Temple Grandin didn’t have it easy growing up after being diagnosed with autism when she was three years old. She wasn’t able to talk until about four years old with the only form of communication she had coming from yelling, humming, or peeping as a way to express her frustration. She was bullied throughout school for being different and taking an interest in things like woodshop or building things with tools. She was able to overcome those obstacles and become one of the most influential people in the world by making improvements in the livestock industry, becoming an autism advocate, receiving awards as an author, and teaching animal science at Colorado State University, proving that she was not defined by the label “autistic”.
Temple Grandin shared her story of perseverance and growth to a sold out crowd Thursday night, January 31, at the Reynolds Performance Hall. Before getting into her own story, Grandin cited many of history’s greats as being on the spectrum with Albert Einstein, who was on the higher functioning end of the spectrum, and Michelangelo, a sixth grade dropout, being some of those included.
Being autistic doesn’t mean that you can’t achieve something and she made that very clear. One of her biggest accomplishments is being one of the few livestock-handling equipment designers, having worked with the likes of McDonalds and Burger King.
She credits her ability to create her complex designs to the way that she thinks. Her brain differs from that of a neurotypical person. he has a larger than normal visual thinking circuit in her brain, but where she does have trouble is her working memory. “The first [computing] chip was the Intel 286 so if I was a computer, an Intel 286, but I have the Amazon Cloud version, so you’ve got huge amounts of memory, but you don’t have very much working memory. This causes problems with remembering sequences. Long strings of verbal information, I simply don’t remember it.”
Grandin also believes that the younger generations today aren’t being exposed to important work skills and aren’t being shown how to use tools which she believes helped her tremendously growing up. Grandin said, “One of the worst things they ever did in the schools was taking out the hands-on classes. We’ve got smart kids growing up that have never used a tool. We have a gigantic shortage of high-end skilled traits.”
Learning these traits is one of the reasons that she has been able to be so successful. he was also made fun of for doing so, because she was a girl. She had to work three times as hard to prove that she belonged. She never wanted to be defined by autism but rather her career.
Temple Grandin was able to defy the odds and prove to herself and others that you don’t have to be defined by whatever label you may be given. For those who are neurodiverse, there may be more difficulty learning things such as driving or how to communicate socially, but she believes it can be done, they just have to be given the opportunities to learn. Grandin said, “If you can read and write at a 6th grade level then you can run a fortune 500 company.”
For those who want to get involved and support those who are autistic or neurodiverse, UCA’s Autism and Neurodiversity Alliance meets twice a month in Old Main Room 118, the school’s low sensory room, with one meeting during x-period and the other during the evening, with the goal to help spread awareness of neurodiversity and provide great opportunities for social interaction.