Most of us carry a few painful memories of schoolyard bullying. Growing up in the 1950s and early 60s, Temple Grandin endured taunts and ostracization – and a world that did not understand her autism. An indifferent student, she was even expelled from junior high. However, Temple’s mother and a few insightful teachers encouraged her interests in art, design, and animals. More comfortable with animals than people, she learned how to soothe herself by observing cattle at a ranch. Eventually, Temple applied her talents to a career in animal welfare. She earned a PhD in animal science and helped farms and slaughterhouses develop more humane facilities. Today, she lectures audiences all over the world about animal psychology and autism.
In Temple Grandin, Sy Montgomery explores how the scientist used her unique gifts to help farm animals and revolutionize modern agriculture. Given our increasing awareness of both autism and bullying, it is a very timely biography. When a child does not fit in at school, well-intentioned adults often try to assimilate him or her into the peer group. In other words, they strive to minimize individual differences. Grandin’s story, on the other hand, celebrates the diverse array of personality types and abilities that comprise the human species: she is successful because of her intense interests and foci, not in spite of them.Montgomery includes informative, accessible sections about autism and factory farming throughout the book.
Because Sy Montgomery worked closely with her subject,Temple Grandin is a moving, extremely personal biography. Grandin herself contributed a foreword. In it, she reaches out to those kids who, like her, do not fit in: “I hope that my story will encourage you to find your own passions and to follow them,” she concludes. In an appendix, she offers concrete advice to kids on the autism spectrum, tips for navigating the world and realizing their dreams. The girl who felt more comfortable with animals than people has improved the lives of many species, including her own.
Dorothy A. Dahm