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Temple Grandin - Autistic Educator, Scientist and Inventor

Updated on January 16, 2012

Buy "Temple Grandin" HBO Movie Online

Temple Grandin
Temple Grandin

"Temple Grandin" on DVD

Temple Grandin at the 2010 TED Conference
Temple Grandin at the 2010 TED Conference

Educator, Scientist and Inventor with Autism

Temple Grandin is an Educator, Scientist and Inventor with Autism whose life story is featured in the HBO film Temple Grandin, based on her autobiography. The film, which premiered February 6, 2010 and features Claire Danes as Temple Grandin, was a project nine-years in the making for producer - and mother of an autistic son - Emily Gerson Saines. The movie won multiple Emmy Awards, including Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress and Best Director in a Mini-Series or Movie, as well as Best Movie Made for TV. Claire Danes saw tremendous response for her performance with additional wins for Best Actress from the Golden Globes, The Satellite Awards and The Screen Actors Guild!

The HBO movie tells the story of how Grandin overcame the odds to earn a Ph.D, write numerous books and to use the features of her autism to revolutionize the treatment of livestock in handling, veterinary procedures and slaughter.

Temple Grandin was born in Boston in 1947 and was diagnosed with autism in 1950. She did not begin to speak until the age of four and credits her parents' refusal to institutionalize her - as wall as strong support during her primary school years - for her future successes in life. As a teenager, she was a self-described "nerdy-kid" who suffered the abuse that many children experience when they don't fit in with the so-called "normal" kids. Grandin has stated that she can "laugh about it now, but back then it really hurt".

Preview of the HBO movie

Thanks to supportive mentors, she was able to graduate from a boarding school for gifted youngsters and later go on to college in the 1960s. She received a B.A. in Psychology from Franklin Piece College in 1970, an M.S. in Animal Science from Arizona State University in 1975 and her Ph.D. in Animal Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1989. Today she is an active and vocal advocate for those diagnosed with Autism and Asperger's Syndrome, and for the humane treatment of livestock.

In her book Emergence: Labeled Autistic, Grandin wrote,

"I have read enough to know that there are still many parents, and yes, professionals too, who believe that 'once autistic, always autistic.' This dictum has meant sad and sorry lives for many children diagnosed, as I was in early life, as autistic. To these people, it is incomprehensible that the characteristics of autism can be modified and controlled. However, I feel strongly that I am living proof that they can".

She has also stated that, "If I could snap my fingers and become non-autistic I would not do so. Autism is part of who I am."

Temple Grandin speaking at the 2010 TED Conference

Grandin claims to think in an exclusively visual manner, as she described in a 2006 essay for the NPR series, This I Believe:

Because I have autism, I think in pictures and sounds. I don't have the ability to process abstract thought the way that you do. Here's how my brain works: It's like the search engine Google for images. If you say the word "love" to me, I'll surf the Internet inside my brain. Then, a series of images pops into my head. What I'll see, for example, is a picture of a mother horse with a foal, or I think of "Herbie the Lovebug," scenes from the movie Love Story or the Beatles song, "Love, love, love..."

In a 2009 interview on NPR's Fresh Air, Grandin told host Teri Gross that she "had to really understand how animals process information and how their senses compare to human senses because some things that would upset animals wouldn't upset us."

Because of the nature of her autism, she understood the anxiety of being threatened by her surroundings and the fear of new and unusual environments, and believed that animals' thought processes might be similar to her own. She was able to use these insights, along with her visualization skills, to design animal-handling equipment that diminishes the stress and fear felt by livestock during handling and slaughter to create a more humane process.

Temple Grandin
Temple Grandin
Temple Grandin's Cattle Chute
Temple Grandin's Cattle Chute

Grandin channeled the unique talents derived from her autism into designing improved methods for the treatment and handling of farm animals, and her livestock-handling equipment designs are now used in the processing of half the cattle in the North America. Her curved chutes and rail systems for moving cattle are used worldwide to help reduce the stress and fear experienced by the animals during handling.

In 2004, she even won a "Proggy" award in the "Visionary" category from PETA, the People for The Ethical Treatment of Animals, despite being a meat-eater and an advisor to the American Meat Institute for the design of slaughterhouses. She has said, "I think using animals for food is an ethical thing to do, but we've got to do it right. We've got to give those animals a decent life and we've got to give them a painless death. We owe the animal respect."

The HBO Movie "Temple Grandin"

Animals and Autism Therapy in "The Horse Boy"

Temple Grandin at TED photo courtesy of / CC BY 2.0

Cattle chute photo courtesy


Submit a Comment

  • marimccants profile image

    marimccants 6 years ago

    An inspiration to families dealing with autism.Thanks for sharing the wonderful story of Temple Grandin.

  • Uninvited Writer profile image

    Susan Keeping 6 years ago from Kitchener, Ontario

    I just watched an interview with her...what an amazing woman.

  • Edweirdo profile image

    Edweirdo 7 years ago from United States

    @Autumn Lynn - She truly is an inspiration, and the movie is worth seeking out !

  • Autumn Lynn profile image

    Autumn Lynn 7 years ago from Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

    I have read some of her books and was really moved. My youngest son is on the autistic spectrum but insanely bright. I can only hope to help him achieve a life as productive and fullfilling as she has. I left the US the week before the movie aired so I still have not seen it--better check itunes tonight.

  • Denise Handlon profile image

    Denise Handlon 7 years ago from North Carolina

    the HBO movie Temple Grandin won 7 Emmy awards last night. I had never heard of her before this. I was intrigued and, after investigating her story, inspired to write my latest hub on her.

    I notice that you were also inspired. It's wonderful that we hit on a subject that highlighted different areas. Great hub. :)

  • Edweirdo profile image

    Edweirdo 7 years ago from United States

    Thanks, sunforged! I was a fan of hers before the HBO movie, and the release of that film and its great reception by critics and viewers inspired me to share more info about her with others :D

  • sunforged profile image

    sunforged 7 years ago from

    i was really moved by the movie and had intended to do some more reading about her, you have provided an excellent resource here.

  • wyanjen profile image

    Jen King 7 years ago from Wyandotte Michigan

    A decent life, and a painless death.

    I don't think that is asking too much! :)

    Thanks for this hub, it is an inspiration to families who are dealing with autism.