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May 01, 2011   Email to Friend 

A DIFFERENT WAY OF THINKING
Debra Davis

AU Meats Lab Manager Barney Wilborn, left, discussed Auburn University's meats lab and livestock handling facilities with Dr. Temple Grandin, center, and Dr. Wayne Green, head of Auburn's animal science department, right.
Autism is a big part of who Dr. Temple Grandin is, but the internationally known animal scientist said it doesn't "define" who she is. She said she considers herself a teacher above all else.

Grandin was at Auburn University March 31, where she spoke to students and faculty about her autism and the importance of recognizing and encouraging different kind of "thinkers."

"It takes all kinds of minds working together to really get things done," said Grandin, who is the subject of an Emmy Award winning movie about her life called Temple Grandin.

Grandin didn't speak until she was 4, but a determined mother and teachers who recognized her different way of thinking helped her realize that she could learn.

"I am a total photo-realistic, visual thinker," she said. "Most people who are visual thinkers don't see things the way other people do. People like me learn much better from hands-on experience instead of from reading or listening to someone talk. We need to visualize what we are learning, whereas there are some people who think in patterns and they may be really good at math or engineering. But the world needs all kinds of people working together to get things done."

Grandin spoke often about the need for America to re-evaluate occupations that have moved away from getting their hands dirty.

"Programs like FFA and 4-H are so very important, and I'm absolutely shocked at the funding cuts being made to those," she said. "School officials are taking so many of the hands-on classes out of the schools, like woodshop, auto mechanics, welding, music and art. Those are some of the classes where the kids are a little geeky or may have a touch of autism but they can really excel there because they can work with their hands. They can turn those classes into a really good career."

Young people need the exposure to vocational training, including those involving agriculture, she said.

"One of the reasons I went into working with livestock is when I was 15, I had a chance to go out and visit my aunt's ranch," Grandin said. "You've got to be exposed to different industries and things in order to get interested in it. If I hadn't gotten exposed to cattle out on my aunt's ranch, I would not have gotten interested in it."

Today's public is far removed from what really happens on a farm and often times when they are exposed to agriculture, it is presented in a negative light, she said.

"Alabama has a lot of poultry farms, nurseries and cattle, and we need to get kids out working on them to get excited about going into those businesses," she said. "There's a hunger to get back in touch with agriculture and the land. You see it with the increased interest in buying local food, organic food and natural food. That's a good thing. But we need to expose them before they are grown and have already made a career choice. That's why programs like 4-H and FFA are so important."

Grandin said farmers need to do a better job of showing the world how they care for their land and animals. She said some major farms now have video cameras that stream live to the Internet so that consumers or anyone else can see what is happening there. "If you would squirm to show a video of your farm to your wedding guests, then maybe you need to be changing what you're doing and how you're doing it," she said.

More than half the cattle in North America are handled in humane systems Grandin designed.

Although she is a big proponent of humane treatment for animals, she admittedly is a meat eater and has no intentions of changing that.

"I feel very strongly that we owe animals a decent life," she said. She has written several books, including a bestseller she wrote with Catherine Johnson titled Animals in Translation - Creating The Best Life For Animals. Other books she has written include Livestock Handling and Transport, Genetics and the Behavior of Domestic Animals, and Improving Animal Welfare: A Practical Approach. She has produced several DVDs that include animal handling demonstrations, and many of her demonstrations can be found on YouTube. She also has written books on autism, including Thinking In Pictures. Links to her books and videos are available at her website, Grandin.com.

Although Grandin has become famous by using her unique perspective and way of thinking to revolutionize the livestock industry, she says she doesn't want to be remembered for her autism.

"I want to be remembered as a teacher," she said.



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