Thinking in PicturesDr. Temple Grandin was the 2019 Schwartz Visiting Fellow.
Dr. Temple Grandin is a world-renowned autism spokesperson, and a widely cited proponent for the humane treatment of livestock. Today she is a professor of animal sciences at Colorado State University.
"We were very excited to have someone of her stature and talent visit Pomfret," said Library Director David Ring, who is coordinating the visit. "It was a wonderful opportunity for students and faculty alike."
Grandin visited the Pomfret campus on Thursday, January 17 and Friday, January 18. During her stay, she spoke at length about her career in the livestock industry and made the case for why the world needs people on the autism spectrum. "Half of the programmers in Silicon Valley are on the autism spectrum," she says. "There is value in seeing things differently."
Considered an autistic savant, Grandin is known for her amazing ability to describe how her mind works. She says words are her second language and that she thinks "totally in pictures," using her vast visual memory to translate information into a slideshow of mental images that can be manipulated and correlated at will. "My brain is visually indexed," she says. "Everything in my mind works like a search engine set to the image function."
Grandin is famous for her advocacy of the "stretch" method. Like an elastic band, she says, we need to stretch ourselves in order to grow. But she is also quick to note, there are limits. A rubber band stretched too far will snap. She is also famous for her work with animals, specifically the humane treatment of livestock at slaughter. While still in college, Grandin began studying the behavior of cattle — how they react to people, movements, objects, and light — and credits her own autism with helping her see things from the animal's point of view.
Born to a wealthy Boston family, Grandin did not speak until she was three-and-a-half years old. "I had all the full blown autism symptoms," she says. "No speech, screaming, just everything, fully autistic." She was saved by her mother, who actively sought out and paid for private schools with sympathetic staff who were willing to work with her daughter's special needs, which included early speech therapy.
As a young girl, Grandin attended several elementary and secondary private schools, before earning her bachelor's degree in human psychology from Franklin Pierce College in 1970, a master's degree in animal science from Arizona State University in 1975, and a doctoral degree in animal science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1989.
Grandin is the author of several books, including Emergence: Labeled Autistic and Thinking in Pictures: Other Reports from My Life with Autism, and is credited with more than sixty peer-reviewed scientific papers on a variety of animal behavior subjects. She has appeared on radio programs such as NPR and BBC, and national television shows such as 20/20 and 60 Minutes. In addition, Grandin has been featured in the New York Times, Discover Magazine, Forbes, and USA Today, among many others. Her TED talk has been viewed close to five million times.
In 2010, Grandin was named to the TIME 100 list of most influential people in the world. That same year, Golden Globe-winning actress Claire Danes portrayed Grandin in the biopic film Temple Grandin. The movie was nominated for fifteen Primetime Emmy Awards, winning seven of them, including Outstanding Television Movie and Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Movie for Claire Danes. In 2016, Grandin was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Since 1989, world-renowned experts in their fields have visited Pomfret School under the auspices of the Schwartz Visiting Fellow program. This extraordinary speaker series is the result of the vision and generosity of Michael '66 and Eric '69 Schwartz. Past fellows include the writer Joyce Carol Oates, marine archaeologist Robert Ballard, author Bill Bryson, human rights activist Madame Jehan Sadat, and historian David McCullough, to name a few. These eminent visiting fellows have enriched both the School and the Pomfret community. We extend our profound gratitude to Michael and Eric.