Students should use their Temple Grandin student sheet to guide their listening for detail, make notes, or jot sketches. That way they can easily answer the three essay questions—in words and in pictures—because they'll have an inventory of ideas.
Before going throug this sheet, say to students: "After each chapter, we'll discuss these questions to check your understanding and clarify and deepen the book's messages. As we discuss, you should have your student sheet out in a guided listening activity to take notes that will help you write two paragraphs to each of the three questions on the Temple Grandin student sheet that ask you to synthesize the main points in the book. There are 13 chapters in the book, and two questions/chapter—and an occasional Bonus Temple Truth. Our goal is to get at the big ideas and the big personality at the heart of this book."
Chapter 1: Family. A. Name some ways Temple was different from other babies and young children. What would you think of that behavior if you were called over to babysit Temple Grandin? How would you react?
She didn't smile; didn't hug; chewed puzzle pieces; didn't like to be tickled; loved to stare at flapping flags; sand grains flowing through her fingers and to twirl for hours.
B. Temple Grandin says she thinks in pictures. What does that mean? What are the pictures in your head?
It means that images—not words or a quiet narrator saying thoughts—dominate her mental life. She sees very detailed images.
Chapter 2: Animals. A. Why does Temple Grandin like animals so much, and what do they share in common? How do you feel about animals? Why?
They think alike, in pictures, and therefore understand each other without words. As a child, she developed language many years after other kids, and felt baffled by the barrage of words people spoke, just as animals must. (p. 16.)
B. What is the role of emotions in animals' lives, and how does Temple use animals' emotions? Give some examples of an animal's emotional reaction you've witnessed, and tell how you interacted with the animal in that emotional state. For example, most of us have been greeted by a happy dog at the door. But have you ever known a "jolly animal," one with a sense of humor? Or a sneaky animal, one that is dishonest? An animal with hurt feelings? An embarrassed animal? How did you perceive those emotions?
Animals not only have emotions, emotions are powerful drivers of all animal behavior, particularly fear, as in fear of predators or other dangers. Temple says that if one can figure out what emotion is driving a behavior of any animal, "you can know how to give the animal a better life." She uses science to understand animals' behavior. (p. 15.)
Bonus Temple Truth: What does Temple Grandin call raw oysters? (Whale boogers. [p. 12.])
Chapter 3: Autism. A. What is autism? Name some traits or mannerisms.
Autism is a brain condition that can be severe or mild and points in between, in which the person seems, depending on the severity of the condition, to live in his or her own world. The prefix of the word, aut- comes from "auto" for self. No one knows the cause. What they do know is that it seems to be related to abnormal development of the brain, where parts of the brain grow exceptionally fast, but at the wrong time so the stimuli are not processed as they are in normal development. As a result, autistic people can be super sensitive to stimuli that others aren't. Fire alarms can cause panic attacks in autistic people, where others are merely startled. Many clothes are too scratchy for autistic people to wear. Their senses overload easily. Some can't even stand to be in a room with a flickering fluorescent light, which most other people can't detect. Many autistic people don't like to be hugged by people, or to make eye contact. As children, they are prone to temper tantrums, and they don't like change. (pp. 20-121.)
Think: How might an animal respond to a fire alarm?
B. What is the biggest "deficit," meaning skill that is lacking, in autistic people? Why is that a disability? What are their biggest strengths? Why does Temple Grandin embrace the strengths of her autism?
Autistic people lack the ability to read other people's emotions, expressions, or body language. (p.23.) This makes their social life challenging because they don't know how to fit in easily because they can't interpret how other people feel about them. Their strengths are their abiltiies to see detail and visualize solutions and to hyper-focus on a topic, project, or problem. Temple Grandin's ability to hyper-focus on observing details of animal behavior and then build and design systems to support comfortable behaviors enables her to use science to achieve an ethical relationship with animals. (pp. 24-25.)
Chapter 4: School. A. What was Temple like in school and what 4th-grade assignment showed her autistic traits?
She called kids by first and last names all the time; she loved art and she loved to build things. She loved the 4th-grade assignement of making a stone-age tool without using modern tools, especially hunting for stones and sticks at a local quarry, then tying the stone to the stick with grass to make a club. (p. 35.)
B. What was Temple's favorite book in 4th grade? How is that an apt expression of who she is?
Her favorite book was a book about inventions. Typical of her inventor's mind, Temple designed a kite that flew well, but looked nothing like other kites. It was a puffed-up jelly fish shape. (p. 37.)
