Temple Grandin

American doctor of animal science, author, and autism activist

Temple Grandin (born August 29, 1947, in Boston, Massachusetts) is a professor at Colorado State University and a professional designer of humane slaughterhouses.

Temple Granden in 2011


  • “If by some magic, autism had been eradicated from the face of the earth, then men would still be socializing in front of a wood fire at the entrance to a cave.”
    • Grandin, Temple. Thinking in Pictures : My Life with Autism (Expanded Edition).Westminster, MD, USA: Knopf Publishing Group, 2006.
  • I had auditory sensory problems and touch sensitivity problems, I had no problems with my vision. Other people absolutely cannot stand fluorescent lighting and they're sometimes helped by a thing called the Irlen colored glasses where you try on all kinds of different pale colored glasses until it's easier to read. It stops the problem of the print jiggling on the page.
  • It's OK to be an eccentric; it's not OK to be a rude and dirty eccentric.
  • Even today, romantic love is just not part of my life. And you know what? That's okay with me.
    • page 26 of The Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships By Temple Grandin, Sean Barron, Veronica Zysk
  • Mother prepared me to live in the world, but she didn't try to make me into a social being just so I could hang out with other teenagers at the lake, or have pajama parties with other girls. Her eyes were on a bigger prize - giving me the skills and nurturing the talents that would allow me to graduate from school, attend college, find a satisfying job and live independently.
    • page 48 of The Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships By Temple Grandin, Sean Barron, Veronica Zysk
  • Since I think just in pictures it's sort of hard to think about abstract concepts so I have to have visual images like for example when I was a child I didn't really understand some of the stuff in the Lord's Prayer and y'know when it talks about "the power and the glory"...and I thought "electrical high tension lines, circular rainbow." "Thou art in Heaven"; that didn't make any sense to me but another autistic person says "Well I always pictured God up in Heaven with an easel."
  • (About the workplace) Tyrants who get into power make life miserable for everyone.
    • page 31 of Developing Talents by Temple Grandin and Kate Duffy
  • They may ask why nature or God created such horrible conditions as autism, manic depression, and schizophrenia. However, if the genes that caused these conditions were eliminated there might be a terrible price to pay.
    • NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity by Steve Silberman ISBN 978-0-399-18561-8, p. 428
  • And another reason to make sure we're not doing atrocious things at the slaughter plant is that if it is too easy to do something really atrocious to an animal; with the poor animal screaming and everything; the person who could do that might not have any problem torturing people. I remember one of the reasons that St. Thomas Aquinas said that we have to treat animals right is so that people themselves don't get corrupted.
  • I was attending the American Society of Animal Science meetings when the flood occurred. I first learned about it when I read about it on the front page of USA Today, a national newspaper. I grieved for the "dead" books, the same way most people grieve for a dead relative. The destruction of books upset me because "thoughts died." Even though most of the books are still in other libraries, there are many people at the (Colorado State) university who will never read them. To me, Shakespeare lives if we keep performing his plays. He dies, when we stop performing them. I am my work. If the livestock industry continues to use equipment I have designed, then my "thoughts live" and my life has meaning. If my efforts to improve the treatment of cattle and pigs make real improvements in the world, then life is meaningful.
  • I don't like radical anything; left or right. I have a radical dislike of radicals.
  • You've read about action at a distance, or quantum theory. I've always had the feeling that when I go to a meat plant I must be very careful, because God's watching. Quantum theory will get me.
  • I believe there is some ultimate ordering force for good in the universe - not a personal thing, not Buddha or Jesus, maybe something like order out of disorder. I like to hope that even if there's no personal afterlife, some energy impression is left in the universe... most people can pass on genes - I can pass on thoughts or what I write.
  • I won the contract for our company to install new ramps and equipment at Beefland. Building a "Stairway to Heaven" for the animals was more than just constructing a steel ramp-way into a concrete room. All of the workers, myself included, invested ourselves in [t]he project. Sometimes tempers flared, but when the job was completed, we were better friends. As the "stairway" began to take shape, many thoughts crowded in on me. I became aware of how precious life was. I thought about death and I felt close to God. He had given us dominion over the animals so we could make use of them, but I realized now, more than ever, that the animals were His creation too, and, thus, they should be treated with respect. One day my blind roommate visited the plant. She reached over the side of the chute and touched the cattle. She wrote the following prayer after her visit: "The Stairway to Heaven" is dedicated to persons who desire to learn the meaning of life and not to fear death. You, through respect for these animals, can come to respect your fellow man as well. Touch, Listen and Remember."
    • Pages 134-135 of Emergence: Labeled Autistic by Temple Grandin and Margaret M. Scariano
  • The meaning of life is if something that you did made something better.
    • "Temple Grandin Wants Us to Think Differently About Kids Who Think Differently" Interview, New York Times (January 22, 2022)[4]

