Turning autism into a strength: Temple Grandin talks about her relationship with animals

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We are all individuals and have strengths and weaknesses, having autism does not make any one person differentiate from that rule. That is one of the messages that has come from Temple Grandin, long serving autism advocate, high functioning Asperger’s Syndrome diagnosee and professor at Colorado State University.

She has turned her strengths to livestock management as she believes, however strange it may seem, that there is a correlation link between autism advocacy and livestock management.

She has spent the last week speaking in a conference at Havre, Montana speaking about her experiences of both, and finding strengths through weaknesses.

She said in an interview with The Tribune on January 7:

“I really focus on building strengths. Kids get a lot of labels — dyslexic, ADHD, autism — and people get hung up on the label. Well, these labels are not precise diagnoses. Forget the label for a minute and focus on what the child is good at. Foster that strength.”

Dr Grandin was diagnosed with autism at the age of three, and has written numerous books on advocacy, and her experience with her diagnosis. For her, her strength was found in art at an early age, and was encouraged to develop. She now thinks that her attention to artistic detail helped her develop more humane facilities for housing cattle herds.

Neurologist and writer Oliver Sacks noted Grandin’s deep connection with animals in his book An Anthropologist on Mars.’ Grandin tells Sacks in an interview that cows are similar to people with autism: certain sounds and tactile stimuli bother them, for example. She has taken that into consideration in her work with cattle handling.

He writes after an interview with Grandin:

“It was precisely her sense of the common ground (in terms of basic sensations and feelings) between animals and people that allowed her to show such sensitivity to animals, and to insist so forcefully on their human management.”

In re designing some facilities she would ‘think as a cow would’ because she maintains her brain allows her to do this.

She wrote:

“A great deal of my success in working with animals comes from the simple fact that I see all kinds of connections between their behaviour and certain autistic behaviours.”

Grandin firmly believes that it is important to try and think like a person with autism in order to be able to progress advocacy for that person. She mentions a child being fixated to one or two subjects and that the teachers trying to aid that child try and stamp out the fixation, which where may be where the child’s special talents are.

Perhaps, she theorizes in “Thinking in Pictures,” great creativity and intelligence is somehow linked with mental illness or neurological disorders.