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Education Science

Interviews: Ask Dr. Temple Grandin About Animals and Autism 131

Being listed in the "Time 100" of the most influential people in the world in the "Heroes" category, is just one of the many awards received by Temple Grandin. Diagnosed with autism at the age of two, Temple overcame many obstacles and earned a doctoral degree in animal science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and is a professor at Colorado State University. Dr, Grandin is recognized as an expert in animal behavior and one of the leading advocates for the rights of autistic persons. She lectures, and has written numerous books on animals and autism, and was the subject of the award-winning, biographical film, Temple Grandin . Dr. Grandin has agreed to take some time out of her schedule to answer any questions you may have. As usual, ask as many as you'd like, but please, one per post.
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Interviews: Ask Dr. Temple Grandin About Animals and Autism

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Do you feel any connection to the challenges of the mentally ill (schizophrenia, manic depressive, bipolar disorder) and autistic persons?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    What advice do you have for parents of a high functioning toddler with hearing loss and autism?

  • by Krishnoid ( 984597 ) on Friday July 17, 2015 @01:43PM (#50130237) Journal

    Some people with autism experience sensory overload and anxiety. Do animals share that, or what is simliar/different between animals and people who have autism?

  • genesis of autism? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by spads ( 1095039 ) on Friday July 17, 2015 @01:44PM (#50130239)
    Do you follow any theories on the genesis of autisism, and if so, do you prefer any in particular?
  • by kokirikory ( 4188669 ) on Friday July 17, 2015 @01:45PM (#50130253)
    Over the last year I have been collecting personal accounts and studying professional research on the subject of autism. I believe I have gone my whole life undiagnosed high functioning. But because the spectrum and symptoms are so broad, and I don't relate to every single story I read, I begin to doubt myself. Would you agree that doubt rooted in the lack of absolutes, despite an otherwise large amount of signs, is a sign itself?
    • I know, technically speaking, we're not supposed to answer the questions raised, but as a parent of a child on the Autism spectrum as well as someone who considers himself undiagnosed as well, I think I have some personal experience to share.

      Don't worry if you don't match all the stories of autism. Every person with autism is different. My son has sensitivities to some noises (running the vacuum in my house leads to him screaming if he hasn't been properly prepared - and even if he has been), but I don't.

  • by Comboman ( 895500 ) on Friday July 17, 2015 @01:48PM (#50130283)
    Dr. Grandin: Over the course of your career you have seen (and promoted) many changes in the humane treatment of livestock. However, over that same time period you've witnessed the decline of small family farms in favor of large-scale industrial farming with it's focus on economic efficiency. Overall, do you believe farm animals are better or worse off now?
    • Excellent question.

      I saw Dr. Grandin on one of the NatGeo shows. What a great role model for people struggling with autism, as well as women interested in STEM. Well, anyone interested in STEM really. This is a much better interview choice than that crap earlier this week.

    • by lpevey ( 115393 )

      I would also be very interested in her thoughts on large-scale (industrial) versus small-scale (family) farming.

  • Frequency of Autism (Score:4, Interesting)

    by NothingWasAvailable ( 2594547 ) on Friday July 17, 2015 @01:49PM (#50130293)

    Is there an actual increase in the frequency of autism, more awareness (diagnosis), changing definitions, or something else that explains the [presumed] increase in number of children with autism?

  • What are your thoughts on factory farming, specifically the treatment of the anmals, the high percentage of greenhouse gases and waste it produces, and its contribution to antibiotic resistance?
    • by lpevey ( 115393 )

      Excellent question. I would add to the list above the issue of food sources, as in animals in factory settings not getting food sources that are natural for them and cause digestion issues (e.g., cows eating soy, and I'm sure there are probably even better examples). A lot of people think diet/gut health may have some relations to autism, maybe not as a cause but as an exacerbating factor that can make symptoms better or worse. With her close connection with animals, has she observed that eating certain

    • While she is an expert on animal welfare and behavior, the environmental foot print of agriculture is outside of her expertise. I suspect she'll be better informed than the average joe, but not better informed than the average animal scientists, and possibly less well informed than the average animal nutritionist. Nutrition at least has a clear connection to the environment. Behavior, not so much.

