Temple Grandin Biography

Scientist, inventor, and author

Born August 29, 1947, in Boston, MA; daughter of Richard Grandin (a real estate agent) and Eustacia Cutler (a writer, singer, and actress; maiden name, Purves). Education: Franklin Pierce College, B.A. (with honors), 1970; Arizona State University, M.S., 1975; University of Illinois—Urbana, Ph.D., 1989.

Addresses: Office —Department of Animal Science, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80523.


Livestock editor, Arizona Farmer Ranchman , Phoenix, AZ, 1973-78; equipment designer, Corral Industries, Phoenix, 1974-75; founder and consultant, Grandin Livestock Handling Systems, 1975—; chair of handling committee, Livestock Conservation Institute, Madison, WI, 1976-95; Colorado State University, Fort Collins, began as lecturer, became associate professor of animal science, 1990—; animal welfare committee, American Meat Institute, 1991—.

Member: American Society of Animal Science, American Society of Agricultural Engineers, American Society of Agricultural Consultants, American Registry of Professional Animal Scientists, National Institute of Animal Agriculture.

Awards: Recipient of numerous special education, livestock industry, and animal-welfare group awards, including: Meritorious Service, Livestock

Conservation Institute, 1984; Trammel Crow Award, Autism Society of America, 1989; Industry Innovator's Award, Meat Marketing and Technology magazine, 1994; Industry Advancement Award, American Meat Institute, 1995; Animal Management Award, American Society of Animal Science, 1995; Harry Rowsell Award, Scientists' Center for Animal Welfare, 1995; Respect for animals, their nature and welfare award, Animal Welfare Foundation of Canada, 1995; Forbes Award, National Meat Association, 1998; Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation Award for humane ethics in action, Purdue University, 1998; Woman of the Year in service to agriculture, Progressive Farmer magazine, 1999; Humane Award, American Veterinary Medical Association, 1999; Animal Welfare Award, Animal Transportation Association, 1999; Founders Award, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, 1999; Joseph Wood Krutch Medal, Humane Society of the United States, 2001; Richard L. Knowlton Award for Innovation, Meat Marketing and Technology magazine, 2001; Richard L. Knowlton Award for Innovation, Meat Marketing and Technology magazine, 2002; Animal Welfare Award, Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty in Animals, 2002; University of Illinois Alumni Illini Comeback Award, 2002; President's Award, National Institute of Animal Agriculture, 2004.


Animal behavioral scientist Temple Grandin has devoted her career to improving conditions at the large processing plants that slaughter some of the 40 billion pounds of cattle and pigs for human consumption every year in the United States. She is a strong advocate for more humane livestock handling, and has designed numerous innovations at such facilities that help to reduce stress in the animals during their final minutes. Grandin's mission is deeply connected to her autism, and she credits this developmental brain disorder for her success as a scientist. Once she recognized that animals and autistic people share certain traits, such as a reliance on visual clues to navigate their environment, she began to rethink how livestock are handled in the beef and pork industry. Since the early 1990s, a large number of U.S slaughterhouses have implemented her designs and innovations, and comply with the humane-handling guidelines she authored for the American Meat Institute.

Grandin was born in 1947 in Boston, Massachusetts. Her father was a real estate agent, and her mother was a writer, singer, and actress who devoted her time to improving Grandin's life once she was a diagnosed with autism as a toddler. Autism is a developmental brain disorder, and its origins are the subject of tremendous scientific debate. Autism affects the areas of the brain that direct abstract thought, language, and social interaction, and Grandin displayed the classic symptoms of the condition in her earliest years—she spoke little, did not like to be held or touched, and was prone to dissolve into raging temper tantrums when provoked. In the early 1950s, however, autistic children were sometimes incorrectly judged to be developmentally disabled, and the medical profession often recommended institutionalization. Grandin's parents were told that their daughter was brain-damaged, and suggested a long-term care facility for her.

Grandin's mother instead took her to a neurologist, who proposed a course of speech therapy. She was duly enrolled in a program, and at home her mother read to her constantly. The family was also able to afford a caregiver whose job it was to play with Grandin and keep her from retreating into a corner, as autistic children prefer. Grandin's mother also sought out private schools with sympathetic staff who were willing to work with her daughter's special needs. Grandin credits this early intervention with pulling her out of the isolationist shell of autism and laying a path toward her professional success later in life.

As she grew older, Grandin became fascinated by rotating objects of any sort; such fixations are common in autism and another related condition, Asperger syndrome. She became incredibly stressed by anything that rotated or made a whirring noise, but learned that doors seemed to soothe her. Beset by panic attacks because of these fears, Grandin fled to her aunt's cattle ranch out West one summer during her teens.

