24/03/2010

On Ada Lovelace Day

Ada Lovelace Day is an international day of blogging to celebrate the achievements of women in technology and science.

I don't know very much about Temple Grandin's work. Just that she's an animal scientist who tries to understand how animals think, and figure out way of making their lives better. I'm not particularly interested in that aspect of her work, and to be honest, although I'm very enthusiastic about there being more women scientists, I've never wanted to be one of them, or to understand what they were trying to do. Me and science, we go way back. We've been ignoring each other for a good twenty five years now.
But Temple Grandin is also known for her important technological innovation, the squeeze machine. Yeah, that sounds pretty cool, I know. It's probably not what you think it is though. You see, Temple Grandin is autistic, and she has, like many autistic people, hypersensitivity, which means that she sometimes goes into sensory overload, and sometimes requires a certain kind of sensory stimulation. When you're little and autistic, and you're about to have a meltdown, it's hard to communicate what you need. Especially if, as many autistics, you're not so hot with language. Temple Grandin kept looking for ways to put the right pressure on her body so she could calm down. One day, she saw something in a farm. Cows about to be innoculated were pressed in a chute, and seemed to calm down. Temple Grandin talked with her science teacher, and she came up with something similar for humans, a machine made of padded boards that hug the person standing or crouching inside it at a pressure they can regulate. It worked for her, helped her be enough in control of her feelings that she got a Ph.D in animal sciences. It also works for many autistic children and adults who use the machine she designed in autism centres where it's available.
Grandin also says that her autism gives her special insight into animal minds, as animals, like here, tend not to think linguistically. She's using that insight to make sure that farmed animals are treated as well as possible.
She's also a well known spokesperson for autism, someone who's got both the experience and the knowledge to be able to be illuminating. She's the original 'Anthropologist from Mars' who gave Oliver Sachs the idea for the title. She was Dustin Hoffman's consultant for Rainman. For someone who just doesn't 'get' neurotypical human relationships, she gets about a lot.
I've known of her since my son was diagnosed with autism. I haven't read her books yet 'Thinking in Pictures' and 'Animals in Translation', but after posting this I'll go ahead and order them. She's the kind of scientist that can change people's lives.

Temple Grandin's webpage
Finding Ada
Ada Lovelace

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

there's a fabulous french song saying "open open the bird's cage, look at them flying away, it's beautiful !kids if you ever see some little birds in jail, open for them the door of the liberty". Thats how I feel right now, reading this post, for you for ada for max, and for me.
Sister 3

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