At six months of age, Temple Grandin began to stiffen in her mother's arms and struggle to get away. At two years she lashed out in violent rages, yet had immense powers of concentration, letting sand fall through her fingers or examining her hands or spinning a coin for hours. At three, Temple was taken to a neurologist and a diagnosis of autism was made. This was over 50 years ago when autism meant a life of institutions. But Temple was lucky.
In her childhood she was nurtured and guided by her mother and two aunts - all of whom were teachers. She attended regular school and later boarding school and excelled in math and science. Still, she longed for friends and would have been "totally fiercely faithful" to one, but there was something odd about the way she walked, talked and acted that made others uncomfortable around her. She seldom made eye contact, often stood too close to people when conversing, and couldn't relate to subjects other girls her age were interested in (She often compares herself to Mr. Spock or Data from the Star Trek series, an interested observer, inept at participation - "an anthropologist on Mars").
Though her autism held her back socially, she proved to be gifted intellectually. She obtained her B.A. at Franklin Pierce College and her M.S. in Animal Science at Arizona State University. Dr. Grandin received her Ph.D in Animal Science from the University of Illinois in 1989.
She credits her autism with helping her to understand animals and how they think and feel. Her work in the design of humane livestock handling facilities is considered groundbreaking. Facilities she has designed are located in the United States, Canada, Europe, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, and other countries. Almost half of all cattle in North America are handled in a center-track restrainer system that she designed.
Today she teaches courses on livestock behavior and facility design at Colorado State University and consults with the livestock industry on facility design, livestock handling, and animal welfare. She also speaks publicly on behalf of autism research.
She has written two books on her experience as a person with autism: Thinking in Pictures: And Other Reports from My Life with Autism (ISBN: 0679772898), and Emergence: Labeled Autistic (ISBN: 0446671827), and four on livestock handling (I'll let you do your own search on those). She has authored over 300 articles in both scientific journals and livestock periodicals on animal handling, welfare, and facility design.
She is an inspiration for families dealing with autism, and an important link for both physicians and the public to break the stereotypes often associated with the disease.
The excellent book An Anthropologist on Mars
(ISBN: 0679437851) by Dr. Oliver Sacks
features her as the last in a series of seven portraits of people with interesting neurological problems. I enthusiastically recommend it.