”
Temple Grandin’s unique perspectives on autism and the proper treatment of animals have garnered her widespread admiration and influence. As a vocal advocate for both people and animals, Grandin’s work has inspired many to take a more compassionate view of both. Grandin has never married or had children. She remains an in-demand speaker and manages a full teaching schedule at CSU in the graduate program in animal behavior and welfare.