Temple Grandin helps explain the autistic brain and inspire those who have one

I’ve interviewed scientist and autism activist Temple Grandin at least four times, and I just spent three days with her in Fort Collins, Colo., where she lives and teaches. You can see the KARE 11 story that photographer Monica Hanson and I did right here.

But when we meet on the stage of the Fitzgerald Theater tonight at 7, she probably won’t recognize me — and she showed me why when I looked at a scan of her brain.

Temple has been lying in big, clanking MRI machines for 20 years. She was having her brain imaged before imaging was cool. And what’s been revealed in her brain scans — all of those bundles and tangled circuits — has given scientists a more vivid and specific knowledge of how the autistic brain behaves.

It’s also helped Temple understand why, although she’s a whiz at geometry, she can’t do algebra. “It’s abstract,” she explained to me. While her eyesight is as sharp as it was when she was a kid (she’s in her early 60s now), she often cannot recognize faces of people she knows pretty well.

And while she has trouble making cocktail-party small talk, she has an extraordinary ability to see the world the way animals do. She’s a renowned designer of cattle ranch structures.

She’s also an inspiration to thousands of kids and adults with autism. Among the emails I received after the KARE 11 story was this, from Dr. Jeffry Stamp (who will be in the audience at the Fitzgerald Theater): “Know that some of the sound you will hear in all of the applause will be from those of us who don’t believe we are less because we are labeled autistic, but rather we can create a way to live an ‘autistic’ life of meaning when we are allowed to uniquely shine.”