Temple Grandin discusses autism, experiences

“Taking Flight: The Year of the Humanities and the Arts at the University of Miami” continues to soar, beginning this semester with a lecture by Temple Grandin, an activist for autism and an animal science professor at Colorado State University.

Her lecture, “Different Kinds of Minds,” at UM will present her findings on the different types of thinking – math, visual and word – that help people achieve similar professional goals, but according to their styles of learning. Grandin, who is autistic herself, identifies with the visual style of thinking and details this in one of her eight published books, “Thinking in Pictures: My Life with Autism.”

Grandin’s acclaim began when she channeled her learning style into a career as a livestock-handling equipment designer, one of the few in the world. She has been teaching animal science for 23 years at Colorado State University, imparting her research on primarily cattle behavior.

According to an article reported by The Miami Hurricane in September, the Center of the Humanities chose Grandin as part of the Stanford Distinguished Professors Series for her appeal to various audiences that include students and faculty in the sciences and humanities, parents with autistic children, and medical students.

“She is very interested in engaging with her audiences,” said Mihoko Suzuki, director of the Center of the Humanities, in an interview held in September.

Grandin believes that students should not focus on one particular field and should expose themselves to many possibilities and always concentrate on writing and communication skills.

“I have always liked to do different things,” Grandin said. “Students should be working on composing and arguing their positions.”

Outside of the classroom, Grandin travels throughout the country and around the world talking to teachers and parents about children with autism. She focuses on autism as belonging in a “big spectrum,” ranging from minor or “a little autism” to those that are more severe, like “non-verbal and handicapped.”

“Einstein can be labeled autistic because he didn’t talk until he was three like me,” she said. “Autism is a behavioral profile.”

Her emphasis on autism as a spectrum came from her own experiences when she was diagnosed in 1950 with the developmental disorder that affects communication and social skills. She published her book “Emergence: Labeled Autistic” to show people that the effects of autism “can be modified and controlled.”

Since then, Grandin has been busy publishing books about animals and autism, and consulting for McDonald’s and Burger King about their handling of livestock.

HBO created a film in 2010 about her life, starring Claire Danes. The film received numerous nominations, including a Golden Globe win for Danes’ portrayal of Grandin and a Globe nomination for best mini-series or motion picture made for television in 2011.

“The film definitely made me a whole lot busier,” Grandin said.

Her new book titled “The Autistic Brain: Thinking about the Spectrum” will be released in May. The book will provide a history on the diagnosis of autism and research based on brain scans.

For now, though, she hopes that people continue to listen and inspire others to not view autism as a dead end for children.

“I hope everyone comes to my talk and helps kids that think differently so they find good careers and jobs,” she said.



What: Temple Grandin’s lecture, “Different Kinds of Minds”

Where: BankUnited Center

When: 7 p.m. Thursday

For more information, or to register, visit humanities.miami.edu.