Chapter 5: Teasing. A. What about the school's physical environment was hard for Temple to be in when she moved to high school?
The halls were noisy, there were lockers banging, all sorts of movement and light. It was very confusing. And people were mean to her, calling her names, like "retard." She had to change teachers every class.
B. What about the school's social environment was hard for her?
Kids thought she was weird and teased her for her odd behaviors, such as: She would repeat words she liked the sounds of, such as jell-o and boobs, not realizing what that must have sounded like to other kids. She sometimes would get so frustrated she would hit people and have tantrums; she had an odd way of speaking, with a flat intonation, and out of synch with the usual give and take of conversation. She was blunt. All this brought so much negative attention and teasing she finally blew up, hit a girl who called her a "retard," and was expelled from school.
Bonus Temple Truth: What is neurodiversity and how is Temple Grandin a shining example of how neurodiversity enriches science?
Neurodiversity (pages after p. 43.) is the concept that brains and how people think are very different, and while some "different brains" in the past were labeled as disabled, neurodiversity seeks to appreciate how novel concepts arise from this ability to think differently. Temple Grandin embodies the strengths of neurodiversity. She considered the meat-packing building from the point of view of the cattle that must walk through it. The scientist in her framed that as an animal behavior issue in which the animals were fearful and stressed from many of the unfamiliar visual stiumuli, such as threatening shadows or straight lines when they are used to walking in curved paths. Temple Grandin applied her knowledge of animal behavior and her inborn autistic ability to "think like a cow"—in pictures, not words—to design out all the scary elements of a meat-packing plant. In her building designs, animals can feel calm as they approach painless, instant slaughter; the process is efficient; and it is safer for the people who work with animals because the animals are not bolting and lurching in fear. All these improvements are the result of neurodiversity in action!
Chapter 6: New School. A. The director of admissions at Temple's new school said about his students, "Their problems are part of their abilities." What do you think he meant by that? Why do you think Temple excelled at her new school, the Hampshire School?
He meant that their problems were largely social in that their abilities were misunderstood by other people. But Temple's "problem" of being blunt, obsessed by details, at home with animals, and stubbonly committed to her ideas and what she believed was the right action, all combined to make her uniquely effective to be the one person to change the gloabal meat-packing industry.
B. Describe two projects Temple found really satisfying to make at Harmpshire School, and explain what she liked about them.
With her friend Mark and several other boys she built a ski rope tow so they no longer had to climb up the snowy hill to ski. Instead, a mechanical ski lift hauled them up the hill and they could ski over and over. Temple was fascinated by UFOs, and wanted to awe her friend Jackie with one she made from a DairyQueen dish, hoping to convince her it was real. (p. 54.) Both of these reveal her natural problem-sovling mind: it is restless, and always looking for solutions through design.
Chapter 7: Saviors. A. What saved Temple and why did she need saving?
As Temple reached puberty and her body began to change, she began to have panic attacks that became increasingly severe. Animals saved her. Horses at school gave her peace, and later in life, cows became her true love—they were so alike. "I've got the nervous system of a prey animal" she said. "I see the world an awful lot like a cow." (p. 60.)
B. In her junior year of high school, a great change occurred at her aunt's ranch in Arizona. What was it?
After closely observing the cattle as they were being handled or vaccinated, she saw that the calves were instantly calmed by the pressure of a confining cattle chute. She wondered if that would happen to her as well. So she crawled in and convinced her aunt to close the chute on her. Temple felt calm, secure, and peaceful and stayed there for 30 minutes. (pp. 63-64.) When she returned to Hampshire, Temple built herself a "squeeze machine", and could not be dissuaded from using it by the school psychologist who did not understand it. But her science teacher, Mr. Carlock, did understand. Instead of trying to make her give up the squeeze machine, he framed it as a scientific problem: "Let's build a better squeeze machine and test it out on other people and see if it calms them." This was the beginning of the scientist Temple Grandin—seeking to observe and gather evidence of the effects on behavior of her squeeze machine.
Chapter 8: Experimenting. A. How did the squeeze machine affect her life back at Hampshire School?
It inspired her to apply the scientific method to its use to see if it really did calm a wide range of people. She became fixated on refining the machine and testing it scientifically on the behavior of her classmates. It renewed her interest in her classes. Suddenly, everything that was once so boring now held the promise of helping her observe, gather data, evaluate the evidence, and interpret the results.
B. What is scientific about Temple's work with her squeeze machine in college?
She systematially modified it so it could test a large number of students, and then generated a research question: "What are the sensory effects of the squeeze machine?" She tested it on 40 college students. Results showed that 62% found it relaxing.
