People have been talking about Temple Grandin quite a bit lately, partly because HBO recently released an original movie about her life and achievements starring Claire Danes. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, I highly recommend it. (If you don’t have HBO, you can make a note to check it out when it’s released on DVD.)
So just who is Temple Grandin? She is an inventor, a PhD, an animal advocate, a 6-time author, and a great scientific mind. Also, she is profoundly autistic. While she acknowledges that her autism has made certain social aspects of her life difficult, she celebrates the gifts that autism has bestowed upon her and uses them to lead a professionally exciting and fulfilling life that benefits millions of animals. She speaks about “thinking in pictures” instead of words, having a special understanding of animals, and being able to discern very small details in their environment that makes them feel afraid, nervous, or distressed. This has led to her success as a designer of humane slaughterhouses. It’s estimated that over 50% of the slaughterhouses in the U.S. now use machines of her design.
This makes me think: at the end of the day, all humans have strengths and weaknesses, and we spend our lives trying to use our strengths to our advantage while we attempt to overcome our weaknesses. Temple Grandin’s approach to life is no different; her strengths and weaknesses are just perhaps more atypical than most people’s because of her autism. Her life story illuminates a positive side to autism and reminds us that a broad diversity of mental gifts and intellectual perspectives can make the world a richer, better place for us all.
Grandin recently gave a talk at the TED conference in Long Beach. The title of her lecture, so fittingly, is “The World Needs All Kinds of Minds.” I couldn’t agree more.