January 2018
Homeplace & Community

Insights into Autism Spectrum Disorder

Dr. Temple Grandin discusses her research on the connections between animals and the ASD community.


Dr. Temple Grandin is a renowned animal scientist and autism advocate.

Dr. Temple Grandin, renowned animal scientist and autism advocate, spoke at the Marriott Grand National Hotel and Conference Center in Opelika Nov. 30.

An audience of animal lovers, autism advocates and families of those with autistic spectrum disorders gathered to hear Grandin discuss the connection between animals and autism as well as how those with autism can follow a path to a successful life.

The event was hosted by Mosaics, a nonprofit organization whose goal is to equip young adults in the ASD community with the necessary skills to achieve maximum levels of independence for improved quality of life.

ASD includes a wide range or spectrum of symptoms, skills and level of disability. Grandin explained this spectrum’s different levels and provided advice for coping with symptoms by referencing how her work experiences with animals enabled her to become more functional.

Grandin explained that, along the spectrum, individuals will exhibit characteristics of a particular learning style. This learning style often reveals the individuals gifts and can be utilized in finding a career path.

"I learned that there is a whole continuum of thinking styles, from totally visual thinkers, like me, to the totally verbal thinkers," Grandin said. "Artists, engineers and good animal trainers are often highly visual thinkers, and accountants, bankers and people who trade in the futures market tend to be highly verbal thinkers with few pictures in their minds."

Grandin described her own path to success as one of hard work. She recommended that the best thing for those suffering with autism as teenagers and young adults is to gain job experience.

"If we want to keep kids off the couch in the basement, we have to create real job experiences," she said. "I started working on my aunt’s ranch and it saved me."

From working with animals, Grandin discovered she was more inclined to know what animals were thinking and feeling than most people were.

Grandin said it was through working with animals that she began to observe the likenesses between how animals view the world and how people with ASD view it. She realized the thought processes of animals and those with ASD are similar in the way they process fear.

"People with autism have emotions, but they are simpler and more like the emotions of a vigilant prey-species animal," she said. "Fear is the main emotion in a prey-species animal because it motivates the animal to flee from predators."

Grandin noticed cattle calmed down once they were inside the squeeze chute and, knowing that firm pressure is also calming for children with ASD, she came up with the idea for her invention of the squeeze machine.

Grandin’s squeeze machine is designed to calm those with ASD as they overcome problems with oversensitivity to touch.

Grandin suffered from oversensitivity as a child, but later found comfort through using the squeeze machine.

Observing animals helped Grandin relieve her own stress and she wanted to help animals relieve theirs.

Grandin has designed livestock-handling equipment for corporate giants such as Cargill and consulted on animal welfare with fast food industry leader McDonald’s.

Grandin obtained most of her business clients by showing her design drawings from a portfolio. She recommended young adults with ASD show their work, whatever their passion may be, to gain confidence, social skills and work experience.

"You never know where a conversation showing your work to someone may take you," Grandin said.

During her talk, Grandin encouraged the young people with ASD in attendance to take advantage of the networking opportunities presented to them and speak with the business owners about acquiring jobs.

Grandin’s own work experiences range from working on her aunt’s ranch caring for horses to her tenure at Colorado State University where she has served as a professor of animal science.

Grandin’s research in innovative livestock-handling technology is used to handle over half the cattle in the United States today.

To learn more about Temple Grandin, visit templegrandin.com.


Rebecca Oliver is a freelance writer from Auburn.