Autism Advocate Dr. Temple Grandin Discusses Autism, Genetics, and Neurodiversity
Dr. Temple Grandin, a professor of animal sciences at Colorado State University, is one of the world’s foremost advocates for people on the autism spectrum. Diagnosed with autism herself, Grandin is renowned for her inspiring life story and for her innovations in developing more humane methods of handling livestock. In an interview with Salon.com’s Matthew Rozsa this month, Grandin discussed research into the causes behind autism, and the role played by genetics vs environment (i.e. nature vs. nurture). Referring to a study of twins with autism, Grandin said she believes genetics contributes more strongly to autism than environment.
“When it comes to nature, what's been found in twin studies, that when a child is brought up anywhere resembling a decent environment, there's a lot of traits where genetics has a big effect on it,” she said. At the same time, she acknowledged that environmental factors play a role as well.
“Let's say you took a young autistic kid like me and you did no early intervention,” Grandin said. “I don't think I would have become a college professor. So in terms of what you might become, maybe I'd be in an institution somewhere if nothing had been done with me…both nature and nurture are important in determining what a person could accomplish.”
Grandin also shared her views on how cultural attitudes towards people with autism and other conditions have shifted over the past 50 years.
“It has changed,” she said. “I look back on the people I worked with, welders and designers. The people who have the 20 patents, neither one of those, one barely graduated from high school and the other one I think dropped out of high school. They couldn't do math but they've got 20 patents and their stuff is out being used in the industry. They were saved by welding class. One guy he just started making stuff and selling it at local trade shows. That grew into a big business. I worked with welders, I worked with a lot of people. If I tell you of people I worked with on my projects, I'm going to guess 20 percent of them would be considered neurodiverse today. But this is long before that term ever [became popularized]. 20 percent were either autistic, dyslexic, or ADHD. There was one guy, looking at him now, he was sound sensitive. I'll never forget the job where I was chipping the slag off of his welds and me tapping with the chipping hammer drove him just crazy. I didn't realize it. This was back in 1980.”