Autistic scientist relates to animals

February 2, 2010 by DALLAS DUNCAN

Filed under Environment, News The Red & Black and other local media outlets sat down Tuesday with renowned Colorado State University animal science professor Dr. Temple Grandin after she spoke to students during her visit to the University’s College of Veterinary medicine . Grandin, who is autistic, has a unique view of animal welfare and handling in the livestock industry. The structures and research Grandin has developed have greatly assisted in the development of less stressful animal handling in the livestock industry. A movie about

Grandin’s life, starring Claire Danes, premiers Saturday at 8 p.m. on HBO.

Q: What got you interested in animal science?

A: When I hit puberty I started getting horrible anxiety attacks, and I knew that when cattle got into the squeeze chute, the pressure calmed them. So I got into the squeeze chute. And of course then I wanted to know why it calmed me.

Q: Is autism a kind of intelligence?

A: Autism is a very big continuum that goes all the way from a child that remains nonverbal and very severely handicapped up to brilliant scientists, musicians and artists. In today’s education system, Einstein would be diagnosed as being autistic.

Q: How has being autistic helped and hindered you?

A: Since I think in pictures, I think like how an animal would think. An animal’s world is very detailed. [On the other hand] I know there’s a tendency, when they have a dog behavior problem, they’ll say my dog is nuts. I don’t have any idea what that means. I can’t evaluate that. Or someone goes out and they’ll say something like “rough handling.” What’s rough handling? What did they do? I have no way of knowing what is rough handling.

Q: When you’re trying to evaluate a squeeze chute — a type of stall used to hold an animal still during an examination to reduce injury to the animal and the handler — from the animal’s point of view, how do you do it?

A: I look at are the latches strong enough — because it could be very dangerous if the chute opens unexpectedly. If it pushes just to one side, it throws the cow off balance, and they tend to fight it. Another thing I look at is ease of operating. From the animal’s standpoint, I want to make sure that if he’s mooing in direct response to being restrained, you’re hurting it.

Q: Did talking to students give you hope for either animal welfare or veterinary medicine?

A: People are getting away from doing a lot of practical stuff, thinking about things in a realistic, kind of practical way. If you’ve got a problem, [you need to be] troubleshooting it and finding what is the actual cause of the problem.

Q: In your talk, you mentioned you were working through the UN on animal welfare practice in underdeveloped countries. Can you provide more details?

A: OIE, the world organization for animal health, started as animal welfare, and the first thing they worked on for animal welfare was slaughtering and transport. These are sort of basic guidelines that everybody should follow, like you don’t beat animals up and drag them around. I said we need to have some very clear guidelines about some bad stuff you just shouldn’t do.

Q: You are honored both by PETA, which people think of as a radical group, and people who kill animals for meat. What do you think about that?

A: I’m finding on the whole animal rights front, the people in the animal movement who are my age understand more practical things. What worries me today is that we’re getting a younger group coming in that doesn’t like what I do because I’ve worked on building slaughterhouses and they think slaughterhouses are evil and ought to shut down so they think I’m a Nazi.

Q: What do you think people can try to do to get more students to take some of the practical jobs, practical classes?

A: You have to get kids exposed to stuff. If students aren’t exposed to things then they how can they get interested in stuff they’re not exposed to? We need to be going to the high school and getting kids exposed in interesting things.

Fair Use Notice and Disclaimer
Send questions or comments about this web site to Ann Berlin,