This week as we celebrate International Women’s Day, I would like to share with you the story of the woman I chose to pay tribute to. She may not be well known to everyone, but to me, she is someone who has influenced my beliefs around embracing difference and celebrating the amazing minds of children and adults.
I will begin with ‘Who am I?’
I was born in 1947 in Boston, Massachusetts
I did not learn to talk until I was three and a half years of age
At the age of 4 I was diagnosed with brain damage, although this wasn’t an accurate diagnosis. The name given for the way the wiring in my brain worked and my thought processes was rarely heard of then
I have autism
Doctors told my parents that the only choice they had was to put me in an institution, as there was minimal information around what autism was in the early 1950’s
My mother refused to do this as she believed this was as good as giving up on me. She believed I was destined for greatness despite what the medical experts were telling her
Although my correct diagnosis was autism, I wasn’t officially diagnosed until I was in my 40s
I was the subject of an Emmy and Golden Globe winning semi-biographical film ‘Thinking in Pictures’
I think in pictures and see movies in my head and this is what has helped me to understand animals
When I was a child, I didn’t know that other people didn’t think in pictures too. It was then that I realised that that my thinking was different. My brain works like ‘Google images’ because I am a visual thinker and place things in to categories
I have written more than 60 scientific papers on animal behaviour
I am a scientist, an activist and one of the most respected experts in both autism and animal behaviour in the world
I am Temple Grandin.
So why did I choose Temple Grandin as an inspirational woman I admire?
In Temple’s words “I want you to think about different kinds of minds……we are going to need these in the future and for all of these different minds to work together”.
Temple Grandin was up against a lot of odds. Even the medical experts at the time told her Mother that the only answer was to put her in to an institution, because of the way her mind thought differently.
For me, Temple was the subject of many articles and research papers that I spent reading while studying to get my Masters in Special Education. She has been someone who I have provided as examples and case studies while educating staff and students around autism. She has been influential to me as an educator and as a Mother in that we need to embrace difference and we need to help students who have unique minds to be successful.
Temple Grandin can teach us a great deal about leading with our strengths, despite what others might think about us. In her words, “the autistic mind focuses on the details” and she used her strength of being a visual thinker, to gain great insights into the animal mind.
She was one of the first scientists to study the behaviour of cattle and report their sensitivities to visual distractions in handling facilities such as people, movement, shadows, objects, light and other environmental details that most people do not notice. Temple’s visual thinking has been a huge asset in her career designing cattle handling facilities. She could test run the machinery like a virtual reality in her head.
Grandin designed curved corrals that she adapted with the intention of reducing stress, panic and injury in cattle with studies showing that these cattle who remained calm during handling, had higher weight gains.
What would have happened if Temple’s Mother had listened to the medical experts in 1951 and she was institutionalised? Persistence and love have changed the life of Temple and many others.
Embrace difference as we all have our own strengths to offer, because life would be pretty boring if we were all the same.
Deputy Principal - Students