Bonus Temple Truth: Temple believes that when one door closes, another opens. How did that happen to her in graduate school?
Her advisor rejected her idea for testing different kinds of cattle chutes on animals. He didn't see the value of the epxeriment. Temple's focus served her well because she remained committed to the idea. She closed the door as she left his office, walked across campus and through a new door. This brought her to two other professors in different departments: construction and industrial design. They embraced her idea, and her life's work was begun: she had help in scientifically evaluating cattle chute designs on animal behavior for the goal of achieving the ethical treatment of animals.
Chapter 9: Sexism. A. Temple Grandin and her scientific graduate studies of cattle chutes were not welcomed by everybody in the animal processing world. How was her autism a superability—not a disability—in this situation?
Temple was very different from the other people who worked in the meat-packing industry at the time: She was female and a scientist. There weren't other women on site, and there weren't scientists on site, standing by the chutes observing cattle and logging data about their reactions to design and environmental stimuli. (p. 79.) Animals at this time were treated more like inventory—as if they were objects, like barrels, to move through a system. Temple's attachment to cattle and her autistic abiilty to focus on one dominant idea—obtaining scientific data on how chute design affects cattle behavior—enabled her to endure sexist, disrespectful treatment to achieve her goal. Her autism was also a superability in the sense that by nature, she is not sensitive to other people's feelings. So she really didn't care that much about the men who disliked her! She had a higher purpose and work to do!
B. Describe some of the ways men in this male-dominated world reacted to her. How did Temple Grandin react? What about her enabled her to do so? Why do you think the men acted this way?
To discourage and undermine Temple Grandin, men at various animal handling process plants vandalized her car by covering it with bloody flesh; instead of taking her on a tour of the facility, they took her to look at a "gut truck" full of instestinal waste from animal slaughter and blood pit; altered her designs so they couldn't be properly tested or allowed to work. In all cases, Temple Grandin refused to be "grossed-out" and kept going to pursue her scientific testing of design. When there were testicles on her windshield, she turned on the windshield wipers and drove home (p. 82.) When the men took her to the blood pit three times, on the final trip she stood in the middle of the deepest pool of blood and stomped in it to splatter the men. Said Temple: "They just wanted to make me throw up. They wanted to gross me out." It didn't work. Why? Because, in large part, of Temple's superability of autism: She doesn't read human emotions, body language, or facial expressions well. This causes her to miss social cues about how people are feeling about her. Besides, she had fixed her focus on obtaining scientific data on which to base humane design for her "best friends," cattle, as they met their death. She didn't care what the men thought. She cared about the cattle. (p.83: "When I see someone squeeze an aimal too hard in a squeeze chute, it makes me hurt all over.") The men reacted like this probably because they were threatened by change and especially change sparked by a woman who did not look, act, or react like their stereotype of feminine behavior. Temple's role as a change agent threatened their power: she had the ability to change the entire physical structure of the building, and the steps handlers took to move animals through it—their very jobs! Until recently in human history, sexism has been so entrenched and accepted in most societies and cultures that men have resisted sharing power with women. In one case with Temple, jealously was identified as their motivation to resist Temple (p.83.) An emotion she doesn't really understand!
Chapter 10: Design. A. How did a natural threat to cattle in the 1970s advance Temple Grandin's research?
Ranchers in Arizona were faced with loss of money from cattle infested by mites, which made them lose weight or even die from itching and infeciton they caused. The accepted solution at the time was to force animals to walk through a pool of medicine to kill the mites, called dip vats. But animals didn't like entering dip vats, and ranchers lost still more money to panicking animals who balked at the vats, drowned as they panicked, or refused to go in, which worsened the mite infestation in the herd. (p. 89.)
B. How was Temple Grandin uniquely suited to solving the dip vat entry problem? Name some elements of her breakthrough design.
With her superability from autism, Temple has a "cow's eye view" of the problem. She perceives light, shadow, sounds, and environmental threats as a prey animal does—not as a rancher does. Looking at the design, she understood immediately the problem that scared cattle so badly: the slippery, steep slope of a metal ramp. They didn't feel safe on it. Said Temple: "I wouldn't have liked the slippery metal ramp either. Those cattle must have felt as if they were being forced down an airplane escape slide into the ocean." (p. 90.) With that understanding, she could correct the problem through design: give them concrete footing so they could enter water securely, single file, as they do in nature. Other elements of the breakthrough design were solid walls so they couldn't see objects that might frighten them and curved paths accommodating a cattle behavior drive to "go home," moving in a circle with other cattle, single file. Her designs pay special attention to making cattle feel comfortable and safe (see blueprint, p. 96.)
