Temple Grandin’s Story: A Remarkable Woman with Autism

Mary Temple Grandin, born on August 29, 1947, is an American professor of animal science, a consultant to the livestock industry on animal behavior, autism spokesperson, and autism rights activist. She was among the first individuals to openly talk about autism spectrum disorders and share insights from her personal experience. Her book, Emergence: Labeled Autistic, is considered revolutionary as it provides unprecedented access into the autistic narrative.During her childhood and teenage years, she was considered odd by her peers and was often teased and bullied. During these years, she found herself attracted to the field of science. It was her goal to become a scientist. Today, about half of the cattle in the United States of America are handled in facilities that she designed. The only formal diagnosis that she ever received was when she was two, which was for brain damage. Later when she was 64, it was corroborated by cerebral imaging.

“One of the problems today is for a kid to get any special services in school, they have to have a label. The problem with autism is you’ve got a spectrum that ranges from Einstein to someone with no language and intellectual disability,” said Grandin. “Steve Jobs was probably mildly on the autistic spectrum. Basically, you’ve probably known people who were geeky and socially awkward but very smart. When do geeks and nerds become autism? That’s a gray area. Half the people in Silicon Valley probably have autism.” Source Temple Grandin’s Official Autism Website.

Grandin says that it was an early intervention that has helped her overcome challenges related to autism spectrum disorder, especially related to communication. “Not being able to speak was utter frustration. If adults spoke directly to me, I could understand everything they said, but I could not get my words out. It was like a big stutter,” says Grandin. Her life shows us that early and proper intervention is essential for all children with ASD.

As an individual with ASD, she was also constantly faced with sensory overload. When asked about this, she said, “My hearing is like having a hearing aid with the volume control stuck on 'super loud.' It is like an open microphone that picks up everything. I have two choices: turn the mike on and get deluged with sound, or shut it off.”

When she was 18, she built a squeezing machine that helped her stay calm. “At age 18, I built a squeezing machine. This device is completely lined with foam rubber, and the user has complete control over the duration and amount of pressure applied. The machine provides comforting pressure to large areas of the body.” The squeezing machine is used widely in autism clinics for children with ASD. Therapists believe that deep pressure stimulation has a calming effect on children with ASD. The reason for her to create this machine was that it provided a comforting feeling of being held. While visiting her aunt’s ranch, she saw cattle being handled in a squeeze chute. She goes on to explain how this experience impacted her, “A few days later I tried the cattle squeeze chute, and it provided relief for several hours. The squeeze machine was modeled after a squeeze chute used on cattle. It had two functions: (1) to help relax my 'nerves' and (2) to provide the comforting feeling of being held.” This is an important aspect to consider as children with ASD need that comforting hug from the ones they love. Source: Autism.com

Grandin’s life provides us with three important observations:

  • Early intervention is crucial

  • When provided the right opportunities and environment, children with ASD can go on to make life-changing discoveries and inventions

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