Meet the Subject: Temple Grandin

Temple Grandin, biographer Sy Montgomery, and James Birge, president of Franklin Pierce University, where Temple earned her bachelor’s degree.

Famous for such books as Animals Make Us Human and Animals in Translation, animal scientist Temple Grandin is also one of the most well-known Americans with autism. Earlier this year, Sy Montgomery published Temple Grandin, a middle-grade biography of a woman who has spent her life improving conditions for farm animals – and inspiring people on and off the autism spectrum in the process. In the book’s foreword, Grandin herself offers advice to kids who don’t fit at school. This week, she took time to chat with Kidsbiographer about her school experiences, current walk, and her working relationship with Sy Montgomery.

Kidsbiographer: I understand that Sy Montgomery worked closely with you when she researched biography. What was that process like for you?

Temple Grandin: It was wonderful working with Sy.  We had many long, long telephone conversations.

Kidsbiographer: Temple Grandin describes the bullying and social isolation you endured at various points in your education. How did it feel to relive what must have been a painful part of your life?

Temple Grandin: I was bullied in high school.  It was terrible.  The only refuge away from bullies was special interest groups such as horseback riding, model rockets, and electronics.

Kidsbiographer: I found the book a particularly personal and moving biography, in large part because of your foreword and the advice you offer young people who don’t fit in at school. How does it feel to be in a position to help – and inspire – kids who are experiencing the same pain you once felt?

Temple Grandin: I hope the book gives young kids who are different a motivation to succeed.

Kidsbiographer: Your work has improved the lives of countless farm animals and helped changed the way people view animals raised for meat, milk, and eggs. As a professor and animal scientist, you’ve influenced many young scholars. I’m curious to know if you think students should start learning about animal behavior at a younger age, and, if so, what sort of animal behavior curriculum would you like to see elementary and high school teachers develop?

Temple Grandin: Children should learn about animal behavior.  For very young children, they could learn where different wild animals live and what they eat.  The local zoo is a great place to start.  Older high school students could take college-type animal behavior classes. They may want to read Animals in Translation and Animals Make us Human.

Kidsbiographer: What kinds of projects are you working on now?

Temple Grandin: My grad students are working on individual differences in the behavior of beef cows when they defend their calf. I am in the process of updating my book on Genetics and the Behavior of Domestic Animals.

Kidsbiographer: What advice would you give to kids – or adults – who want to reach out to someone with autism? What are some effective ways of communicating with and supporting a loved one, friend, classmate, or colleague on the autism spectrum?

 Temple Grandin: Get a person with autism involved in a shared interest, such as racecars, mythology, books, animals, building computers, art, or playing music.

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