Chapter 11: Slaughterhouse Hell and Heaven. A. Of all the awful things Temple Grandin endured—teasing at school, getting expelled from school, sexism early in her career—why was her visit to the Spencer, Iowa, food plant the worst?
This was a kosher slaughterhouse where Jewish food laws required the animals to be killed by cutting their throats and there was an archaic system in place to accommodate that: Live animals were hoisted by their hind legs, which often broke in the process, and they were screaming and bellowing the entire time, a herd communication that terrified all the animals waiting to be hoisted. "You could hear it in the parking lot," Temple said (p. 102.) and wrote in her diary: "If Hell exists, I am in it." (p. 103.) By applying her scientific knowledge about cattle behavior and the success of her dip vat designs, she could relieve their suffering.
B. How can a person who loves cattle, and believes them to be her best friends, design systems for killing them, or eat a steak?
Temple is a realist and she is rational. She looks at data, like a true scientist. And she sees that despite the cultural popularity of vegetariansim in the U.S., most people still eat meat, and she doesn't see that changing quickly (p. 104.) Said Temple: "If I had my druthers, people would have evolved as plant-eaters and wouldn't kill animals for food at all. But I don't see the whole human race converting to vegetarianism anytime soon." Temple reasons that if humans eat meat, she can help cattle most immediately by making their deaths humane, rather than by trying to change people's taste for meat. (p. 105.)
Bonus Temple Truth: What should a humane, dignified death for food animals be like? Look at her blueprint design after p. 107 for "Stairway to Heaven" and describe how that serves these goals.
A food animal should have a death that is calm, secure, and free of pain, fear, yelling from handlers, poking with electric prods. The Stairway to Heaven accommodates this by having them walk up, which they feel more comfortable doing than down a slippery ramp, to a quick and painless death by a blow to the brain from a bolt stunner. (pp. 106-107.)
Chapter 12: Measuring. A. Science is data driven. It is based on obtaining repeatable evidence that supports the conclusions and the standards it proposes. How did Temple propose scientifically evaluating the behavior of cattle to determine if they were calm or fearful in her slaughterhouse designs?
She told the plant manager to "count moos" as a measure of cattle distress. From her animal behavior expertise, she knew cattle bellow and moo and vocalize, as scientists say, when they are not comfortable. A contented cow is a quiet cow. Counting moos is a measure of distress that can be used to formulate a comfort index and scoring system. Said Temple: "Let's look at the animals. Let's look at what they are actually doing and find things we can measure. Like counting moos." (p. 116.)
B. Like all scientists, Temple's work continues to grow and evolve in new directions. What is the current focus of her work?
She designs less and teaches more. Her teaching focuses on educating people to treat animals more humanely. She can point to her animal handling designs that are used around the world as evidence that humane treatment is the right treatment. Said Temple on why she focuses on teaching: "I thought I could fix everything with engineering. But you know, engineering can only fix half the problems. The other half is management, and I was very frustrated with that." (p. 117.)
Chapter 13: Today. A. Describe Temple Grandin's home. Visualize it! Then tell about the awards, plaques, and figurines she has. What does she do with mirrors? Why do you think she does that?
The office is piled with books and magazines, hundreds of press passes, and badges on walls—even on the curtains. Mirrors are just another surface for hanging things, not for reflecting her image. She probably does that because her autistic brain is not that interested in her external self: she likes her interior life; thinking in pictures, the life of the mind, problem solving, using science to help animals be treated ethically. (pp. 123-125.)
B. Temple Grandin is incredibly successful. Animals' lives are much improved because of her. Does that mean she has recovered from autism?
No. A person never "recovers" from autism. It is not an infectious disease. It is a condition of brain development and neurodiversity. She is autistic and she is successful—and largely because of her autism! This so-called disability is her superability to focus, follow through, and single-mindedly fix on a problem to use science to solve it. Her autistic traits are still there, still obvious. She has trouble pronouncing certain words; she is uncomfortable making eye contact with people, but has trained herself to do so; she is learning how to hug and to read people's facial expressions; she trained herself to care about hygiene as much as other people (notice her teeth are blemished). Most people might seek cosmetic dentistry. But among those people, Temple feels like "an anthropologist on Mars." (p. 128.) She probably wonders why a person would go to the trouble and expense of cosmetic dentistry if their teeth still work and don't hurt. What's the answer to that from your point of view?