Published on: November 5, 2009Now available on iTunes…
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Content Guy’s Note: My voice is extremely ragged this week, so Michael Sansolo was kind enough to do this week’s MNB Radio commentary...
It’s rare that a presentation at a conference takes my breath away once, no less twice. Yet I experienced just that last week at a general session of the Worldwide Food Expo.
The speaker, Temple Grandin, a professor at Colorado State University, would be worth hearing just to hear her somewhat radical methods of improving the treatment of animals on the slaughter line or in dairy farms. She demonstrates an understanding for the welfare of the animals that is extraordinary at the very least. And she makes it clear that her methods come with objective, scientific measures to help companies have simple, but effective ways of knowing if their animals are healthy and well.
But that’s the smaller part of the story. What’s more stunning is this: Temple Grandin is autistic.
Honestly, I didn’t know that an autistic person could accomplish the kinds of things this remarkable woman has done. I didn’t know they could get a PhD, teach at a university, get recognized as a global expert on animal welfare or be an effective public speaker. I learned I was terribly wrong.
Janet Riley of the American Meat Institute, who conducted the speech as a conversation with Grandin, asked a simple question at the beginning of the presentation. She asked everyone in the room to raise a hand if they were related to or knew someone with autism. My hand was up along with two-thirds of the crowd. Then our education began.
Grandin explained that she has become stronger and more functional through the years and today, in her 60s, is far better than ever. In her view, autistic people do best when given many experiences and learning opportunities that help fill their minds with knowledge and make it easier for them to operate. Grandin said her mind operates like a computer search engine, which searches for files and data depending on the situation. By doing that she can easily process information from the scientific to the comic.
When asked by Riley if, given the option, would she want to be cured of autism, Grandin said no. She said without people like her with autism or other maladies, society would be made up of nothing but “dried up bureaucrats.” As Grandin made clear, she has a sense of humor too.
Most importantly, she explained how her autism allowed her to excel. Grandin says she experiences everything visually in much the way animals do. So to help design more humane pens, she gets down in them like an animal and tries to absorb the sights and sounds the animals experience. By doing so she sees small things that would upset her and corrects them. When those ideas are implemented it creates an environment where the animals seem happier too.
While Grandin’s business is obviously difficult and certainly untenable for animal rights activists, it’s easy to agree with her. She is clearly a person with a mission of humanity and she carries it out with seriousness and purpose.
She’s also a speaker I will never forget. Temple Grandin will be the subject of an upcoming HBO film. It’s one I don’t intend to miss.
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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