How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World

Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World, Written by: Sy Montgomery

The bare facts of Temple Grandin’s life are so awe-inspiring, the challenge of writing about her must be to convey how not inevitable it all was, how the very real march of triumph from autistic child to world-renowned designer of animal husbandry facilities and spokesperson for the neuro-diverse could have turned out so very differently. Sy Montgomery – of whose work I remain such an inextinguishable fan I devoured this biography for the age 9-14 set – makes sure her reader understands how hard-bought and not inevitable Grandin’s achievements are: through regular references to the father who wanted to institutionalize Grandin, through the reminiscences from school mates, teachers and colleagues that punctuate the book. Written for youth, the biography never condescends nor panders: it assumes its audience’s serious attention and moral engagement. Grandin’s – and Montgomery’s – central message is compassion. Compassion for those who think or behave differently and compassion for food animals. Grandin combines the hypersensitivity to many sensory stimuli that classically attends autism with a –to me astonishing – tough mindedness. She doesn’t expect all people to become vegetarians: “Many people forget that most farm animals would never have existed at all if people had not bred them,” she tells Montgomery who also quotes, “I’d rather die in a good slaughterhouse than be eaten alive by a coyote or a lion!” Grandin, Montgomery explains, “believes that food animals deserve a dignified death, free of pain and fear.”

Characterized by the scientific precision and social delicacy that distinguish Montgomery’s work, the book informs and inspires. It is strongest in making clear that for Grandin autism is not – or is not only – a handicap to be overcome, but the gift that has made possible the life of meaning and service she has constructed for herself – and us all.