Celebrated animal behaviorist, autism advocate and Colorado State University professor Dr. Temple Grandin spoke last Monday before a crowded assembly of Fort Lupton High School students, gathered in the auditorium of the Fort Lupton Middle School.
From the start, Grandin counseled the students to work toward their strengths and celebrate what makes them human, whether they fit societal norms or think more on the fringes. Critical finding a path is developing a relationship with a mentor, one who helps accentuate your positives.
“Find something you are interested in and build up,” said Grandin, a visual thinker. ”When I was young, I loved art. My ability in art was always, always encouraged, all of the time.”
She explained that her celebrated success designing animal facilities sprang from her ability to see what the animals saw, devoid of verbal thinking and focused on the visual stimulus.
“The normal human mind tends to drop out details,” Grandin said. “When I started doing my work with livestock, I noticed all the little things that the cattle noticed. There would be a shadow, or a chain hanging down, some little thing that people didn’t notice. I noticed. You get those distractions out, then the system would work. Details are really important. Details matter.”
Equally important is getting your work out there, to circumvent the usual résumé shuffle.
“The thing is, when you are a really, really weird geek, the only way I could get ahead was to show off examples of my work,” Grandin said. “They didn’t want to talk to me because I was weird, but when I showed ‘em my drawings, they said, ”Oh wow, you did that?” They just couldn’t believe it. You need to show your work off.”
Diagnosed with autism at age two, Grandin has been a tireless advocate of those with autism, but doesn’t focus on the diagnosis of the individual, only on their achievements.
“The problem we have with autism is a very big spectrum. At one end of the spectrum you have Steve Jobs and (Albert) Einstein. We have half of Silicon Valley, the geeks and the nerds. At the other end, you have language delays and a lot more problems.”
Grandin took the time to talk with students about the hotter career prospects available to engineering and science candidates, with many jobs remaining unfilled due to citizenship requirements and skill shortages, areas her ‘geeks and nerds’ are particularly well suited for. High on her list of educational recommendations is an electrical engineering/computer science dual major, instantly employable on graduation, according to Grandin.
“It’s not going to be the social kid, it’s not going to be the captain of the football team,” Grandin said. “Geeks and nerds.”
“Plenty of jobs in ag, too,” Grandin added. “We need people in Ag, there are water problems, all kinds of problems that need to be figured out.”
Following her presentation, Grandin took questions from the audience, many centered on her 2010 namesake film starring Claire Danes. Grandin took personal questions gamely, talking about overcoming her fear of hugging by desensitization, a method that works for some individuals with sensory issues.
“But still, a lot of individuals with sensory problems are going to need a place where they can get away the noise, calm down and decompress,” Grandin explained.
Grandin closed with a special message for students perhaps outside the normal social strata, or those facing difficulties fitting into their high school life; Take life on your own terms, and own it.
“Go out and be really successful,” Grandin said, “There are all kinds of really neat things out there, it isn’t just all video games and sports. There are all kinds of super, super cool things. Ok, geeks and nerds, go out and get it. Yay, geeks and nerds!”
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