      With that said, I've seen her speak several times at animal science conferences, and she came to receive an awa
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Do you find it offensive that for one to be diagnosed is to become marginalized while given institutional support, while many go undiagnosed and generally become outcasts but without becoming institutionally separated from the normal class of citizens?

    In other words, at what point is it advantageous to say "I have a disorder" versus "I think in pictures", or - at what point does one go from "I have a disorder" to "You wouldn't understand what it's like to think in pictures"? I have known many self-proclaim

  • by gurps_npc ( 621217 ) on Friday July 17, 2015 @01:53PM (#50130333) Homepage
    I understand that the words High Functioning and Low Functioning get thrown around a lot. These terms were designed to reflect the level of support the Autistic person needed. Some people claim that the difference between high and low functioning Autism is merely intelligence. Others claim that it is a matter of how severe the Autism is, not the intelligence of the person.

    What do you believe is the difference between a high functioning Autistic person and a low functioning Autistic person.

  • by Pryon ( 181814 ) on Friday July 17, 2015 @01:55PM (#50130353)

    Dr. Grandin,

    I'm not a veterinarian, but my spouse is, so I'm in contact with veterinarians regularly. In the majority of cases, these vets entered school with the idea that they would be spending the rest of their lives helping animals and are bitterly disappointed with the reality of ear/tail docking, convenience euthanasia, and the lack of will when confronted with clients who should probably not have pets (neglect, abuse, etc.) - "there's always another vet who will work with these people if I lay down the law."

    Do you feel that you and your fellow faculty members are preparing your students for the realities of general practice? Are the veterinarians I'm describing simply being naive?

    Thanks very much for your time.

    • I don't believe she is associated with a vet school. Interesting question though. The practicalities of vet practice (witnessed via a job shadowing and several part time jobs) are part of the reason I decided against vet school, and went to graduate school instead.
  • by willworkforbeer ( 924558 ) on Friday July 17, 2015 @01:58PM (#50130375)
    If those without specific questions had a simple way to express their admiration and great respect for Dr. Grandin's work, life and personal courage.
  • Your work improving slaughterhouses essentially involved empathizing with the animals and understanding the factors that were causing them excessive stress.

    Why do you think most people have so much trouble doing this? Is it just experience, ie we don't realize a certain rake is making the cattle nervous because we haven't lived the life of a cow. Or do you think there's something fundamentally different about the cognition of different animals that makes them respond in ways that humans have trouble relatin

  • Adult Diagnosis (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Jason Levine ( 196982 ) on Friday July 17, 2015 @02:01PM (#50130405) Homepage

    First of all, thanks for all your work for people on the spectrum.

    I'm the parent of a child on the autism spectrum (High Functioning/Asperger's). When we got our son's diagnosis and I was reading up on Autism, I began to realize that these books were describing me also. Suddenly, all the things in my life that seems to set me apart from everyone else made sense. Now, I identify myself as undiagnosed Asperger's. I've considered getting a diagnosis but held back for various reasons (financial constraints, thinking my diagnosis wouldn't help my son, thinking that my diagnosis wouldn't help me). Sometimes, though, it feel like not getting the diagnosis sets me apart and casts doubt on whether I really have autism or not.

    Would you recommend that adults who think they are on the spectrum get a diagnosis? If so, do you have any recommendations for how to proceed with this?

    • I don't really understand the point of the diagnosis. Changing or improving behaviors that negatively impact yourself or others around you apply to autistic people as much as ntypicals.
        If you think you need help with this get counseling.

      • Re:Adult Diagnosis (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Jason Levine ( 196982 ) on Friday July 17, 2015 @04:06PM (#50131557) Homepage

        At times, I want to get a diagnosis not so much for myself but for others. My parents, for example, reacted to my "I have autism" declaration as if I insulted their parenting skills. I know that this comes out of ignorance and that a diagnosis won't stop this. My father still tries to claim that my diagnosed son will "grow out of it" or that an accomplishment of his is "proof he doesn't have autism." Still, it would be nice sometimes to say definitively "Yes, I have autism as diagnosed by this medical doctor."

