Life Lessons from Temple Grandin

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to see Temple Grandin speak.

Temple has her Ph.D.  in animal science,  is known as an expert in the cattle and livestock industry, is a professor at Colorado State University, and is a well-respected author. Temple Grandin also has autism.

A HBO movie was also recently made about her/her life (2010). They showed a clip during her presentation so it is definitely an accurate depiction...

It was SO COOL to hear  Dr. Grandin’s presentation (I work in autism research and my boss was able to get us admittance into the program). While  her discussion focused solely on autism (her experiences, how she views it, services she supports…), I found that many of her tips and experiences could be applicable to other situations as well.

Some of Temple’s statements that stuck out to me:

1. There are so many different types of thinkers/learners out there and it is ridiculous to think that everyone will learn the same way.

  • A person who thinks visually might not be able to do algebra very well (but will be able to design buildings flawlessly).
  • A person who thinks in a factual way will be able to list all the events of WWII without a problem, but most likely will not be able to draw very well or comprehend abstract principles.

We need to recognize these differences and realize that it is not that these individuals are less capable. They may just need to learn things in less “typical” ways.

2. If you need to learn a skill that you don’t want to or have trouble doing a specific task (e.g., engaging in social situations, talking in front of large groups of people, etc.), align that skill with a goal that you want to accomplish.

  • For example, if your dream is to be a software engineer at Google, you have to be able to communicate with others effectively and hold a conversation. You need to be able to:
  1. learn to talk to people ( in order to)
  2.  reach your career goal

 3. It is OK to cry!

  • Temple discussed that as a child, she didn’t understand how to express her emotions or how to change them. She said she used to take out her frustrations through aggression (she described throwing a book at a teacher) , but she later learned to replace her aggression with a different act: crying (since crying was more socially acceptable and didn’t cause any harm).
  • She said she still HATED high school, but learned how to effectively get through it.

4. Use your interests to expand your knowledge base

  • A lot of children on the autism spectrum tend to fixate on certain things or have specific interests (e.g., trains, cars, horses, history).
  • Instead of letting the child fixate and not move forward, Temple advised educators/parents to use those interests to  stretch the child’s mind…. If they like to draw horses, have them draw where they are riding to, what they are eating, etc. Have a child learn math by counting horses…

Temple brought up so many interesting points and really helped the audience understand how a person with autism may think or feel differently.

Even though this talk focused on the autism spectrum, I think many of Temple’s words and points are applicable to anyone. We all have struggles and are self-conscious about something. No one is perfect.

Some of  points I took away from the presentation (and those I felt could be generalizable):

  • Use your skills/interests to your advantage.  You have talents/thoughts/interests that are uniquely you…. USE THEM!

When Temple was asked whether she wished she could “take away” her autism, she replied, “No. I like the way I think, and I like the way I am. I think in a way that no one else can. I would never want to lose that.”

I LOVED this statement. I think we could all learn a little something from Dr. Grandin.

  • It’s OK to not be perfect at everything (but to realize that some skills are necessary to get you further in life)

Temple described how she learned to express emotions more effectively and learned to behave in a more social manner in order to get through school into the workforce (even though both of these skills so not come easily to her) .

I sometimes stress that I don’t like science enough to go into a science-related field, or that I am too introverted to work with people, but  I need to remind myself that it is OK to not be the best at everything.  Not every task will be enjoyable or come easy to me. It is OK to be a “work in progress” or work on tasks for a bigger purpose.

  • We are bound to get annoyed/frustrated/overwhelmed. We have a choice, however, on how we choose to react.

It is inevitable that this happens. We can’t be happy all the time. I think the power of choice is an important point to remember…

This presentation was so informative and inspiring. I loved how knowledgable Dr. Grandin was and how she was able to give the audience a perspective of autism that so few can do on such a large-scale. I feel really lucky that my job  gave me this opportunity. She inspired me to really use my “special skills” to my advantage…. I love listening to passionate/inspiring people.

Has anything inspired you recently?