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Autism expert, animal scientist speak at Old Sturbridge Village

STURBRIDGE Author and animal behavior expert Dr. Temple Grandin, perhaps the most accomplished and well-known adult with autism in the world, will speak on "Animal Behavior and Autism" at Old Sturbridge Village on March 1. The event includes a 6:30 p.m. reception and a 7:30 p.m. lecture followed by a book signing, and is sponsored jointly by the universities of Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Tickets are $15, and can be purchased online at www.osv.org. For details call (508) 347-0396 or e-mail aconte@osv.org.
One of the first autistics to explain her condition to the public, Grandin is portrayed in a recently released HBO movie, "Temple Grandin," starring Claire Danes. Articles about her extraordinary life and her triumph over autism have appeared in the New York Times, U.S. News and World Report, and Time magazine, and she has appeared on "The Today Show," "48 Hours," "20/20," on National Public Radio and on the BBC.
As a child, Grandin did not speak until she was three and a half years old, but communicated instead by screaming, peeping and humming. Physical touch was painful, sounds were distracting and facial expressions were incomprehensible. When she was diagnosed with autism in 1950, doctors recommended that her parents institutionalize her. They refused, and she eventually found a mentor who realized that her intelligence and ability to "think in pictures" and to see things as animals do gave her special abilities.
Now a professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University, Grandin used her visual thinking talents to become a successful designer of livestock-handling equipment, one of the few such designers in the world. Today, half the cattle handled in the U.S. are handled using equipment she designed. Her curved chute and race systems for cattle are used worldwide, and her writings on the flight zone and other principles of grazing animal behavior have helped reduce stress on animals during handling.
"I don't think in language. My mind works like Google for images," Grandin said in a recent interview on NPR's "Science Friday." She added, "You put in a key word; it brings up pictures. Language for me narrates the pictures in my mind. When I work on designing livestock equipment, I can test run that equipment in my head like 3-D virtual reality. In fact, when I was in college I used to think that everybody was able to do that."
Grandin's latest best-selling book on autism is "The Way I See It: A Personal Look at Autism and Asberger's," and her other books include "Thinking in Pictures," "Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships" and "Emergence: Labeled Autistic ."
Old Sturbridge Village, the site of Grandin's March 1 lecture and book signing, is one of the nation's oldest and largest living history museums, celebrating life in early New England from 1790 to 1840.