One day at the ranch, Grandin saw a squeeze chute that ranchers commonly used to immobilize a cow so that it could be vaccinated or branded. The chute absolutely fascinated her, and her aunt agreed to let her try it out—and Grandin loved its soothing effect on her nerves. Back at home, she built her own squeeze chute in her bedroom, and an advanced version of that would go on to be used in scores of schools and treatment centers for autistic children in the years to come.

The summer on the ranch was significant for another revelation for Grandin: she began to sense that animals and autistic persons shared a signifi-cant trait: both relied on visual clues in order to navigate their world. For example, a squirrel will hide food in dozens of different places for the coming cold snap, but always knows where the acorns and corn cobs are stashed. Or an ant, passing by a landmark, will turn around and view it from the other side; Grandin says she does this too, while driving on her return trip. Furthermore, like autistic people, non-domesticated animals retreat from human touch.

Grandin entered Franklin Pierce College in New Hampshire, and graduated with honors in 1970. Though medical professionals discouraged her from using the homemade squeeze chute, one of her teachers suggested instead that she try to learn why it worked for her by studying science. She entered graduate school in animal science at Arizona State University, and began working in the cattle industry as well. She served as the livestock editor of the Arizona Farmer Ranchman for five years, and saw firsthand the methods used to slaughter cattle in the major meat-processing plants. She recognized that cattle, like some autistic people, exhibited signs of tremendous stress and anxiety when confronted by certain visual or audio clues.

Grandin began to think about reducing that unease by redesigning the chute which led the animals to their death. Her first success came when Corral Industries in Phoenix hired her to design some equipment for its plants, but Grandin recognized that though her autism was classified as the "high-functioning" kind, she did not have good interpersonal skills. Her communication with others was often blunt, and as a result she sometimes found herself alienated from co-workers. Grandin decided that working on her own, in temporary assignments, was probably preferable to a standard job where relationships developed over time, and so in 1975, the year she earned her master's degree, she founded her own company, Grandin Livestock Handling Systems.

Over the next two decades, Grandin became an expert in animal handling in slaughterhouses and one of the most respected names in her field. The results of the research studies she conducted were published in various academic journals and industry trade publications, and in 1989 she was granted her doctorate in animal science from the University of Illinois. By the mid-1990s, the fast-food industry began to pay attention to her work, thanks to a libel case that wound through the British court system. In that suit, associates of the Greenpeace environmental group wrote and distributed a leaflet about McDonald's, the fast-food giant, claiming that the practices at the slaughterhouses that worked under contract to McDonald's amounted to animal cruelty.

McDonald's, Burger King, and companies like ConAgra that sell meat to consumers via supermarket counters have perfected large-scale animal processing. These companies, or ones that work under contract to them, breed, feed, and slaughter cattle on vast rural facilities known as animal feeding operations, or APOs. Beef cattle are slaughtered between 14 to 16 months of age, and the process involves a shot to their foreheads with a stun gun, which renders them unconscious. The next step involves hoisting the animal up by one of its rear legs, and then its throat is slit on what is known as the bleed rail. If the stunning and slitting has been done properly, the animal dies quickly, and then moves on to other processing stations.

The McDonald's trial in Britain was a long and complicated legal proceeding, but one judge did agree that some of the accusations were founded, and that inhumane treatment sometimes occurred in the slaughterhouse. McDonald's hired Grandin as a consultant to improve conditions and avoid a wider public-relations debacle, and she first visited one of the company's APOs with several of the company executives. "The day I went to a cow slaughter plant, " she recounted in an interview with the Guardian 's Dan Glaister, "there was an emaciated half-dead skinny cow. They watched that walk up a ramp and right into their product. They were not happy."

One of the most significant innovations that Grandin devised was a chute that led cattle through the slaughterhouse. Standard chutes were built in a straight line, and the cattle could usually see what lay ahead. Grandin knew that if a cow saw something unexpected ahead of them, they froze in their tracks. She designed a circular chute with high walls to remedy this. Though her ideas and suggestions were initially greeted with skepticism in the beef industry, the owners of cattle plants quickly realized that thanks to Grandin's design the cattle hesitated less, and therefore plant efficiency improved. Grandin redesigned other elements in slaughterhouses, based on other findings from her research: cattle resist being led from bright sunlight into a darkened room, for example, do not like the color yellow, and are upset by clanking metal sounds.

Grandin's innovations were backed up by concrete results. She wrote about PSE, a classification of pork which stands for "pale, soft, and exudative, " or oozing. The condition, deemed unfavorable for meat quality, was tied to high levels of stress in pigs. Grandin urged plants to house hogs in less crowded conditions, and to keep them cool, even hosing them down if necessary, before slaughter. When her recommendations were implemented at a plant, PSE levels were reduced. She had the same results with cattle, suggesting improvements that led to a reduction in what the industry calls "dark-cutting beef." This is tied to reduced levels of glycogen in the muscles, which affects the pH balance of the meat.

