Temple Grandin is an animal behaviorist known for referencing her autism in creating humane slaughter systems. Grandin spoke about her unique insight on the animal point of view on ABC News' "Primetime Live."
Grandin is the author of "Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior." You can read an excerpt from the book below.
People who aren't autistic always ask me about the moment I realized I could understand the way animals think. They think I must have had an epiphany.
But it wasn't like that. It took me a long time to figure out that I see things about animals other people don't. And it wasn't until I was in my forties that I finally realized I had one big advantage over the feedlot owners who were hiring me to manage their animals: being autistic. Autism made school and social life hard, but it made animals easy.
I had no idea I had a special connection to animals when I was little. I liked animals, but I had enough problems just trying to figure out things like why a really small dog isn't a cat. That was a big crisis in my life. All the dogs I knew were pretty big, and I used to sort them by size. Then the neighbors bought a dachshund, and I was totally confused. I kept saying, "How can it be a dog?" I studied and studied that dachshund, trying to figure it out. Finally I realized that the dachshund had the same kind of nose my golden retriever did, and I got it. Dogs have dog noses.
That was pretty much the extent of my expertise when I was five.
I started to fall in love with animals in high school when my mother sent me to a special boarding school for gifted children with emotional problems. Back then they called everything "emotional problems." Mother had to find a place for me because I got kicked out of high school for fighting. I got in fights because kids teased me. They'd call me names, like "Retard," or "Tape recorder."
They called me Tape Recorder because I'd stored up a lot of phrases in my memory and I used them over and over again in every conversation. Plus there were only a few conversations I liked to have, so that amplified the effect. I especially liked to talk about the rotor ride at the carnival. I would go up to somebody and say, "I went to Nantasket Park and I went on the rotor and I really liked the way it pushed me up against the wall." Then I would say stuff like, "How did you like it?" and they'd say how they liked it, and then I'd tell the story all over again, start to finish. It was like a loop inside my head, it just ran over and over again. So the kids called me Tape Recorder.
Teasing hurts. The kids would tease me, so I'd get mad and smack 'em. That simple. They always started it, they liked to see me react.
My new school solved that problem. The school had a stable and horses for the kids to ride, and the teachers took away horseback riding privileges if I smacked somebody. After I lost privileges enough times I learned just to cry when somebody did something bad to me. I'd cry, and that would take away the aggression. I still cry when people are mean to me.
Nothing ever happened to the kids who were teasing.