Temple Grandin talks autism, technology, animals

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CHEYENNE – Leading animal scientist Temple Grandin spoke to a crowd of hundreds at Little America Hotel and Resort on Feb. 1.

The speech was part of Grandin’s ongoing autism awareness tour.

Grandin said she is troubled by the swift dismissal of children with different learning styles. When schools allow labels to dictate the quality of education a child receives, it ultimately stifles his or her potential.

“Autism is not a diagnosis, it is a guideline,” she said. “It is half based on science, and half based on conference-room squabbles. These kids may be screened out in the educational system.”

Another topic of discussion was technology and autism. Grandin said children, especially those with autism, are becoming too dependent on technology such as video games. Social skills were reinforced by her mother growing up, she said, and kids on the spectrum must be encouraged to hold summer jobs and interact with the public.

“We need to get these kids out doing real things,” she said.

Grandin credits her exposure to the livestock industry at a young age with her continued success today. Using examples such as Thomas Edison and Elon Musk to emphasize how unconventional learners can find success, Grandin encouraged those with these differences to stay active in their community.

Volunteering and interning, especially at animal shelters or food banks, will foster empathy in young children, she said.

Grandin, a professor of animal science at Colorado State University, is a well-known authority on ethical farming practices. Being a high-functioning autistic individual herself, Grandin shares personal experiences of living life on the spectrum and how her visual learning style helps her understand animal behavior.

She has worked as a consultant to companies actively operating slaughterhouses, improving the quality of life for cattle and other livestock. Grandin stresses animal welfare inside and out of the slaughterhouse, even engineering ways to make the process more humane and less stressful for cattle in particular.

Attendees included educators, farming experts, advocates and those affected by autism.

Jennifer Long, a philosophy student at the University of Wyoming, said she made the drive east as part of an ongoing research project exploring the full scope of autism.

“My brother was recently diagnosed with autism, and I have been working on this project to try to help our family understand what is actually possible with it,” Long said. “It is so much more than what people assume, and the more I learn about it, the more I realize what he could do. This speech, and the impact Temple has had, is just another encouraging piece of the project.”

Brian Kline, a new Cheyenne resident who spent years working in research facilities with animal subjects, said he has followed Grandin’s career since retiring from the industry.

“After so long using animals in testing, the burnout was not expected,” Kline said. “I’m always happy to hear what anyone has to say about making industries that use animal subjects better for the animals.”

Grandin finished her discussion stressing the importance of not minimizing those with learning differences.

“The world needs all kinds of minds,” she said.

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