"Temple Grandin: Society Is Failing Visual Thinkers, and That Hurts Us All" Guest essay, New York Times (January 9, 2023)

  • For many, it’s words, not pictures, that shape thought. That’s probably how our culture got to be so talky: Teachers lecture, religious leaders preach, politicians make speeches and we watch “talking heads” on TV. We call most of these people neurotypical — they develop along predictable lines and communicate, for the most part, verbally.
  • The popularization of the term neurodivergence and society’s growing understanding about the different ways that brains work are unquestionably positive developments for many individuals like me.
  • many aspects of our society are not set up to allow visual thinkers — which so many of us neurodivergent folks are — to thrive. In fact, many aspects of our society seem set up specifically so we will fail. Schools force students into a one-size-fits-all curriculum. The workplace relies too much on résumés and G.P.A.s to assess candidates’ worth. This must change not only because neurodivergent people, and all visual thinkers, deserve better but also because without a major shift in how we think about how we learn, American innovation will be stifled.
  • We hear a great deal about the need to fix the infrastructure in this country, but we are too focused on the things that need improving and updating rather than the people who will be able to do the work.
  • I often get asked what I would do to improve both elementary and high school. The first step would be to put more of an emphasis on hands-on classes such as art, music, sewing, woodworking, cooking, theater, auto mechanics and welding.
  • The true measure of an education isn't what grades a student gets today, but where they are 10 years later.
  • Complementary skills are the key to successful teams.
  • the skill sets of visual thinkers are essential to finding real-world solutions to society’s many problems.

Temple Talks about Autism and the Older Child (2016)

  • One thing that worries me is seeing, for example, the guys at the Jet Propulsion Lab who are my age. They are eccentric geeks. What would happen to the younger version of these people today? Would they have a fun job where they're the navigator for the Mars rover or would they be playing video games in a basement somewhere?
  • I hate violent images in the movies. Since I think in pictures, it is difficult to get these images out of my memory. I do not want this bad stuff in my memory. Reading about violence does not upset me, it is seeing it. Cartoon violence and car crashes have no effect. The images I want to avoid are realistic depictions of torture and cruelty.
  • (What do you like to read or watch for entertainment?) I like Arthur C. Clark and David Brinn. I loved the movies Avatar and Gravity. My favorite science fiction TV show was the original Star Trek. My favorite science fiction movies are 2001: A Space Odyssey and Avatar. For reading materials on the plane, I read The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Economist, Business Week, and many others. At home I read Science, Nature, Beef Magazine, National Hog Farmer, Feedstuff, New Scientist, and The New Yorker.

Animals Make Us Human: Creating the Best Life for Animals (2009)

  • I believe that the best way to create good living conditions for any animal, whether it's a captive animal living in a zoo, a farm animal or a pet, is to base animal welfare programs on the core emotion systems in the brain. My theory is that the environment animals live in should activate their positive emotions as much as possible, and not activate their negative emotions any more than necessary. If we get the animal's emotions rights, we will have fewer problem behaviors. (p3)
  • All animals and people have the same core emotion systems in the brain. (p5)
  • Breeders need to realize that they can't have everything. There's a saying in engineering: You can build things cheap, fast, or right, but not all three. You have to pick two. It's true with genetics too. (p200)
  • Bad things always happen when an animal is overselected for any single trait. Nature will give you a nasty surprise. (p217)
  • Animals like novelty if they can choose to investigate it; they fear novelty if you shove it in their faces. (p287)
  • At first I thought engineering could make all the improvements happen, but later in my career I learned that good engineering and design must be coupled with good management. (p296)

The Way I See It (2008)

  • The best thing a parent of a newly diagnosed child can do is to watch their child without preconceived notions and judgements and learn how the child functions, acts, and reacts to his or her world. (p2)
  • Autistic thinking is always detailed and specific. Teachers and parents need to help both children and adults with autism take all the little details they have in their head and put them into categories to form concepts and promote generalization. (p33)
  • There is often too much emphasis in the world of autism on the deficits of these children and not enough emphasis on developing the special talents that many of them possess. (p35)
  • For me and other people on the autism spectrum, sensory experiences that have little or no effect on neurotypical people can be severe life stressors for us. Loud noises hurt my ears like a dentist’s drill hitting a nerve. (p57)
  • All people want to feel their efforts matter, and individuals with ASD are no different. (p214)

