life of Temple Grandin. Grandin may be the best known person with autism in the United States. She achieved success in her field, animal science. She has also been a strong advocate for people with autism. Much of her success is attributable to early childhood intervention led by her mother Eustacia Cutler.
Being born autistic in the 1940's was at that time, a virtual prescription for a life of institutionalization and isolation. Temple Grandin, however did not suffer the same fate as most because her mother refused to allow it. With the help of her mother and many others, she dealt with the mental and physical limitations imposed upon her by autism and became a major societal contributor and "hero" to many (Cutler, 2004).
At an early age (around two) it became apparent to Temple's mother that she was not developing "normally." She could not make eye contact, wasn't trying to speak, failed to interact with others, and seemed to disappear into a world of her own. After prodding from a friend, Eustacia Cutler (Temple's mother), took Temple to a doctor at the Judge Baker Guidance Clinic for help. This was the start of a litany of professionals from whom she would seek help. Eustacia refused to accept the prognosis that her child, Temple, could not be helped (Cutler, 2004).
Although Temple's father, Dick, was not in the least supportive she actively sought professional help to improve her child's lot in life. She stood up against her husband who described his child as "unacceptable" and wanted to have her institutionalized. To him, she was an embarrassment that should be hidden away. Eustacia, however, had other things in mind for Temple and worked arduously to keep the peace and Temple in her own home. Other than an institution, it was also recommended at one point that Temple be placed in a foster home. Eustacia vigorously protested and was able to maintain guardianship of her own daughter even though her husband would have gladly allowed this placement. Without the support of her husband, Eustacia was in effect, a single mother of an autistic child during an era that knew little about the disease, much less offered support and structured methods for dealing with the disease (Cutler, 2004).
Eustacia was determined to reach Temple and prayed for God to "give me back my child" (Cutler, 2004, p.23). However, waiting for this to happen was not an option and she actively sought methods to reach Temple. She hired a nanny whom she met who happened to have experience working with a boy with similar problems. This nanny engaged Temple with give and take games, forcing her to interact with other people. She also employed learning cards and coloring books to get Temple to focus not allowing her to retreat into her own autistic world. As she stated to Eustacia, they would use these methods and "together, we will pull Temple into our world" (Cutler, 2004, p.24). This nanny was the first in a number of teachers and mentors that directly effected Temple's life and led her from an isolated world to one where she not only became an active member of society but attained success at a level that most will never know.
Eustacia also felt that it was imperative to "mainstream" (a term unheard of at that time) Temple and enrolled her in schools and various activities. She did well academically but suffered teasing due to her social awkwardness and inability to connect emotionally with other people. She met teachers who focused on her talents and used these talents to teach her and lead her to the profession she now enjoys. Emotional interaction was difficult, if not impossible for Temple but, she could relate to people through shared activities and horseback riding as well as various clubs she joined at her mother's urging. In addition to these more structured settings, Eustacia felt it was important for Temple to engage in activities with neighborhood children and actively promoted this interaction. In fact, at one point Temple became a member of a neighborhood club which was comprised of a group of children who lived and played in a particular area (Cutler, 2004).
It was through this relentless support, interaction, and guidance that Temple developed the means to deal with her autism at a young age. She used the tools provided by her mother, nanny, teachers, and mentors to develop additional means of handling her affliction. She continued using activities to connect with people emotionally, and pursued interests that took advantage of her unique way of viewing the world. As Temple puts it, she thinks in pictures rather than words thus making English her second language (Edelson, 1996). She also used her ability to "think in pictures" to devise a gate for her aunt that could be opened without getting out of her vehicle and many other agricultural designs and improvements.
Understanding how her mind works, Temple devised various methods to overcome this impediment. She developed methods to help herself in academic situations, such as mapping out certain educational tenets with post-its so she could "see" the issue at hand. Being autistic she also suffered from sensory overload and discovered (at her aunt's cattle ranch) that applying pressure to her body provided a calming effect just as it does on cattle in a chute. Knowing this, she invented a "squeeze box" which was designed to provide the amount of pressure on her body that she was able to control. It worked well for her and was the forerunner to many similar devices that are used today in treatment of people who suffer the same sensory overload (Edelson, 1996). Temple is also a strong believer in medicating symptoms of autism. One aspect of this disease is that many suffer from this sensory overload, unbearable sensitivity to things such as bright light, loud noises, and a propensity to panic attacks caused by a feeling of being bombarded. To cope with these problems, especially the panic attacks, Temple takes a low dosage of Prozac. She definitely knows that it has worked to lessen her anxiety, but she is quick to point out that each individual is different and different medications may be more appropriate (Grandin, 2002).
Adjusting to her own unique set of circumstances, in fact thriving from them is Temple's greatest achievement. She took what some would consider to be limitations or impediments, and turned them into personal assets becoming what can only be described as an over achiever. Many thought it impossible for Temple to attend school much less excel. Yet, Temple graduated from high school, attained a bachelor's degree, a master's degree and finally a doctorate (Jackson, 2010).
She views her method of viewing the world (in pictures) as the same as the way an animal views the world and uses this to her advantage in her chosen career. She has designed multiple devices currently used in animal husbandry. She has developed designs used in meatpacking plants, cattle lots, and veterinarian settings which address the fear these large animals encounter in these stressful situations to make current processes and procedures more humane. One example is the change in design she made to the dip vat. The dip vat is a device used to rid cattle of insects and pests. Essentially the cattle were walked down a steep slope into a vat of insecticide which was deep enough to get the liquid in their ears. Facing this steep ramp and body of fluid, the cattle often panicked and some even flipped on their backs and drowned. Thinking in pictures as a cow would, she came up with a plan to make this situation less stressful on the animals. Though she faced resistance from the experienced cattle hands, she had the ramp changed from a slick steel to a concrete surface with ridges built into it to eliminate slipping. In her view, the cattle were afraid to walk down the ramp because they knew that they would slip with their hooves on the steep steel surface. She further improved the visual situation by building the ramp in such a way that it appeared to gradually recede rather than appearing to be a steep drop. In this manner she was able to assuage the cattle's fears and provide a safer, calmer environment for ridding the cattle of insects. This improvement, as well as many more, enabled Temple to attain a high degree of respect in the cattle industry. Her procedures and devices are widely recognized and used worldwide by major industries including McDonald's (Grandin, 2006).
Temple has further progressed from a child unable to talk and interact with others to an adult who works tirelessly on the lecture circuit addressing the issues arising from autism as well as the humane treatment of animals and also acts as a consultant. She lectures on autism in various venues. She has been on a multitude of television shows, including Prime Time Live, and The Today Show. She has been written…