top of page
  • Writer's pictureCreative Balance

Dr. Temple Grandin, PhD Speaks

"An Evening with Temple Grandin" at Southern Wesleyan University - March 7, 2019

It was a chilly Tuesday evening in Central, South Carolina. I drove my car to the event parking on the Southern Wesleyan University (SWU) campus and on my walk to the Newton Hobson Chapel and Fine Arts Center, I saw people emerging from everywhere going to the same place. It was like a grand homecoming with greeters from both SWU and Clemson University welcoming everybody. The line to meet Dr. Grandin wrapped around the perimeter of the hallway outside of the main room, so much so that her book signing had to continue after she spoke on stage. There was a warm feeling in the room as everyone got to their seats and waited for Dr. Grandin to make her way to the stage. After a few welcomes from the SWU and CU representatives, Dr. Temple Grandin, PhD made her way to her lectern and got straight to it:

"First thing I gotta do is I gotta get my water open...we have lots of things to talk about today and what you wanna do is get kids out there doing hands-on things...too many kids today are spending too much time on electronics. I'm gonna tell ya a little secret, Silicon Valley parents don't let their kids play with electronics. They made the stuff so they know how addictive it is."

Dr. Grandin begins by highlighting the importance of hands-on activities for young children. As a professor at Colorado State University, she has had students that had never touched a ruler before college. She also brings up that her grandfather had a colleague that invented a machine that would auto-pilot airplanes and their success was reached by tinkering with the machine. They had the science and the knowledge to execute it, but trial-and-error and experimentation with the physical parts was all that was missing as they figured things out rather than rely solely on calculations.

Events like these give proof that not everything can be digitized or replaced by a computer. Skilled trades are required and demand a different set of skills than the plans that map how to create their projects. It takes a variety of minds and ways of thinking to create something important.

A part of Dr. Grandin's identity, not the whole part by any means, is that she is autistic. But to stop at her autism diagnosis would be insulting to the agricultural and livestock technologies she has helped design and implement over her long career. Dr. Grandin is a successful academic, inventor, and innovator who happens to have autism, however, she attributes her autism and the way it makes her brain work to her success. She sees thoughts in pictures, she is "stuck" in a world where visualization is the key to her communication and process. But, by being stuck in this world, she has been able to see and imagine solutions and processes that would have otherwise been invisible to her.

"Touch to Perceive"

Dr. Grandin shares her hand-drawn schematics for cattle handling equipment. For the earlier part of her career, this was the way things were done. But as time progressed and the industry advanced, planning began to digitize. It was here that weird mistakes began to appear. It became a problem where plotters on computers were only trained to plot on computers and not in real life. Some of these digital architects and designers were trained to use the computers but had never built anything like their creations in real life. They could see the plans but they could not accurately imagine the creations and their lack of visual plotting and risk assessment resulted in errors that had not ever occurred to them (i.e., the center of a circle not being in the center of a circle). Nobel Peace Prize winners are 50% more likely to have an arts and crafts hobby compared to other scientists. Getting too narrow is not the best for a scientist. Even if a designer uses a computer to design, hands-on experience and physical 3-dimensional manipulation allows a realism to the designer that may not have otherwise been apparent to them.

In a similar thought pattern, Dr. Grandin expands on things she has noticed for many children, particularly those diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. There is more attention to labeling children rather than treating children as individuals. Whether the child is a visual thinker, a technical thinker, non-verbal autistic, or deemed highly functioning autistic, the child must still learn how to be a human being. Attention paid to common tasks like shopping, ordering food; these are things that need to be learned very young. How can kids know they are good at building if they never have access to building toys or tools? People are often more worried about addressing the label rather than addressing the strengths of the individual.

Dr. Temple Grandin is a blessing to understanding the human experience as she not only shows the advantages to neurological conditions in careers, but she can articulate so clearly her own experience to better communicate life as she sees it. She does not speak about risk and potential in theory, she speaks about it from the pictures she has seen, made, or sees possible with some hard work. Individuals like Dr. Grandin help pull away the stigma of Autism Spectrum Disorder and illustrate the placement and advantage to placing skilled designers, builders, inventors, innovators, artists, musicians, engineers, and workers that have autism. Dr. Grandin's words clearly illustrated a world of inclusion that did not make the mistake of trying to fit square pegs into round holes but rather a world where differently-shaped pegs can find their respective holes in a society where they can serve a purpose that is important, that makes them proud, and that has dignity.

It is very important to Creative Balance Photography to be inclusive. We seek to gain a better understanding of the steps and practices we may take to better serve clients or members of clients' families that are affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder. It is important to not only have individuals with autism prepare for society but for neuro-typical society to prepare a place for them just the same. It can be a long process of education and experience on both ends but there is no cost too great in allowing someone, or many, to feel seen, to be respected, and to be identified by who they are and not by a label.


For more information on Dr. Temple Grandin, PhD:

45 views0 comments


bottom of page