Renowned speaker coming to Austin

Published 7:27 am Monday, July 19, 2010

Dr. Temple Grandin has autism, but she’s never let that slow her down.

In fact, Grandin, 62, has become one of the foremost experts on animal behavior, a leading motivational speaker in the autism community and one of Time Magazine’s 100 most-influential people in the world.

To do this, Grandin — who will be speaking in Austin on Tuesday — learned how to capitalize on her strengths, rather than focus on her weaknesses.

Email newsletter signup

“People with autism get fixated on things,” she said. “It’s about directing it.”

Grandin realized she was an “extreme visual thinker.” While she struggled with areas like algebra, Grandin couldn’t help but to see ideas come together in her mind.

As she became more interested in farming and agriculture, Grandin used her visualization skills to better understand how cattle and other livestock saw the worlds around them.

“Animals don’t think in words,” Grandin said. “Animals notice sensory things that humans often don’t.”

But Grandin has always had the ability to notice these things. By getting down to the animals’ level, and trying to see what they see, she has been able to revolutionize the way animals are treated and quartered.

For instance, Grandin created designs for sweeping, curved corrals, intended to reduce the stress experienced by animals being led to slaughter. Such facilities are now used across the world.

“I’m interested in doing things to make real change in the real world,” she said.

As Grandin continues to conduct livestock research at Colorado State University, she also travels the country to speak about autism.

Because autism encompasses a wide spectrum, Grandin’s audiences often have people who function quite highly like her, but also others who don’t. Still, her message is generally the same: People who are fixated on something can learn to utilize that as a strength. For example, Grandin said that if an autistic child is fixated on dinosaurs, he or she should be encouraged to explore biology and other sciences.

But making this connection requires strong parenting, which is why Dr. Grandin focuses part of her talks on the importance of mom and dad. She said one of the first things parents with an autistic child should do is to really focus on helping the youngster get acclimated with society.

“One of the things I’ll emphasize is to teach autistic children how to be social,” Grandin said.

Though she’ll focus much of Tuesday’s talk on dealing with autism, Grandin will also touch on her animal research, which the doctor said is as applicable to pet owners as it is to farmers.

Laura Helle, the executive director of the Hormel Historic Home, which is putting on Grandin’s talk, said she thinks the doctor appeals to a wide audience.

“She crosses many lines,” Helle said. “I find her completely fascinating.”

Helle said Grandin’s talk also comes at a great time, as the home will soon be hosting its first ever day camp for children with autism. The Circle of Friends Day Camp will start July 26 and run through July 30.

“It’s a really nice connection,” Helle said of having Grandin speak less than a week before the 25 campers come to the home.

Helle, who described Grandin as a “rock star” in the world of autism, said she expects a large crowd at Austin High School’s Knowlton Auditorium for such a powerful speaker.

“I don’t know if we’ll ever get an opportunity to hear someone like Dr. Grandin again here in Austin,” Helle said.

Two engagements in Austin for Dr. Temple Grandin

What:“An Evening of Learning” with Dr. Grandin

When: Tues., July 20, 7 p.m.

Where: Knowlton Auditorium at Austin High School

How to go: Free tickets are available by e-mailing, or by stopping at the Austin Public Library (preferred)

NOTE: Dr. Grandin will also appear at the Hormel Historic Home from 3:30 to 5 p.m. on Tuesday for a book signing. Tickets for this are also free, but there are only 35 remaining.