Children with autism ‘must learn to work’

Animal behaviour expert, who has autism, addresses veterinarian seminar in Dublin

Children with autism must be taught how to work, one of the world’s best-known scholars with autism said in Dublin yesterday.

Dr Temple Grandin, an animal behaviour expert who has designed humane handling systems for half the cattle-processing facilities in the US and Canada, was a guest speaker at the All-Ireland State Veterinarians' Scientific Conference.

Dr Grandin, who is also an advocate for those with autism, said she was seeing “too many kids that are fully verbal that aren’t learning how to work”.

Acknowledging that autism was a wide spectrum from Steve Jobs to Einstein to those who would remain non-verbal, she said for those who were able, “there’s a discipline of work I think these kids need to learn”.

“I don’t like it when nine-year-olds walk up to me and they want to tell me about their autism. I want to hear about their science project or their history project or the art they’ve done. Things that they’ve done that they can turn into a career.”

Teased at school for behaviour classmates found strange, Dr Grandin (65), now a professor of animal science at Colorado State University became "a horse fanatic" visiting her aunt's farm as a teen. "I would rather see a kid get fixated on something they can turn into a career rather than getting fixated on his autism," she said.

The professor said it was her ability to “think in pictures” that led to her career in improving the welfare of animals at the point of slaughter. “When I was younger, I didn’t know that everybody didn’t think in pictures . . . I didn’t understand why people thought it was strange to be looking at what cattle were looking at.”

A meat industry consultant since the 1970s, she told delegates “animals going into slaughter are afraid of little things people don’t notice”.

Reflections from wet floors or metal surfaces, people standing in front of them, shadows and changing floor surfaces all caused animals unnecessary anxiety, making their movement through processing plants slower, she said.

Asked if it was contradictory to be an animal welfare advocate while advising slaughterhouses, she said it was important animals had a decent life.