Interview with NPR (2006)

  • my mind works like Google for images. You put in a key word; it brings up pictures. See language for me narrates the pictures in my mind.
  • the things that scare a prey/species animal like cattle are a whole lot of little visual details that people just don't tend to notice. And one of the big problems they used to have is the people just wanted to get out there and yell and scream and push and shove and you know more and more prods. Rather than remove the things that the cattle were afraid of.
  • I feel very strongly that if you got rid of all of the autistic genetics you're not going to have any scientists. There'd be no computer people. You'd lose a lot of artists and musicians. There'd be a horrible price to pay. It's like a little bit of the autistic trait can give some advantages. You get too much of the autistic trait then you get a very severe handicap where the person's going to remain non-verbal. It's a continuum from a severe handicap all the way up to something where it's a personality variant.
  • if you see a child with autistic-like behaviors at age two and three, the worst thing you can do is just let them sit and watch TV all day. That's just the worst thing you can do. You need to have a teacher working with that child, working on teaching language, working on social interaction, working on getting them interested in different things, and keeping their brain connected to the world.
  • I played around with vegetarianism back in the ‘70s. One thing, my physiology just got to have animal protein. I get hypoglycemic, I get all light-headed unless I eat animal protein. And I did a lot of thinking about this and I've designed a lot of equipment for meat plants. The cattle would have never been born, you know, if we hadn't raised them. And I feel very strongly, we've got to give animals a good life. I've worked really hard improving slaughter plants and animal handling and transport. And people have said to me, "Why don't you work on improving conditions on pig farms?" And basically, to be effective on making real change out there on the ground, you can only work on so many things. You know, you get too distributed, you're not effective. And, you know, I've got my one area I work in and I want to educate people about autism and I also want to improve, you know, animal handling and transport and make a real change out in the field on the ground.
  • I was lucky in the ‘60s to also be taking a class in Classical Ethology by a professor named Tom Evans, where I learned that operant conditioning does not explain all animal behavior. He explained how fixed action patterns and hardwired instinctual behavior works. And I remember going on a visit to Dr. Skinner and I felt like I was visiting, you know, the grand temple of psychology. And I went up to his office and, you know, he seemed, I'm like, "oh, you mean he's actually an ordinary person?" And we got to talking and of course back then I wore a dress you know ‘cause, you know, ladies had to be, like, dressed up, and I had a very conservative dress on, and B.F. Skinner touched my legs. And I said "You may look at them, but you may not touch them" and that ended that. And that is as he was showing me around the rat lab, I said "Dr. Skinner if we can just learn about the brain then we really would know some things". And Dr. Skinner says to me "We don't need to know anything about the brain, we have operant conditioning". And I just never really could accept that. You know, especially after taking Tom Evans' class at the same time.
  • I've been doing autism talks for the last 20 years and there still are people out there that do not want to, they can't recognize that these sensory problems are real. That, for some of these kids when that fire alarm goes off, that really hurts the ears, it's a really real thing.

Thinking in Pictures: My Life with Autism (1995)

  • Problems that autistic people have with eye contact and awkward gestures are not visible on the Internet, and typewritten messages avoid many of the social problems of face-to-face contact. The Internet may be the best thing yet for improving an autistic person's social life. (p100)
  • The possibility that a void exists after death has motivated me to work hard so I can make a difference — so that my thoughts and ideas will not die. When I was working on my Ph.D., a coworker in our lab told me that the world's libraries contain our extra soma, or out-of-body genes. Ideas are passed on like genes, and I have a great urge to spread my ideas. I read an article in the newspaper about an official at the New York Public Library who said that the only place on earth where immortality is provided is in libraries. This is the collective memory of humanity. I put this on a sign and placed it over my desk. It helped me to persevere and get through my Ph.D. work. (p199)
  • Most people don't realize that the slaughter plant is much gentler than nature. Animals in the wild die from starvation, predators, or exposure. If I had a choice, I would rather go through a slaughter system than have my guts ripped out by coyotes or lions while I was still conscious. Unfortunately, most people never observe the natural cycle of birth and death. They do not realize that for one living thing to survive, another living thing must die.
    • "Stairway to Heaven," p. 202.
  • I believe that the place where an animal dies is a sacred one. There is a need to bring ritual into the conventional slaughter plants and use as a means to shape people's behavior. It would help prevent people from becoming numbed, callous, or cruel. The ritual could be something very simple, such as a moment of silence. In addition to developing better designs and making equipment to insure the humane treatments of all animals, that would be my contribution. (p206)


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