Temple Grandin is a professor of animal science at Colorado State University, a best selling author, and a world-renowned consultant to the livestock industry on animal behavior. Even more mentionable than all of her accomplishments though, in my opinion, is her connection to autism activism. In 1951, at the age of four, Temple was diagnosed with Autism caused by brain damage. She spent her early schooling days at a structured nursery school where she was given instructed speech therapy. Through rigorous speech instruction she developed spoken language at the age of three and a half, and credits elementary school mentor for their support in her early year and onward.
My first interaction with Temple Grandin was during my senior year of high school, in my AP Environmental Science class. The topic was the current animal slaughter process, and how environmentally inefficient the system is, when my teacher showed us a video clip of Temple Grandin explaining her innovative slaughtering process.
Temple, an individual with autism, spent much of her schooling years feeling threatened by everything in her surroundings and dismissed. Through her experiences accommodating these feelings, she has been able to find a parallel to how she believes animals feel before they are slaughtered. By altering her patented “hug box,” a device intended to calm those who have autism spectrum disorder, she has been able to combine her activism for people with autism and animal welfare. Overtime she studied the behaviors of cattle, how they react to ranchers, movements, objects, and light. Her altered device is intended to reduce the stress, panic and injury toward animals as they are being led to slaughter, which all adversely affect the quality of the meat, if not monitored.
Two years later it seems even more fitting that I am looking to Temple Grandin for inspiration. A graduate of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s Animal Sciences doctoral program in 1989, she spoke at a TED talk in 2010 about the importance of the world having a diverse wealth of different types of minds.
As it relates to our class discussions, catering to the minds of children with autism will only advance our society. Universal Design in Teaching mandates that level the playing field so that all students are able to succeed, and through research it is clear that not all brains function the same way, but we are capable of reaching most children if we take the time to accommodate them just by making simple changes.
As a future teacher, I must understand, to the best of my ability, how to engage students that may think differently than I do. It is imperative that these unique qualities are seen as possible advantages, and not disadvantages, because society’s opinion of people with disabilities is horribly skewed. Grandin references multiple times the possible impact that people on the autism spectrum have to offer companies in Silicon Valley, but these possibilities will never be imagined if we do not provide the children with the opportunity to develop the skills necessary.
At the end of the day, the world needs all kinds of minds. After watching Temple Grandin’s TED talk, I wonder if we are teaching in a way that allows for creativity and individualized thinking, or if we are teaching to a mass of children that can be successful but closing off the teaching to students that it does not reach? Who am I to decide what describes success? It is important to me that all children are given equal opportunity, and for all students to be given the opportunity to discover their talents; the world needs all kinds of minds.