McDonald's and other fast-food corporations, which are the largest processors of beef in the United States, began implementing Grandin's designs in the plants used by the companies. She has also written guidelines for the American Meat Institute, an industry group, and has devised an auditing system that rates how well a plant is complying with the Humane Slaughter Act, the federal guidelines for non-kosher meat-processing facilities in the United States. Her guidelines measure the number of animals that are still moving or making noises on the bleed rail, when they should theoretically have been stunned into unconsciousness, as well as how well the plant handles "downers, " or animals that are too weak or injured to walk on their own.

Grandin wrote about her work in the 2005 book Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior , which she dictated to her co-author by telephone. In it, she concedes that while many animal welfare activists avoid eating meat entirely, livestock animals were essentially bred by humans to serve a purpose, and that humans should recognize their caretaking role and respond accordingly. "We owe them a decent life and a decent death, and their lives should be as low-stress as possible, " she writes. "That's my job. I wish animals could have more than just a low-stress life and a quick, painless death. I wish animals could have a good life, too, with something useful to do. People were animals, too, once, and when we turned into human beings we gave something up. Being close to animals brings some of it back."

Grandin lives in Colorado and is an associate professor of animal science at at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. She is also the author of a 1986 autobiography, Emergence: Labeled Autistic , reissued ten years later when Grandin was becoming increasingly prominent in her field, as well as Thinking in Pictures and Other Reports from My Life with Autism. Eminent neurologist and author Oliver Sacks wrote the foreword to this last work, and Sacks also devoted an entire book of his own to Grandin's achievements, An Anthropologist on Mars.

Grandin wrote, with the help of co-author Kate Duffy, the 2004 book Developing Talents: Careers for Individuals with Asperger Syndrome and High-Functioning Autism. She also co-authored a book on social rules with Sean Barron titled Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships in 2005. She lectures frequently on the topic of autism, strongly urging parents and educators of autistic and Asperger-syndrome children to abide by some important rules—avoiding television and video games as a form of entertainment, for example—and encouraging the development of computer skills early on as a means of communication. Above all, she urges the non-afflicted to view the condition in a different light. "We've got to have a lot more emphasis on the talent, " she told reporter Anne Williams of the Eugene, Oregon, Register-Guard , "and not so much emphasis on the disability."

Selected writings

(With Margaret M. Scariano) Emergence: Labeled Autistic (autobiography), Arena Press (Novato, CA), 1986; Warner Books (New York City), 1996.

Thinking in Pictures and Other Reports from My Life with Autism (autobiography), foreword by Oliver Sacks, Doubleday (New York City), 1995.

(With Kate Duffy) Developing Talents: Careers for Individuals with Asperger Syndrome and High-Functioning Autism , Autism Asperger (Shawnee Mission, KS), 2004.

(With Catherine Johnson) Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior , Scribner (New York City), 2005.

(With Sean Barron) Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships , Future Horizons, 2005.



(With Catherine Johnson) Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior , Scribner (New York City), 2005.


Guardian (London, England), June 2, 2005, p. 4.

People , January 9, 1995, p. 42.

Register-Guard (Eugene, OR), October 12, 2003, p. C1.

Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN), November 10, 1996, p. 1E.


Dr. Temple Grandin's Web Page, http://www. grandin.com (August 18, 2005).

Dr. Temple Grandin, http://www.templegrandin. com (August 31, 2005).

Carol Brennan

User Contributions:

My husband & I happened to catch the HBO movie the other day and have watched it 3 times since. It is inspiring, thought provoking, deeply moving & even humorous! Kudos to Ms. Gradin on an inspiring life!
amazing how every human has unique perceptions and talents which lend dignity to every human life and thus life must always be valued from womb to tomb
After watching this moving, I understand more about someone that I work with and will handle situations differently.
Most of what I know about her is based on the HBO movie although I do remember an interview she gave to NPR a while before the movie was made. She is remarkable but it was the tireless work of her mother, who could have taken an easier but less productive road, that enabled her to achieve her potential. Her story is an inspiration to every parent whose child does not fit the "mold" of a "normal "child. I've seen the movie more than once and each time certain parts brings tears to my eyes. Every life is important.
Thank you for sharing your story with the world.
My dual credit college class and i, are doing a paper for Murray state on Temple Grandin. We watched her HBO movie and all I can say is wow! I believe God puts us all here for a reason and God definitely had his hand on Temple! Her story alone was amazing but to think of all the lives of autistic people she has touched just by helping loved ones understand the mind of autism is just amazing!!!
Thank you, Ms. Gradin, for providing families with children with autism with wisdom, insight, humor and suggestions for better understanding them. I have several grandchildren on the spectrum and each one is uniquely wonderful and loving. Thank you for sharing about your journey and achievements. You are such an inspiration.

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