Temple Grandin: a preview to her Utah State University visit

Oct 28, 2011
Dr. Grandin and a pair of horses
Dr. Temple Grandin

If you’ve been following us on social media, Temple Grandin’s upcoming visit to Utah State University isn’t news, but here are some things you may not know.

She has literally made the humane treatment of livestock her life’s work, speaking up for those who cannot speak for themselves. She has authored 400 articles and become a world-renowned speaker. Nearly half of the meat processing plants in the United States follow her design, and her influence is international.  You can read more about that on Utah State University’s Aggie Post blog.

Her interest in humane livestock treatment is shared by Dr. Lyle G. McNeal, a professor in USU's Animal, Dairy and Veterinary Science Department. They share a similar philosophy on using an animal’s psychology in its handling, rather than frightening or forcing it to do things. They worked together on these ideas long before they became widely used in the industry.

“I’m overwhelmed that she is visiting USU,”  he said. “I’m almost 70 years old, with my own physical issues. But the way she carries her life — I know that if she can do it, I can do it, too. She is a role model for our youth.”

While Lyle may be a draw that brings her to USU, she will also be in Salt Lake City to receive the Peek Award. It annually honors an actor, filmmaker or subject of a film who helps to promote positive images about people with disabilities in our society. Named for the real-life Rain Man, the award recognizes the real-life inspiration for the HBO movie Temple Grandin, which won both a Golden Globe and an Emmy. There will be a free screening of the movie in the Taggart Student Center Auditorium on Nov. 1.

Dr. Grandin also has spoken up for people with autism. She’s on the spectrum herself. She did not speak well until she was four years old. She received early intervention long before it was cool. And because she can communicate, she has opened a window into a world that professionals in the disability field could only guess at when she was a child.

Dr. Grandin and a cow

“I can remember the frustration of not being able to talk… and when the school bell went off it hurt my ears like a dentist’s drill hitting a nerve,” she said in a recent interview on Utah Public Radio. “Scratchy clothes were just like sandpaper.” Others with ASD may be bothered by flickering fluorescent lights or other stimuli.

She also remembers thinking that adults spoke a different language than children, because they talked so fast. She couldn’t distinguish consonants. Part of her speech therapy included separating the sounds and enunciating them so that she could learn to hear them.

Today, in addition to information from people on the spectrum like Dr. Grandin, technology has made it possible for professionals to see what parts of the brain are active when a child hears a sound or responds to a stimulus. So much progress has been made, said CPD Faculty Fellow Vicki Simonsmeier. And there is so much more work to be done.

In the meantime, families who are dealing with the effects of ASD will still benefit from services, she said. “Parents are stuck if we can’t help on the treatment end of this.”

Two interviews with Dr. Grandin aired this week. One was on Access Utah, and it was followed by an interview with CPD Faculty Fellow Vicki Simonsmeier. If you follow the link, bear in mind that the Grandin interview starts about a third of the way through the program. Simonsmeier's interview immediately follows. A second interview aired on Science Questions, taking a more personal look at her views on science.

The CPD is one of many organizations sponsoring Dr. Grandin's visit, which is a good fit for our own work on autism. We're making the a part of our 40th Anniversary celebration.

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