Actress Claire Danes portrayed her in an HBO movie. She has the rare distinction of being an expert in the livestock industry and an internationally famous spokesperson on autism — but only after surmounting many obstacles.
Temple Grandin, 70, a Boston native who laid out the stockyards for the hog processing plant in Rantoul when it was originally built, earned her doctoral degree in animal science from the University of Illinois in 1989. She overcame autism in an era when few knew of its existence.
It was partly because of her mother’s insistence that her daughter received individualized tutoring rather than being institutionalized — the tutoring was possible because Grandin came from a wealthy family — that Grandin was able to eventually thrive. But her accom-
plishments weren’t realized until she suffered a great deal of heartache from the taunts and misunderstanding of others.
Grandin was never diagnosed with autism as a child. The only diagnosis was of "brain damage," at age 2. The diagnosis was corroborated when she was 64.
Grandin said she had several supportive mentors during her schooling, but she also had her detractors. She was expelled at age 14 for throwing a book at a schoolmate who taunted her. She told of times when she would be ridiculed by fellow students who would taunt her with "tape recorder" because of her habit of repeating phrases.
But Grandin would persevere. After earning her high school diploma, she earned a bachelor’s degree in human psychology from Franklin Pierce College in 1970 and a master’s degree in animal science from Arizona State University in 1975 before receiving her doctoral degree from the U of I.
In addition to her role as a spokesperson on autism, Grandin is a prominent and widely cited proponent for the humane treatment of livestock for slaughter. She wrote that visual distractions such as shadows, dangling chains and other items that people don’t notice are a deterrent to their effective and safe movement in animal handling facilities. During her study for her Ph.D. at the University of Illinois, Grandin focused on the effects of environmental enrichment on pigs — a topic on which she expanded in her book "Animals Make Us Human."
Grandin is a professor of animal science at Colorado State University. One of her graduate students at CSU wrote in 1997 that cattle that remained calm during handling had higher weight gains. In a paper published by Grandin titled "Assessment of Stress During Handling and Transport," she presented the idea that how animals react to being handled is reflected by the animal’s previous handling experiences.
Grandin has lectured that her motivation in her work in humane livestock-handling processes is her experiences of the anxiety of feeling threatened by everything in her surroundings, and of being dismissed and feared.
The movie based on her life, "Temple Grandin," was first broadcast in 2010.