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Who Is Temple Grandin?

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Updated February 01, 2010

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Who Is Temple Grandin?

Dr. Temple Grandin at an HBO premiere event for "Temple Grandin: Autism Gave her a Vision, She Gave it a Voice"

Mike Coppola/Getty Images
Question: Who Is Temple Grandin?
Who is Temple Grandin, and why is her name so well known within the autism community?
Answer: Dr. Temple Grandin, according to her personal website, is "a designer of livestock handling facilities and a Professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University." She holds a Ph.D. in Animal Science from the University of Illinois, which she was granted in 1989. She's also the inventor of the "squeeze machine," a system which tightly hugs people with sensory processing dysfunction to relieve stress.

None of this, however, explains Temple Grandin's fame. Nor does it describe the positive impact she's had over the years on the autism community.

Temple Grandin was born in 1947, long before the "autism spectrum" was invented. She didn't speak at all until after she was three years old - and even then, her speech was idiosyncratic. Very fortunately for Temple, her parents ignored doctors' recommendations to have her institutionalized as a response to her delayed development, temper tantrums and other issues - all of which, together, earned her an "autism" diagnosis.

Temple made her way through middle and high school with difficulty, finding it very difficult to navigate the social maze. In college, though, Temple began to find her way. She had a passion for livestock and an ability to "think in pictures" which gave her a unique ability to design humane, animal-friendly livestock handling equipment. After earning her doctorate, she went on to become a leader in the field.

Temple Grandin's achievement in overcoming the challenges of autism to succeed in the field of her choice drew the interest of neurologist Oliver Sacks, who wrote about her in the book "Anthropologist on Mars." She then became a guest on various major talk shows, and the subject of documentaries about her life and times.

Temple herself has embraced the role of spokeswoman for autism. Her first book, "Emergence: Labeled Autistic," was unique in that it presented autism as a challenge rather than a life sentence. Later books, including "Thinking in Pictures," have become a cornerstone for today's thinking about autistic education. Temple has become a popular speaker at autism conferences, where she answers parents' questions and brings a sense of hope and optimism to families coping with autism spectrum diagnoses.

HBO's February 2010 biographical feature has brought more attention to Temple Grandin's life and story. The film, entitled Temple Grandin: Autism Gave her a Vision, She Gave it a Voice, stars Claire Danes.

Resources:

Dr. Temple Grandin's Webpage

Dr. Temple Grandin's Official Website

Grandin, Temple. Thinking in Pictures," Vintage Press, C 1996 and 2006.

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