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An interview with animal scientist Temple Grandin

I started out going around to feed yards in Arizona, and I was one of the first people to get down in the chutes and see what the cattle are seeing. I remember the cattle were afraid of a little shadow, afraid of a chain hanging down, afraid of a puddle, afraid of seeing a person walk by. Most people thought that I was crazy, but it was important to see what the cattle see so I could address what made them anxious.

Are you a vegetarian?

No, I'm not. In fact, if I don't eat a certain amount of animal protein, I get headachy. But I feel very strongly that we've got to give animals a good life. None of those cattle would have lived if it wasn't for us. We bred those cattle, and since we bred those cattle, we owe them a decent life. And another thing that people forget is that nature can be very harsh. Wolves rip the guts out of things and eat it while it's still alive. People over-romanticize nature.

What did you think of the documentary "Food, Inc."?

That scene with chickens being slaughtered outside? That would work on a small scale, but imagine how filthy it would be on a big scale. That would be the most disgusting mess you would ever have.

How has your autism changed over the years?

You get better at being more social. The movie showed very accurately how I think visually. The movie also showed me more anxious and nervous than I am now. I've been on antidepressant medication for 30 years, which really calmed down my anxiety.

How has society's view of autism changed?

It's gotten better, but there's still people that don't understand. Autism is a sensory oversensitivity problem. Some people can't stand fluorescent lights because they can see that flicker. Other people can't stand loud sounds. In the movie there's a scene in a cafeteria with all the noise overload. That was shown very accurately. When I was a little kid, school bells hurt my ears like a dentist's drill. I absolutely cannot stand scratchy clothes against my skin -- that just drives me absolutely crazy.

The film shows the "squeeze machine" that you invented to comfort yourself during a panic, modeled after a cattle restraint. Do you still use one?

It broke a couple of years ago and I never got around to fixing it. I like to hug people now. That's something new.

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