Seeing in Beautiful, Precise Pictures As a person living with autism, Temple Grandin explains that she lives by concrete rules, not abstract beliefs. Without the ability to process abstract thought, she thinks in pictures and sounds.
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Seeing in Beautiful, Precise Pictures

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Seeing in Beautiful, Precise Pictures

Seeing in Beautiful, Precise Pictures

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Unidentified Man: I believe in honor, faith, and service...

Unidentified Woman: I believe that a little outrage can...

Unidentified Man #2: I believe in freedom of speech...

Unidentified Woman #2: I believe in empathy...

Unidentified #3: I believe in truth...

Unidentified Woman #3: I believe in the ingredients of love...

Unidentified Man #4: This I believe.


Today, for the series This I Believe, our essay comes from Temple Grandin. She has autism. The condition is disabling for many people, but it has enabled her. Temple Grandin has designed holding pens for stockyards and slaughterhouses, structures she created to calm the animals. Here's our series curator, independent producer Jay Allison.

Mr. JAY ALLISON (Producer, This I Believe): Temple Grandin sees problems that other people don't, then she devises solutions. For Grandin, our invitation to summarize personal belief in three minutes presented a specific problem: how to explain of the rest of us the way her mind deals with the very concept of belief. Here she is with her solution for This I Believe.

Ms. TEMPLE GRANDIN: Because I have autism, I live by concrete rules instead of abstract beliefs. And because I have autism, I think in pictures and sounds. I don't have the ability to process abstract thought the way that you do.

Here's how my brain works. It's like the search engine Google for images. If you say the word love to me, I'll surf the Internet inside my brain. Then a series of images pops into my head. What I'll see, for example, is a picture of a mother horse with a foal, or I think of Herbie the Love Bug, scenes from the movie Love Story, or the Beatles' song, love, love, All You Need is Love.

When I was a child, my parents taught me the difference between good and bad behavior by showing me specific examples. My mother told me that you don't hit other kids because you would not like it if they hit you. That makes sense. But if my mother told me to be nice to someone it was too vague for me to comprehend. But if she said that being nice meant delivering daffodils to the next door neighbor, that I could understand.

I built a library of experiences that I could refer to when I was in a new situation. That way, when I confronted something unfamiliar, I could draw on the information in my homemade library and come up with an appropriate way to behave in a new and strange situation.

When I was in my twenties, I thought a lot about the meaning of life. At the time, I was getting started in my career designing more humane facilities for animals at ranches and slaughterhouses. Many people would think that to even work at a slaughterhouse would be inhumane, but they forget that every human and animal eventually dies. In my mind, I had a picture of a way to make that dying as peaceful as possible.

I believe that doing practical things can make the world a better place. One of the features of being autistic is that I'm good at synthesizing lots of information and creating systems out of it.

When I was creating my first corral back in the 1970s, I went to 50 different feedlots and ranches in Arizona and Texas and helped them work cattle. In my mind I catalogued the parts of each facility that worked effectively, and assembled them into an ideal new system. I get great satisfaction when a rancher tells me that my corral design helps cattle move through it quietly and easily. When cattle stay calm, it means they are not scared, and that makes me feel I've accomplished something important.

Some people might think if I could snap my fingers, I'd choose to be normal. But I wouldn't want to give up my ability to see in beautiful, precise pictures; I believe in them.

Mr. ALLISON: Temple Grandin with her essay for This I Believe.

We are inviting everyone to distill their personal beliefs into less than 500 words for our project. You can find out more and see all the essays in the series at Or call, toll free, for information: 888-577-9977.

For This I Believe, I'm Jay Allison.

MONTAGNE: Next Monday on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, an essay from magician David Copperfield on his belief in kindness, learned from his father.

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