        • by Orne ( 144925 )

          My now-5-year-old son was also diagnosed as a high functioning autistic, and both me and my wife have many of the traits, with regards to social anxiety and language delays as youths, but neither diagnosed. Born 3 weeks premature, he was always on a track for monitoring. At age 2, he spoke about 10 words, was touch sensitive (hated anything loud or sticky), and got the diagnosis then. I myself was in denial for a while, thinking why did it have to happen to him, he's just a little behind, it will come.

        • My son was diagnosed HFA and PDD- his 'tested' IQ in early grade school was 70. He's in advanced math and science now(HS) and although he struggles socially he has changed a lot.
          We got the diagnoses for the special services he receives in school but it isn't normally a topic for ourselves or with the rest of the family.

    • by ignavus ( 213578 )

      As a person who was diagnosed by a specialist psychologist as an adult, I would recommend it to others, with a couple of cautions.

      First the cautions. It might cost very little if you live in the UK, but it might cost a lot if you live in the US. I live in Australia and it cost me the equivalent of US$500 for the whole diagnostic assessment process. I have heard of people paying US$1-2K for a diagnostic assessment in America. Only you can tell how much it will cost and whether that price is worth it. But I c

      • by Cederic ( 9623 )

        Getting diagnosed was excellent for me. It hadn't occurred to me that I might have Aspergers until I went through the testing, but it suddenly explained a tremendous amount about my life.

        It also means that I no longer try and act like other people. That takes a lot of pressure off me, because I can't do some of the things that others take for granted. So instead I live life my way, not the way friends and family seem to think I should. Far far happier as a result.

  • Do you think that autism has actually increased over the past years or has the definition expanded to encompass other conditions/misdiagnosis?
    • How about people are more aware of it and reporting it more? That seems at least as likely as your misdiagnosis/expansion theory. And, by the way, just because there's expansion of a category doesn't mean it's wrong to do so. It may be that experts recognize a linkage they might not have seen before, figured out that people who were previously seen as "close" to diagnostic boundaries are actually seen to suffer as much as those seen to be well within the initial boundary, a cure becomes available for someth

      • Yes, your hypothesis is also an option and one that I've considered as well. I figured I'd keep my question short and Temple could respond.

        You might want to do something about your apparent oversensitivity and tendency to toss unfounded accusations at others.
  • Internet Autism (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 17, 2015 @02:30PM (#50130697)

    There a phenomenon on the internet - particularly among the nerd/geek technical community - to self-diagnose as "autistic" or having Asperger syndrome. (That is, they read something on the internet about autism, say "hey, that sounds vaguely similar to me", and then claim to have autism/Aspergers without even going to a doctor for an official diagnosis.)

    What's your take on this? By claiming a condition which they might not technically have, are they de-stigmatizing it, or is it more that by "jumping on the bandwagon" they are trivializing a potentially serious condition? Are you concerned about "autism poseurs"?

    • This seems to be one of the more interesting questions I have read. I'd like to hear her take on this too.

    • by spads ( 1095039 )
      I think your obsevations are true. I think people are attracted to the autistic and naturally, subconsciously desire to emulate them, because they seem courageous in their isolation, as though one "going it alone". Thus, it is more complex (and laudable) than the simple hypochondriac's "hmm, that sounds like me!"
      • With all respect, I call BS. As an Aspie, sure, I can program and perform a small handful of other tasks far more easily than most others. But I'd GLADLY trade that for being allowed to attend my children's birthday parties and concerts and church functions and other things from which I have to stay away because my inability to read nonverbal cues looks to other people like, at best, monstrously poor judgment, disrespect for boundaries, and general rudeness and selfishness. If there were a magic pill I c
  • Dr. Grandin: As someone diagnosed with high-functioning autism 17 years ago, I found your talk, "My Experience With Autism", to be absolutely fascinating in that it struck me someone describing in intricate detail how my mind work without ever having met me. I was particularly struck by your description of visual thinking, as it is something that I have always done. I use visual thinking when writing the graphics routines for video games, and the ability to map a mental image onto code almost instantly is t

  • In 2014 you wrote []

    I have emphasized the importance of removing distractions that cause balking from cattle handling facilities.

