The Real Dr. Doolittle

An autistic behaviorist explains how her condition helps her understand how animals think and feel.

By PT Staff, published on January 1, 2005 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

Animal behaviorist Temple Grandin believes that being autistic helps her understand what animals feel -- what scares them and what makes them happy. In Animals in Translation, her latest book, she says that both autistics and animals think in pictures, not words. Her animal handling systems, which keep livestock calm, are widely used in slaughterhouses and feedlots. Here are her thoughts on finding joy:

As an autistic person, I do have emotions. But I don't feel mixed emotions. I can be angry, get over it and everything's fine. That's the way a dog is; he can be snarling one moment and get over it the next.

I think [animal happiness] is like a young child having a really good time playing. They chase each other around, climb over stuff -- they're so happy they want to kick up their heels.

I've been a pretty happy person. I'm also very much a realist. I get satisfaction when I go to a plant now and it works so well, the cattle aren't scared. I get happy from seeing concrete improvements.

[I used to have] extreme anxiety attacks. It was like constant stage fright, as if I were in a room with a lion. That's the way I used to feel all the time. I controlled it with antidepressants. They don't make me happy -- they relieve the anxiety.