Feb 072010
 
Authors: Kate Bennis

Temple Grandin is many things. An author. A CSU professor. An inventor. A doctor of animal science.

She created a “hug machine,” used to eat Jell-O and yogurt for every meal and would rather be in the cattle yard than most places.

She has also developed an ethical system for handling cattle that is used in more than half of the meat plants in North America.

And like the first line in the HBO movie about her life, Grandin is “not like other people.” She’s autistic.

The life of the inventor, the bestselling author, the autism advocate, the livestock expert and the CSU professor of agricultural sciences was celebrated with a screening of the biographic film “Temple Grandin” Saturday night in the Lory Student Center Theater.

Grandin, who is played by Claire Danes in the film, said the actress’ interpretation of her life was astounding.

“Claire Danes became me in the ‘60s and ‘70s. I mean she turned into me,” she said. “That’s the thing that was so remarkable. You can still recognize the other actors as who they are, but if you didn’t read the credits, you’d never know it was Claire Danes.”

Though the event was organized in a short time frame, the event nearly filled the entire LSC Theatre.

“We’re so proud to have Temple Grandin in our Department of Agriculture Sciences,” said Katie Boeder, development coordinator in the College of Agricultural Sciences. “It’s really exciting to bring a community together for an event like this and share in celebration.”

Growing up in Massachusetts, Grandin did not speak until she was four years old. After her mother took her to see a specialist, she was diagnosed with autism.

While Grandin describes her experience in high school as “horrible,” it was there that she began to excel. With the help of her science teacher, her gift of visual thinking was recognized and strengthened.

“I didn’t have an interest in studying until I had a goal. And then my goal was to become a scientist,” Grandin said.
Grandin’s way of “visual thinking” is depicted very accurately in the film, she said. Immediately after hearing someone speak, her mind associates 3-D images with the words from the sentence.

To Grandin, the phrase “waking up with the roosters” causes her to visualize her aunt and uncle sitting atop the roof of their home, crowing at the crack of dawn with the bird itself.

“Alright, give me a key word and I’ll tell you how I think,” Grandin said, addressing the Collegian reporter. “Orange? Well, I saw some oranges in a basket in a store. I’m seeing an Orange Crush soda bottle. I’m seeing some football teams that have the color orange. I’m seeing an orange juice box.”

To further depict her thinking process, the film also uses animated images of Grandin’s actual drawings in background scenes.

Grandin’s love for bovine ignited after spending a summer at her aunt’s farm in Arizona.

There she also found that her sensitivity to human contact was compensated for with a machine that she designed similarly to a close-quarter cow restraint. This physical contact often relieved her of panic attacks, which she often suffered.

Her machine, the «hug machine,» is now used on individuals with autism as a method of deep-touch therapy.

Grandin’s concern for the proper treatment of cattle remained present while attending Franklin Pierce College in New Hampshire. While obtaining her master’s degree from Arizona State University, she began to develop a dip-vat system for the animals, which would ease their nervousness during transportation.

Similar to her own experience with the “hug machine,” she found that cattle responded well to this method of being treated mindfully rather than forcefully.

“They feel pain. They feel fear. We’ve got to treat the animals we raise for food well so they don’t suffer,” Grandin said.

Grandin received her Ph.D. at the University of Illinois and has written several books on her behavioral research with cattle. She has been a faculty member at CSU for 20 years.

After the film, Grandin took the time to answer questions from the audience and to speak about autism.

“Autism goes all the way from a child who’s handicapped all the way up to brilliant scientists and nerds that are not that social –– the geeks and nerds who are more interested in building recording devices than socializing,” she said.

She encouraged those with autism to develop their areas of strength, like her own ability in art.

“You’ve gotta take the thing the kid’s good at and go on it; turn it into a career,” Grandin said.

Melissa Weber, a Castle Rock resident who was recently diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a mild form of autism, said that Grandin’s story has helped her to realize that she is not alone.

“She was able to use the uniqueness her autism gave her to find a niche and to create a career for herself,” Weber said.

Like Grandin, Weber’s ability has helped her to discover her own niche in the field of editing.

“In the short period of time I’ve finally understood why I am the way I am,” Weber said.

Currently Grandin is traveling weekly, attending book signings and premieres across the country. She has also continued to speak out about autism.

“Autism made things really difficult, let’s put it that way. But also, in a way, I think it helped in my developing because I had a lot of determination. I had the determination to just keep going,” she said.

Staff writer Kate Bennis can be reached at verve@collegian.com.

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