    How has technology been employed to automatically detect and either alert or mitigate potential distraction situations? For example, using sensors to alert when external sound and motion levels become an issue or when livestock shows above normal signs of stress. Another example might be the tailored use of CAD to design facilities that take into account "other common distractions [s

  • Dr. Grandin, Does the human ability to manipulate and expand upon elaborate linguistic constructs, constructs which influence behavior beyond the individual contributors, equal a distinct form of intelligence in contrast to that possessed by other animals in your opinion? If you feel this is a distinct form of intelligence, one that is central to our common identification as "above" other animals, do you feel that distinction is a mantle that can be applied beyond human neurology and instead might equival
  • What actions or concessions should businesses take, on a social and practical scale, to help integrate and utilize those with autism, especially those with a particular gifting and working environment needs?
  • What is your feeling on religious/spiritual obeservances, both personally and in general? Do you have any personal such observances (if you are okay talking about it), and if so, what form do they take?
  • Over the years fields have gotten more and more in-depth/specialized to the point where a hundred or two hundred years back it wasn't unthinkable for a person to know several fields in completion. These days fields are very specialized - even to the point where a subject matter expert may not be able to know the full corpus of their field. At the same time the rates of autism and asperger's syndrome shoot up when you breed to people of high intellect.

    Following this line of thinking my questions are:

    • Do yo
  • My 7 year old son was recently diagnosed with Autism, during testing we had performed because of significant behavioral problems he was having at school. While we've enrolled him in ABA therapy, and are working closely with the school district to improve his behavior, there's not a lot of real instruction going on for him there.

    Is there a recommended curriculum you'd recommend we could use to supplement at home?
    • My question to you is why would you ask an autistic person to be qualified to speak on curriculum and pedagogy. :) I have a PhD in Education, and I'm autistic, and I'm still not sure what I could recommend to a parent. Beyond, of course, the admonition that anything you can do to reduce stress and encourage intrinsic interest and motivations are a good thing. But I'm only speaking from the perspective of an autistic educator, not as an expert on autism and learning.
      • Having read her page, she offers a lot of solid advice to parents of children regarding their emotional well-being, growth and therapeutic methods. I don't necessarily think that she *will* have an answer, but given the opportunity to ask a question, I felt it prudent to ask the question that - if answered - would be most likely to improve his life the most. For the most part, he's only in school to continue improving his socialization, we do a lot of at home learning with books and explanations, question
        • Congratulations. Seriously. That's major work. Most of the adult autistics I know had to figure it out for themselves. There was no support or therapy when I was a kid. We don't get over autism. It is who we are. What we do learn are techniques and skills to deal with the difference between how we see the world and how more neurotypicals see the world; how to advocate for our own needs; and how to ensure that we have the conditions in place that will allow us to reduce stress and over stimulation. Those nee
          • Purchased The Spark on this recommendation, and I'll read it through when it gets here. Much appreciated! I'll also continue to try to tie things into his interests more closely, though his primary interest is video games, and we *have* to limit that for everyone's sanity. I bought him some circuit builder starter kits and a couple other tinkering things and will continue to work with him to help him find more interests. Glad to hear of your work, I'm sure we'll all benefit from it in times to come.
  • As you've gained success professionally, how have your coping skills had to change? Is it harder or easier now to deal with the stresses of a very public life vs. when you were a relatively anonymous student? Do we have a model yet for the progression of adaptive skills development for people with autism, or is it highly variable at the individual level?
  • It seems like finding people with autism to act as advocates and leaders would be difficult; to the point you're probably the only well known person in that role. Do you have a community of peers with autism who help you advocate, or is much of your support from neurotypical people? Is this even a problem the autistic community faces?
  • I've watched a video you made defending the cattle ranching industry and the process by which cows are slaughtered. How much is the meat industry paying you, and how can I be sure you're telling the truth?

    Do you think cows would choose to be slaughtered if given a preference test? Why do you think it is right for humans to eat animals?

    • Why do you think it is right for humans to eat animals?

      Fact - humans, like pigs, are omnivores.

