Temple Grandin Draws 650 To Schwartz Lecture


By Denise Coffey, Hartford Courant (CT)

Feb 04, 2019


When Temple Grandin took the stage at Pomfret School’s Strong Field House, on Jan. 18, she did so in her signature straightforward fashion.


She strode to the podium and launched into a presentation of her ideas, experiences, and research that have made her an expert in livestock handling as well as autism. Her career and her life experiences have fostered breakthroughs in the two seemingly disparate realms.


Grandin was a Schwartz Visiting Fellow, the 30th in the school’s history, and she was on campus to take part in a two-day event. She visited four classes, gave two school presentations, ate meals with students and staff, and gave one lecture open to the community at large. More than 650 people attended, the largest audience at any Schwartz lecture.


The audience was diverse. Animal science teachers and dairy farmers sat next to autism advocates and educational experts. Grandin spoke to them all.


Her accomplishments are formidable. She’s written 14 books, 73 journal articles, and 100 individual book chapters. She’s a member of the National Women’s Hall of Fame and was named one of the 100 most influential women by Time Magazine. She’s won Livestock Conservation awards for her designs of humane slaughter facilities.


The animal rights group, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, gave her a Proggy Award for her work that revolutionized the cattle industry. Of the 39 million cattle and calves slaughtered in the United States, half are processed at facilities she designed.


Diagnosed with autism when she was 4-years-old, she benefited from speech therapy, mentoring, hands-on experience, age-appropriate responsibilities and jobs, and training in social manners.


Her mother was a strong and constant supporter who believed in her abilities. She refused to put Grandin in an institution. Instead, she pushed Grandin to face her fears and try new things.


“She knew how to stretch me,” Grandin said.


Today, Grandin is a frequent speaker at national autism conventions.


Life hasn’t been easy for the 71-year-old. She has benefited from a strong family support system, the help of a lifelong mentor, and money. The autism spectrum is a wide one, and she has thrived in part because of her intelligence. Some people with autism can’t dress themselves or speak. Others are working in Silicon Valley, she said.


Grandin was teased, taunted, and bullied because of her social awkwardness. Her 134 IQ is a few points shy of genius, but because of the particular way her mind works, she failed certain subjects in school. Her exposure to cattle on an aunt’s farm set the trajectory of her life.


Grandin understood the behavior of cattle because she could visualize what they saw, whether going through chutes or being calmed in them. She backed up her observations with science, measuring stress levels and vocalizations among other things. The proof was in the designs built to her specifications:


“Because I was weird, I had to sell my work through my drawings,” she said.


Those designs lay out the specific angles, lengths, widths, and material needed for processing facilities that ensure humane treatment before slaughter. She developed a simple analysis to assess plant conditions. Critical control points require that there is minimal vocalization and that no animals slip and fall in the chute, that the animals aren’t moved with electric prods, and that all - 100 percent - are rendered unconscious before processing.


Grandin doesn’t want the animals stressed or afraid.


“It’s our obligation to the animals,” she said.


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