Temple Grandin, an animal science professor, autism rights advocate and best-selling author, will accept Manchester University's 2012-13 Innovator of the Year award and speak about the livestock industry Thursday in Cordier Auditorium on the university's campus in North Manchester.
"I'm really honored that I'm getting an award to be innovative," Grandin said during a recent phone interview. "That's something I've tried to do my whole life."
Diagnosed at age 2 with autism, a neurological condition that impairs social interaction skills, Grandin said she was raised in the Boston area and went to a boarding school in New Hampshire at age 14. It was then that events started to shape the socially awkward teen's life.
Her mother remarried and Grandin spent summers at a ranch that her stepfather's sister owned in Elgin, Ariz. "When I got exposed to the cattle, I became interested," she said. "If kids don't get exposed (to new experiences), they'll never be interested in anything. You have to expose kids to interesting things."
Grandin, who describes herself as a visual thinker, began to see ways to revolutionize the cattle industry to improve animal welfare. She has since designed ranch cattle handling and corral systems, feedyard cattle systems and beef slaughter plants that are used worldwide to reduce animal stress and waste.
Her experiences were depicted in the 2010 HBO movie, "Temple Grandin." The film starred Claire Danes in the title role and garnered seven Emmy Awards. Also that year, Time magazine named Grandin one of "The 100 Most Influential People in the World."
Grandin said she has consulted ranchers, feedlot owners and meat packers, including meat packers in Indiana, and has written extensively about the industry in books, journals and technical articles.
Grandin, 66, has taught animal science courses for 24 years at Colorado State University. Still, she makes time to speak to groups about livestock handling and autism awareness.
Speaking before groups is something she said she had to learn to do. "When I was in graduate school and had to speak, I remember panicking and I'd walk out," she said. "I had to learn to just do it."
She has been a source of inspiration for many parents of children with autism, having written several books on the subject.
"Autism varies," she said. "I talk about this in my book, 'The Autistic Brain.' There are different kinds of minds. Some are bad at some things but good at something else."
Grandin strives to get that point across during her speaking engagements. "I became interested in how people think," she said. Different kinds of minds can do different kinds of things. (The late Apple CEO Steve) Jobs could see his idea, but engineers had to make it work."
While she currently is not writing any new books, she is updating her professional books.