      Unwanted Advice - Get over it, and stop attacking someone who has single handedly done more to sell the benefits of humane treatment of our enslaved prey to the meat industry than global organisations such as PETA could ever hope to do with their immature and condescending, self-righteousness.

      • Pandas choose vegetarianism, despite having the digestive system of carnivores.

        Grandin's work is like getting the Ku Klux Klan to tell their lynch victims they're going to be in a one-legged race so they'll be compliant to tying them up before the lynching. She's fully sold out to the meat industry. I'm just curious what her price was?

      • I'm choose not to consume animals (actually not entirely by choice - I lack the ability to digest them - but I'd choose not to anyway even if I could). Nonetheless I can still respect Dr. Grandin's work, as it makes a formerly much more cruel and heartless process at least a little bit more humane. Rightly or wrongly we are a carnivorous culture. I hope and pray that over time that will change, but, since it is not going to happen overnight, I am willing to accept small steps in the direction of more res
  • Any thoughts on people just being called it as an insult? I find it upsetting that people have come to this point in its use.
  • What do you think of the problem/phenomenon of the 'shiny autistic' ( trope, and the impact public that these people have on public perceptions of autism. As someone who is perceived by many as a 'shiny autistic' I'm curious to know why you think it is ok for 'shiny autistics' to speak on behalf of autistics.
  • What age could an Asperger person understand his diagnosis and refer to himself as a person with this disorder? Or what do they need to reach this level of self awareness?
  • With the amount of amazing work that you have done in how slaughter houses and trying to ensure that animals are treated with respect when it comes to the raising and when it's time to slaughter them. How do you feel about regulations and laws being passed that prevent individuals from filming any abuse they come across?
  • First, I just want to tell you how much I admire your work to demystify autism. I've been a huge fan since I saw "The woman that thinks like a cow" documentary many years ago. Since then I have gained three very lovable granddaughters, the oldest is six and mildly autistic. Your documentaries and talks were invaluable in helping me to understand autism before I experienced it up close and personal. You are one of the "great teachers" in my life and for that you have my eternal gratitude.

    Question : Do you
  • I've seen many claims that being a human with autism somehow gives you some special access to animal experiences. Since no one knows what animals actually experience, and pretty much everything we know about both animal evolution and autism tells us that a human with autism is if anything less likely than a neurotypical human to have sound insight into the lived experience of a domesticated harem-keeping herbivorous prey-animal with completely different evolved responses to external stimuli--since neurotypi

  • Dr. Grandin, thank you for taking time to answer questions. I have been familiar with your work in the autism field for many years. I first found your book, "Thinking in Pictures" when my son was a toddler and my husband and I were attempting to figure out if we could avoid an institution as a long term choice for him. Your book describing your thought process provided myself with a key and I was able to help him start communicating with us by drawing, by hand and then on the computer. He is in his 20's now

  • Dr. Grandin, thank you for taking the time to review these topics with us. My question is regarding Applied Behavior Analysis therapy for children diagnosed with autism: what is your opinion of the benefits of these techniques?
  • Dr. Grandin, thank you for taking the time to review these topics with us.

    My question is regarding the notion that some behavior therapists have with respect to never taking a child out of their comfort zone; that is, some therapists seem to explicitly avoid emotional discomfort, "work" etc. I would ask you whether or not your experiences would support this type of therapy, or whether you see some benefit for children undergoing therapies to be pushed and challenged outside of their comfort zone?

  • Dr. Grandin, thank you for taking the time to review these topics with us.

    My question is in regards to what you might think the underlying cause of the sensory differences which manifest in young children which fall under the umbrella term autism could possibly be.

    I have two boys who have been diagnosed on the spectrum, and each is very different. One is now 13 and falls under a more classic "Aspergers"/PDD/NOS classification. He seems to respond to light medications for managing his anxiety; he plays the v

  • I recently attended a talk about the use of drones to monitor livestock. Although the concept seems great for observing livestock that are in hard to access areas, do you think that this could eventually be as useful as going out to monitor the animals in person? Because livestock are all prey species, they tend to hide signs of illness or distress pretty well, and I'm not sure that subtle signs would be able to be detected with the use of drones alone.

A university faculty is 500 egotists with a common parking problem.