World-renowned animal scientist and autistic activist Temple Grandin is set to speak at the Mondavi Center on Feb. 10. Grandin, whose book, Thinking in Pictures, was selected as UC Davis’ 2014-15 Campus Community Book Project (CCBP), will be discussing issues relating to animal behavior, different kinds of thinking and autism.
Thinking in Pictures discusses Grandin’s experience with visual thinking and how she believes it is similar to the way animals think. The book was chosen for this year’s CCBP theme of disability.
“I didn’t know, when I was young, that most people didn’t think in pictures the way I did,” Grandin said. “Visual thinking is kind of like continual. When I think about stuff or when I describe stuff – like a cattle-hand facility I designed – I see it in my mind. I can walk through it. And when I design a facility, when I do all the drawings, I can actually see the finished product in my mind. I used to think everybody could do that.”
Although Grandin describes herself as a visual thinker, she also praises different kinds of thinking, including mathematical and verbal types of thought processes. One topic she plans on discussing during her talk is about the different ways to problem solve and how the world can function better if these distinct methods of thinking worked collaboratively.
“One of the things you have on the autism spectrum is uneven skills,” Grandin said. “Like I [have an artistic] kind of mind. [A] designer. Another person might be great at computer programs and engineering. Another person might be good at writing. I want to build on their area of strengths.”
In addition to different ways of thinking, Grandin also plans on discussing her experience with autism. Although Grandin found it difficult to take direction as a student and early in her scientific career, she encourages autistic students to learn how to compromise in the work place. She recounts one of her first design experiences that caused her to deal with this difficulty.
“One of my first projects was for a beauty shop. Well, I didn’t put horses and Star Trek on the sign [like I wanted to]. I had to make a sign that a beauty shop would want,” Grandin said. “[A] UFO? I don’t think they’re going to want the Area 51 beauty shop!”
Mikael Villalobos, CCBP director, praises Grandin’s book for its important themes concerning diversity and he encourages students to attend her talk to gain insight into the way the world’s diverse society works.
“Listening to Temple Grandin speak is just one aspect [that will help to] solidify community-building opportunities [at UC Davis],” Villalobos said. “Part of the diverse experience for students is to find ways to listen to other’s experiences. That’s why it’s important to look at opportunities and listen to speakers informing us on how they view the world; [it helps us to] gain perspectives on things we’ve never thought of before.”
David Amaral, director of research at UC Davis’ MIND institute, praises Grandin’s career as an example of success regardless of mental disability.
“[Grandin] is an inspiration to all families; [she proves that parents] do not need to accept a lifelong sentence of disability for their child with autism spectrum disorder,” Amaral said. “Temple Grandin is a testimony to hope.”
Grandin is currently a distinguished professor of animal science at Colorado State University. She built her career on designing livestock facilities based on natural animal behavior that promotes the humane treatment of animals. In 2010, Grandin was named one of Time 100’s one hundred most influential heroes in the world.
“I want people to realize that there are different ways you can think about things. Don’t get tangled up in a label like autism,” Grandin said. “Let’s look at what a person can do. Not what they can’t do. What they can do.”
Temple Grandin will be speaking and attending a Q&A session at UC Davis’ Mondavi Center on Feb. 10 at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $39 and can be purchased online at mondaviarts.org or by phone by calling 530-754-2787.