Sunday, February 24, 2013

Book Review: Temple Grandin: How the Girl who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World

Can I meet this lady?  I really want to shake her hand.  Just like Patrick Henry Hughes, Temple Grandin is purely an inspirational person.  This autobiography by Sy Montgomery is eye-opening.  Grandin was born in an era where people who had autism, if even diagnosed, were institutionalized.  Her own father wanted to put her away, as her condition made her a nearly intolerable child.  She didn't speak until well after the age of 3 and her tantrums were frequent and on a massive scale.  But Temple's mother refused to give up on her and stayed by her side through endless appointments with specialists and therapy sessions.

Grandin describes how sensitive her sensory system is and how as a child and teen growing up the feel of certain clothing or loud sound could send her into overload.  As an adult, she has learned how to make these aversions lessen and coping mechanisms.  But in school, even with her hands covering her ears in preparation, the school bell sent her into a near panic attack.

During a summer spent at her aunt's farm, Grandin requested to do something extremely odd - she asked her aunt to lock her into the chamber that they put cattle into in order to give them their vaccinations.  It was a sort of pressure chamber, where the sides would compress in and "hug", immobilizing the cows while their head stuck out through a hole in the front.  Her aunt reluctantly agreed to this experiment (while her husband wasn't looking, of course) and Grandin had a breakthrough in her coping mechanisms.  She was relaxed and at peace while on hands and knees inside of this squeeze machine.  This was perhaps her first "ah-ha!" moment in her life-long connection to animals and farm life.

Grandin has made a career out of drawing parallels between the similarities in her autism and livestock.  She can feel and anticipate what will make livestock nervous and how to calmly and humanely treat them.  She can walk into a plant or farm and almost immediately spot what might make the animals uneasy.  She can then design structures specifically for the needs of the cattle and the farmer.

Grandin explains in this book that she could not imagine a life without autism, and how it has shaped her whole life.  She is a visual learner and is able to see things in her mind in extreme detail.  She can map out intricate plans in her mind before even transferring them to paper.  While she still has trouble interpreting more abstract ideas, such as feelings and emotions, Temple Grandin wouldn't change if she could.  Just like Patrick Henry Hughes, she has learned to embrace who she is.  She is such an admirable model.

Grandin has actually written quite a few books herself, subject matters running from life with autism to working with cattle and livestock.  I wouldn't mind picking up one of her books to read to get a better glimpse inside her mind. 

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