TEMPLE GRANDIN: Noted livestock handling authority visits Eastern Kentucky University
from my article in The Farmer’s Pride
A sly smile slipped across Temple Grandin’s face as she talked about confronting challenges. “Imagine walking into a meeting of Hollywood ‘suits’ and pitching a movie story line about an autistic woman who designs slaughter houses.”
It took a decade to sell the idea of the eponymous biopic, but last year HBO Films released the project, taken mostly from Grandin’s ground-breaking book Thinking in Pictures: My Life with Autism. The film garnered universal rave reviews and was nominated for seven primetime Emmy awards, winning five of them and also collecting a Screen Actor’s Guild award and a Golden Globe for actress Claire Danes for her portrayal of Grandin.
The celebrated Colorado State University professor, livestock handling authority and outspoken autism awareness advocate recently came to Eastern Kentucky University to deliver the second annual Bruce MacLaren Distinguished Lecture at EKU’s Chautauqua Series. Two screenings of the film were held the evening before.
Dr. Grandin’s recent visit to Richmond suited the lecturer well, being high energy and fast paced from beginning to end. She began September 22 at the EKU Model Laboratory School, which she took several opportunities during the day to praise for its practical, hands-on approach to teaching. The school was established more than a century ago to serve the community in Madison County and provide valuable experience for EKU students. In 2010, the school ranked 6th in the Commonwealth for ACT scores.
The next stop was the University’s Meadowbrook Farm, where she toured the facility and met with agriculture students. Dr. Ed Fredrickson, an EKU associate professor and long-time friend, introduced Grandin to the students by asking for a show of hands of those who had come to the school with a background in animal agriculture and livestock production. The surprise was evident on Grandin’s face when more than two thirds of the 100 plus students in attendance raised their hands. “My classes at Colorado State never have this many” she noted with obvious pleasure.
The next hour sped by as Grandin spoke to the students about livestock management techniques and issues, not shying away from contentious subjects like animal rights activism (which she disdains) and horse slaughter bans which she characterized as a terrible mistake. When students were reticent to ask questions, she assumed the role of classroom instructor and began to call on individuals she picked at random from the group.
After having lunch with the students, Grandin once again took center stage to speak with agriculture leaders who joined them. Commodity executives, Legislative Research Commission representatives, officials from the Kentucky Department of Agriculture and Governor’s Office of Agriculture Policy staffers were all in attendance. At the close of the question and answer session, GOAP Executive Director Roger Thomas shared how his father taught him to select a horse for its spirit. “Your father was right,” replied Grandin.
As time drew near for the evening’s featured event, lines stretched all the way around the new EKU Center for the Arts. A diverse crowd streamed in to fill the facility’s 2,000 seat auditorium to capacity. A few patrons sported western hats, boots and jeans to compliment the speaker’s standard attire of black jeans and embroidered black western shirt.
Grandin’s remarks on Animals, Humans and Sensory-Based Thinking followed many of the noted author’s published works, explaining her ideas on the “bottom up” thinking employed by many with autism, and its similarity to the way most animals process information. At all times, Grandin was glib, witty and engaging, often gliding effortlessly from noting her extraordinary accomplishments to an amusingly self-deprecating assessment of her lack of social skills. Questions following her remarks ranged from intense discussions on the discipline of an autistic child to the best way to restrain sheep for hoof trimming.