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Animals in Translation by Temple Grandin

Curve-billed Thrasher, Alamogordo NM, November 12, 2011

Temple Grandin is one of my heroes; a woman who with great courage and empathy has overcome her autism to accomplish much through her writing to further an understanding of autism. And through her work with animals to promote a humane approach to the redesign of slaughterhouses. I quote here several passages in her book I want to revisit now and then.

Page one begins:

"People who aren't autistic always ask me about the moment I realized I could understand the way animals think. They think I must have had an epiphany. ..."

Page 7:

I owe a lot ... to the fact that my brain works differently.

Autism has given me another perspective on animals most professionals don't have, although a lot of regular people do, which is that animals are smarter than we think. There are plenty of pet owners and animal lovers out there who'll tell you "little Fluffy can think," but animal researchers have mostly dismissed this kind of thing as wishful thinking.

But I've come to realize that the little old ladies are right. People who love animals, and who spend a lot of time with animals, often start to feel intuitively that there's more to animals than meets the eye. They just don't know what it is, or how to describe it.

I stumbled across the answer, or what I think is part of the answer, almost by accident. Because of my own problems, I've always followed neuroscientific research on the human brain as closely as I've followed my own field. I had to; I'm always looking for answers about how to manage my own life, not just animal's lives.

... Autistic savants are people who ... can naturally do things no normal human being can even be taught to do, no matter how hard he tries to learn or how much time he spends practicing.

Animals are like autistic savants. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that animals might actually be autistic savants. Animals have special talents normal people don't, the same way autistic people have special talents normal people don't; and at least some animals have special forms of genius normal people don't, the same way some autistic savants have special forms of genius.