Interview with Temple Grandin

I recently had the amazing opportunity of speaking to the most well-known autistic individual in the world, Dr. Temple Grandin. Dr. Grandin has appeared on the Today Show, Larry King Live, 48 hours, ABC’s Primetime Live, and 20/20. She has been featured in publications such as Time Magazine, People Magazine, Forbes, U.S. News and World Report, and the New York Times. She is well-respected for desigining the majority of livestock facilities in the United States.

What follows is the transcript text of my video interview With Temple Grandin. A video and transcript of her FutureQuest keynote speech will be available in the future.

WrongPlanet.net:What do you think about curing Autism? You’ve said things like “genius comes from autism” but you’ve also supported the ABA.


Temple Grandin:Well the thing is, with a little bit of autism, you know, if you have mild autism, you’ll get genius like einstein. Too much of autism, you’re going to have a severely handicapped child who’s going to remain nonverbal and if you don’t do things like aba, they’re not going to function at all. There is no way with any treatment they have that you’re going to cure autism. There’s basic abnormalities in brain development.

I would think in an ideal world, you don’t want to have people who cant talk, but on the other hand, you definitely don’t want to get rid of all of the autism genetics becvause if you did that, there’d be no scientists. After all, who do you think made the first stone spear back in the caves? It wasn’t the really social people.

If we didn’t have a little of the autism trait we wouldn’t even have this building here today with all the electricity in it, your video camera, powerpoint shows… None of this stuff would even exist.

WP: So if there were something that cured all the autism genes, you wouldn’t support that?.


TG:No, I would not support that. becase there is a point where mild autistic traits are part of normal human variation. Because on the other end of the spectrum you have Williams Syndrome, and if you look at the brain abnormalities, they’re exactly the opposite of autism. the whole back of the brain, where the hard drive is–there isn’t too much there. But all the social emotional circuits are hooked up so [people with Williams Syndrome] are hyper, hyper, social. I’m gonna bet you there’s a lot of yackety yackety salesman that don’t talk about much of anything who are Williams Syndrome variants. But then you get to a point where a person [with Autism] cannot talk, they’re self inuring themselves, and they cannot live independently. That [is something] you would want to eliminate, if possible, but you would not want to get rid of all the autism genes because you wouldn’t have any computers– you wouldn’t have any scientists.

WP: I know there are groups like Cure Autism Now who are looking to test for Autism before someone is born. What are your thoughts on prenatal testing?


TG: Well, the problem with autistic traits, it’s a continuum of traits.

WP:Right, a spectrum


TG: and [with] a little bit of the trait, you get einstein. There is a book called Asperger’s and Self Esteem and its about famous scientists and musicians that probably were aspergers.

The genetics of it are probably going to be complicated. There is not going to be one single gene for autism. So i think they’re quite a ways away from a genetic test. Its not like fragile x syndrome where there is a very obvious genetic abnormality.

WP: What do you think about online communication and the role it plays with helping HFA and aspergers communicate more because there are obviously a lot of websites out there where people can get help with social stuff.


TG: HI think thats a helpful thing–I think thats a really really helpful thing. But the things I feel very strongly about are things like developing your career. I’m a livestock handling specialist first and autistic secondly. And I think all of these websites are a really good thing but you don’t want to have that take over where you’re not working on your career in computer science which is extremely important. You also want to be on other websites for computer science where you’re talking about things related to your job.

There is not enough emphasis in the special ed field on careers. Thats why I have my little book called developing talents. Because the thing about the autistic brain–it tends to be a specialist brain–good at one thing, bad at something else. And we need to be getting into a lot more emphasis on developing what they can be good at.

What you have to do is sell your skills rather than yourself. I’m a big believer in making portfolios. Make a nice portfolio of some of your very best coding. People are going to look at that and say ‘wow, that’s really good coding’.

That’s something I’ve had to do my whole life– I mean, I sold jobs by sending out a portfolio of drawings and picturees of jobs i have designed. I sell my work rather than myself.

The problem with the whole thing on curing autism is we do want to do something about low functioning autism. But the upper end.

WP:What do you think about the social aspect with Aspergers?


TG:I think there are basic social skills people need to learn. In my field there are lots of 40 and 50 year old head of maintenance engineers that are Aspergers and i think they’re functioning because in the 50s, basic social skills were drilled into all kids. Things like manners, things like not being rude. And in today’s society being looser, I think it really hurts the Aspergers children. I had table manners drilled into me as a child. I had things like please and thank you drilled into me as a child. And when I look back at that, that was really a good thing. And I’m seeing way too many Asperger kids who are total slobs. There is just no excuse for that. And you happen to look very nice. I want to commend you for that.

WP:Thank you.


TG: When I was little i was taught to say please and thank you, that I couldn’t comment on fat ladies in the supermarket. And I recently went to a talent show at an autism school and some of [the kids] were dressed as complete slobs in front of 500 people. I think that’s ridiculous.

WP: When were you diagnosed?


TG:Well, I’m fifty-eight so I was originally diagnosed as brain damaged. And I had the full blown symptoms. I had no speech until I was three and half to four years old.

WP: What are your thoughts on coping with an adulthood diagnosis?


TG: Well I think the most important thing that I find is happening is a lot of people are functioning reasonably well at work but their married life is a mess because the spouse doesn’t understand what’s going on. The best thing in that situation is reading a lot of books.


Sometimes in an adult a formal diagnose isn’t all that wise. I think a lot of people can get the DSM-IV from amazon read the criteria and they’re done. And a lot of these older engineers don’t even know what aspergers is…


I get concerned that sometimes this diagnosis can hold a person back.


See, the thing is, It’s a continuum. When does a computer nerd become Aspergers? There is no black and white dividing line. I was full blown autistic, but then as you move up the scale to science nerds–as you move up the scale, when is computer nerd a medical diagnosis? It’s not clear cut.

I think the Human brain is so complicated that an absolutely perfectly wired human brain wouldn’t ever be possible.