Autism advocate and animal scientist Temple Grandin, far right, talks with autism parents Colin Reynolds and Heather Reynolds of Columbus after speaking at the Sixth Annual Creating Your Own Path: Successful Transitions for Persons with Autism Conference at The Mill Thursday.

More than 400 people gathered at The Mill on Thursday to hear a talk from one of the leading advocates for autism spectrum disorders in the world.

Wearing one of her iconic Western shirts, Temple Grandin spoke at the Sixth Annual Creating Your Own Path: Successful Transitions for Persons With Autism Conference held jointly by the Mississippi Coalition for Citizens with Disabilities and the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services.

In her talk, Grandin focused on the need to allow children on the spectrum to explore career options, and the need for more skilled trade workers.

Grandin is a highly regarded animal scientist and designer of meat processing facilities with innovative features to help keep animals calm and orderly before processing.

She is also on the autism spectrum, an well known for her autism advocacy. In 2017 HBO made a film based on her life titled “Temple Grandin.”

Grandin is currently on faculty Colorado State University, and serves as a facility design consultant for the meat industry.

She is the author of several books and academic publications and has been featured on several news programs and in numerous publications.

“I hope I’ve given some practical ways to help people who work with it be successful,”Grandin  said. “You’ve got a very wide range of people, some parents here with little kids, others that are working with older adults in jobs, helping them get out there and be successful.”

She said she turned to some of her own experiences in the working world.

“I worked for 25 years supervising construction projects of facilities I designed for the cattle industry and the pig industry, and I worked with a lot of skilled tradespeople that were dyslexic, that were ADHD. Some would be probably diagnosed with autism today.”

She lamented the current trend toward taking hands-on classes out of schools, saying it begins with children using a pair of scissors to cut snowflakes before moving up to simple hand tools.

Grandin also expounded on some of her grievances with the education system, saying visual learners were less valued than they should be. She cited the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster and Boeing’s recent woes with its 737 MAX jet as examples.

“It’s not a very good idea when you live next to the sea, to insert a super important electrically-operated emergency cooling pump in a non-waterproof basement, real bad idea,” Grandin said. “What I’ve learned is the mathematical mind calculates risk. The visual thinker can see the water coming over the seawall and flooding the basement. With watertight doors, that would not have happened.”

While in Starkville, Grandin also spoke with Studentsin the Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine on the topic of animal behavior. Thursday also happened to be Grandin’s 72nd birthday, and she was presented with a cake and a gift while conference attendees sang “Happy Birthday” to her.

“Temple is iconic in the world of autism, and we’ve actually wanted Temple at this conference for several years, but this is just the first year that the stars aligned, and we were able to get her,” said Mississippi Coalition for Citizens with Disabilities Executive Director Pam Dollar. 


For more on this story, read Friday's Starkville Daily News. 

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