Temple Grandin: Children and livestock are sometimes alike

Sean McMahon ~ Editor

Sean McMahon ~ Editor

My window lets me see some fog. You know, those days when things are clear but the concepts are a big foggy, and some people just don’t understand.
Such was the case with Temple Grandin’s address to the hundred-plus people listening to her Saturday at the Ag & Business Seminar sponsored by the Meeker Chamber of Commerce and the Meeker Friends of the FFA Alumni.
Grandin has her Ph.D. in animal sciences and she teaches at Colorado State University. She is also autistic and is considered an expert on autism, being, perhaps, the most educated autistic person in the world.
To make a long story short, she has written many books, designed much of the livestock handling equipment in use around the world, had a move titled “Temple Grandin” make of her earlier life, has been a guest on many TV shows as a guest speaker, been the subject of many major news features on TV and in magazines and is incredibly busy on the speaking circuit, having spoken at Harvard, the University of Southern California and many, many other agriculture-teaching institutions of higher education.
Meeker was lucky to get Grandin to speak here, and any educators, parents of children from infant through high school, parents of children with learning disabilities, day care providers, those who deal with children for any amount of time really missed possibly the best educational hour available out there.
Ms. Grandin is amazing at getting to the core of issues, and she minces no words in getting her ideas and thoughts expressed to the point in a manner easily understood.
No one can write in a few inches what Grandin is all about, but after speaking to her in private for a few minutes and in listening to her at Meeker High School, we will try and get to the core of what she said. Some of the quotes are paraphrased in the interest of being more brief.
Grandin explained that since birth and to this day she is put off by words and numbers. She made it clear she wouldn’t be around today if algebra was a necessity when she was young and in school. She said she had a hard time but had mentors help her with what many of us know as general math — the basics of adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing.
“I had no interest and couldn’t have followed today’s algebra,” she said. “I didn’t and don’t care how long it took for Train A going at a certain speed from New York to Pennsylvania and Train B going at another speed from Philadelphia to New York City, and how long and where they would meet in between. The As, Bs and Cs and Xs, Ys and Zs made no sense. My mind wouldn’t comprehend the figures.”
It didn’t take long for doctors to establish the fact that Grandin was autistic, and when the now-66 year-old woman was a child, autism was almost a death knell. Autistic children would be dumped wherever the parents could dump them, they were considered a dead end and a dead mind with no hope for education.
But Grandin was fortunate to have parents who thought otherwise and found a circle of physicians and educators who thought otherwise, combining efforts to help her get through school, having earned a high school diploma, a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree and a doctorate.
“It was discovered early that while words and numbers really didn’t mean a lot to me, I was able to comprehend and appreciate visible things — photos, graphs, drawings, etc.,” she said. “If it was in a drawing, where I could see it, or in a photo, where I might see something for the first time, then I could comprehend it.”
Grandin said many kids today are the same as she was. She said that one in 10 children is now diagnosed with some form of autism, whereas, when she was a child, it was much more rare and no one knew how to deal with the problem.
She said the unwritten rule today is to wait until a child is three years old before testing to see if there may be a learning problem.
Grandin said that is the most wrong assumption to make. She said that as soon as one suspects a problem is the time to have a child tested.
“It is never too early to start reading to them; to show them pictures; to introduce them to animals and anything — often visible helps — that could get their brains stimulated,” Grandin said. “Children are curious creatures; they want to learn and comprehend what is going around them. But the mind sometimes gets in the way. The more exposure they have to words and visible things, the more their minds take in — albeit a bit more slowly.”
Grandin likened autistic children to young livestock on the way to the slaughter house.
“Both have seen many things in their own environments, and it is important to remember what their environments have been,” she said. “Children have hopefully been exposed to a variety of sights and sounds, so they are a little better off. But a cow being led to slaughter has seen nothing but green fields or a feedlot in their lives they really know only one or two environments.”
When they are led down these chutes and into a dark room, these cows, pigs, etc., are scared. Not because they don’t want to die. They don’t have any concept of death. But they are scared because they have never seen all these tight fences, dark rooms, cattle prods and they don’t know what it means. It is all new to them. And if you keep a good eye on them, you will see their concern.
A good livestock handler will take note of these animals’ behavior, “and that is where my designs for keeping the animals calm, away from 90-degree turns, dark rooms, loud noises comes in. All it took was some observation.”
So it is with children, who are never too young to be exposed to new things, all of which will leave some kind of an impression on them, she said.
Grandin was very strong in her support of video games and computers — with some rules.
“These are great things to help a child with visible stimulation and hand/eye coordination, but there have to be limits to how long a child uses these things each day and what the child surfs on the Internet,” she said. “An hour of fun and games and education materials via Internet should be enough for any child in one day.”
Grandin used the example of a child who is growing up in rural Colorado or anywhere else, really.
The child spends a couple of hours a day on the computer playing games, which, most importantly, offers a limited amount of life experience and exercise.
But, she said, the parent or parents need to get that child “off their rear ends” and learning to live life away from the TV and the video games.
“I would have been in real trouble in my life if I hadn’t been exposed to a wide variety of things as a child,” Grandin said. “That is how I learned that I could relate to visible things and that is how I established such an affinity for animals and livestock.”
She spoke of a child who spends most non-school time at home during the week watching TV, playing video games, etc. then turns around and is allowed to do the same thing on the weekend, week after week.
“You are doing a grave injustice to that child, letting them stare at TV or a video game all the time,” Grandin said.
She said the child might have the makings of a great marine biologist, but will never know if not exposed to the ocean; might make a great historian or even paleontologist, but will never know because the parents never took the child to the Denver Museum of Natural History; they might make a great scientist, but is never exposed to what research is; or might make a great chef, but isn’t likely to do so if mom doesn’t bring the child into the kitchen.
“Everything we say and do is a child stimulator and a child can only decide consciously or unconsciously that they like or dislike something if they have been exposed to it,” Grandin said. “Start young, educate yourselves as you educate your children on almost anything out there in the real world and the chances are good that you will learn more, appreciate more and the children might be exposed to what it is they would enjoy doing for a living. But they must be exposed to it because, like cows, they are ignorant and often scared of things they have never been exposed to.”
Well stated.
Thanks to the Meeker Chamber and the Meeker Friends of the FFA Alumni. You hit a grand slam with Dr. Temple Grandin.
One woman did call me on Monday, lamenting the fact that child education and behavior was not stressed in the pre-talk publicity and that the agricultural angle was when it was not mentioned in depth by Grandin. The woman said she thought Grandin was “remarkable,” but that perhaps the wrong audience was in attendance since this is “cow country” and that many folks were looking more toward agricultural subjects than child handling and education topics. Grandin, the woman said, “was right on; I just wish more educators and parents had been there.”

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