A lot of people -- maybe including you -- had never heard of Temple Grandin before last year's award-winning HBO movie about her life, for which Claire Danes won the Golden Globe for best actress. The movie is excellent, and Danes did a wonderful job of portraying Grandin as a teen and young woman.
Dr. Temple Grandin's "official" claim to fame is that she revolutionized the way cattle stockyards handle animals prior to slaughter; she is consider a pioneer in animal welfare. That's amazing on its own, but what really makes her a hero in my eyes (and to many others) is that she didn't just change the cattle industry, she didn't just break into a male-dominated field in the 60s, but she did these things as an adult with autism.
Nowadays, 1 in 100 kids is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, and there are supports available to families everywhere from the doctor's office to school to community advocacy organizations. Back in the 1940s when Grandin was diagnosed, her mother was told to institutionalize her. At the time, autism was viewed as a terminal illness and the afflicted incapable of participation in society. Grandin's mother -- a pioneer in her own right, it must be said -- refused to believe her daughter would never speak and was mentally disabled. Of course, it turns out she was right. While Grandin is indeed autistic, she is also one of the most creative thinkers of our time, which is all the more impressive given the lack of support and understanding her condition had during her formative years.
Grandin has been lauded for both her work in animal science (in addition to holding both a Masters and Doctorate in her field, she has been named a fellow of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers and been inducted into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame) and as a proponent of the neurodiversity movement. She's the author of numerous books on autism and now speaks all over the world about her experiences. My personal favorite is her TED talk:
Grandin was named to the 2010 TIME 100, where they said she is "an extraordinary source of inspiration for autistic children, their parents -- and all people." I think that's the crux of it, for me: Temple Grandin is not inspiring because she's autistic or because she was something of an accidental feminist, she's inspiring because she triumphed in a world that didn't understand her, and then made helping people to better understand those like her part of her life's work. Plenty of others would've given up, or succeeded but become bitter and seclusive.
To me, Temple Grandin is awesome because she doesn't just give me hope for my autistic child, but for humanity in general.
BlogHer Contributing Editor Mir Kamin is loving this month of awesome women. She blogs near-daily about issues parental and otherwise at Woulda Coulda Shoulda, and all day long about the joys of mindful retail therapy at Want Not.
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