Author explores Animals, Autism and Einstein

January 15, 2009 at 9:27 PM 2 comments

While recently driving around doing errands, I heard an interesting segment on National Public Radio.  The host was interviewing a woman named Temple Grandin about her newly released book, “Animals Make Us Human.”  I did not catch the first part of the interview, but the second half did not contain very many questions relating to animals.  In fact, the interviewer kept asking questions about autism.  I wondered what Ms. Grandin’s expertise was to speak so articulately about this condition.  It wasn’t until the end that I realized Ms. Grandin herself was autistic. I later learned that she is a well-known spokesperson in the disability community, but before this I was unaware of her.

When I got home I went to one of my favorite websites (you could call it an addiction), to check her out.  Well, she has authored or co-authored not just one book, but ten!  She is a Ph.D, a scientist, a designer and an expert in the handling and designing of livestock facilities.  Her books run the gamut from autism, animals, and social norms to human nature.   Quite a list of accomplishments by anyone’s standards!  Here are two quotes that give you a taste of what I read:

Temple Grandin is autistic, a woman who thinks, feels, and experiences the world in ways that are incomprehensible to the rest of us

In this unprecedented book, Grandin delivers a report from the country of autism. Writing from the dual perspectives of a scientist and an autistic person, she tells us how that country is experienced by its inhabitants and how she managed to breach its boundaries to function in the outside world. What emerges in Thinking in Pictures is the document of an extraordinary human being, one who, in gracefully and lucidly bridging the gulf between her condition and our own, sheds light on the riddle of our common identity.  

What I enjoyed the most while listening to her interview was her unique perspective.  Her sense of honesty and humility was refreshing and quite frankly I liked the fact that her viewpoint challenged the typical paradigms of conventional thought.  This perhaps explains how she came to a scientific and logical conclusion in her new book that dogs, cats, horses, cows and zoo animals — among other creatures — possess an emotional system akin to that of humans.

At the end of the interview I not only wanted to read a few of her books, but it also left me with a great sense of hope.  It left me realizing that one of the reasons autism is so hard to deal with is that it represents unconventional thinking and a viewpoint of the world shaped through a different lens – one that is fascinating to look through and broadens one’s perspective.

As a final note, in the interview Ms. Grandin stated that according to the clinical definition of autism used today, Einstein would have been categorized as autistic.  She used his personal letters recalling his early childhood development as the source for this determination.

Grandin to me presents a way of thinking unbridled by conventional thoughts and norms. Starting off a new year, I intend to get my mind (in addition to my body) in better shape by stretching it and pushing its limits.  I think reading a few of those books by Temple Grandin would do just that.  I’ll start with, “Animals Make Us Human.” I’m sure my sidekick/shadow Winnie (terrier with an attitude), and maybe even Einstein, would approve.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Michelle  |  January 19, 2009 at 8:06 PM

    Temple is a great person to listen to and meet if you ever have the chance. She does come around Chicagoland often. However, tickets do go fast.

    For parents, Temple provides answers that many may ask related to the future, related to stress/pressure as an person with autism and of course, hope.

    For teachers, Temple provides an honest forum for discussion on how educators can and should approach people with autism as individuals and capable at that!

    I too heard this NPR piece with Temple and really enjoyed hearing such a knowledgable person discuss not only autism but her work on the agricultural handling of animals. Here’s the link:

  • 2. Allen Humphrey  |  February 5, 2009 at 7:05 PM

    Good Work and a great article !


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January 2009


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