Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior

Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior

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by Temple Grandin, Catherine Johnson

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Temple's professional training as an animal scientist and her history as a person with autism have given her a perspective like that of no other expert in the field. Standing at the intersection of autism and animals, she offers unparalleled observations and groundbreaking ideas about both.  See more details below


Temple's professional training as an animal scientist and her history as a person with autism have given her a perspective like that of no other expert in the field. Standing at the intersection of autism and animals, she offers unparalleled observations and groundbreaking ideas about both.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Philosophers and scientists have long wondered what goes on in the minds of animals, and this fascinating study gives a wealth of illuminating insights into that mystery. Grandin, an animal behavior expert specializing in the design of humane slaughter systems, is autistic, and she contends that animals resemble autistic people in that they think visually rather than linguistically and perceive the world as a jumble of mesmerizing details rather than a coherent whole. Animals-cows, say, on their way through a chute-are thus easily spooked by novelties that humans see as trivialities, such as high-pitched noises, drafts and dangling clothes. Other animals accomplish feats of obsessive concentration; squirrels really do remember where each acorn is buried. The portrait she paints of the mammalian mind is both alien and familiar; she shows that beasts are capable of sadistic cruelty, remorse, superstition and surprising discernment (in one experiment, pigeons were taught to distinguish between early period Picasso and Monet). Grandin (Thinking in Pictures) and Johnson (coauthor of Shadow Syndromes) deploy a simple, lucid style to synthesize a vast amount of research in neurology, cognitive psychology and evolutionary biology, supplementing it with Grandin's firsthand observations of animal behavior and her own experiences with autism, engaging anecdotes about how animals interact with each other and their masters, and tips on how to pick and train house pets. The result is a lively and absorbing look at the world from animals' point of view. (Jan.) Forecast: Anyone who's enjoyed the work of Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson-and especially those who liked it but felt it a bit warm and fuzzy in spots-should appreciate this valuable, rigorous book. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
A high-functioning autistic, Grandin (animal science, Colorado Sate Univ., Thinking in Pictures) has spent a lifetime empathizing with animals. She has also served as a consultant to farmers, ranchers, and slaughterhouses, helping them understand animals and their behavior in order to make their care (and/or slaughter) more humane. Grandin's new book on animal behavior draws on her experiences as both a scientist and an autistic person. Her compelling thesis is that there is a lot we still don't know about animal thought and learning but that her condition provides her with an insight into the issues that other people lack. Autism, Grandin argues, closely mimics the psychological condition of animals, in part because both lack facility with language. Indeed, she asserts that animals are autistic savants whose intelligence is unseen by most people. Grandin deals with wildlife only in passing, but she details some interesting laboratory studies using wild animals. A provocative title for universities and larger public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 9/1/04.]-Alvin Hutchinson, Smithsonian Inst. Libs., Washington, DC Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Entertainment Weekly

"Neurology has Oliver Sachs, nature has Annie Dillard, and the lucky animal world has Grandin, a master intermediary between humans and our fellow beasts . . . At once hilarious, fascinating, and just plain weird, Animals is one of those rare books that elicits a 'wow' on almost every page. A."
The New York Times Book Review

"Inspiring . . . Crammed with facts and anecdotes about Temple Grandin's favorite subject: the senses, brains, emotions, and amazing talents of animals."

the Oprah Magazine O

"Grandin's focus in Animals in Translation is not on all the 'normal' things autistics and animals can't do but on the unexpected, extraordinary, invaluable things they can."
The Oprah Magazine - O
"Grandin's focus in Animals in Translation is not on all the 'normal' things autistics and animals can't do but on the unexpected, extraordinary, invaluable things they can."
From the Publisher
"Written in easily understood, non-scientific language and read by Frasier with objectivity and respect, this is a fascinating look into the mysterious ways animals perceive the world, using autism as the key to unlock those mysteries." ---AudioFile

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Animals in Translation comes out of the forty years I've spent with animals.

It's different from any other book I've read about animals, mostly because I'm different from every other professional who works with animals. Autistic people can think the way animals think. Of course, we also think the way people think -- we aren't that different from normal humans. Autism is a kind of way station on the road from animals to humans, which puts autistic people like me in a perfect position to translate "animal talk" into English. I can tell people why their animals are doing the things they do.

I think that's why I was able to become successful in spite of being autistic. Animal behavior was the right field for me, because what I was missing in social understanding I could make up for in understanding animals. Today I've published over three hundred scientific papers, my Web site gets five thousand visitors each month, and I give thirty-five lectures on animal management a year. I give another twenty-five or so on autism, so I'm on the road most of the time. Half the cattle in the United States and Canada are handled in humane slaughter systems I've designed.

I owe a lot of this to the fact that my brain works differently.

Autism has given me another perspective on animals most professionals don't have, although a lot of regular people do, which is that animals are smarter than we think. There are plenty of pet owners and animal lovers out there who'll tell you "little Fluffy can think," but animal researchers have mostly dismissed this kind of thing as wishful thinking.

But I've come to realize that the little old ladies are right. People who love animals, and who spend a lot of time with animals, often start to feel intuitively that there's more to animals than meets the eye. They just don't know what it is, or how to describe it.

I stumbled across the answer, or what I think is part of the answer, almost by accident. Because of my own problems, I've always followed neuroscientific research on the human brain as closely as I've followed my own field. I had to; I'm always looking for answers about how to manage my own life, not just animals' lives. Following both fields at the same time led me to see a connection between human intelligence and animal intelligence the animal sciences have missed.

The literature on autistic savants sparked my discovery. Autistic savants are people who can do things like tell you what day of the week you were born based on your birth date, or calculate in their heads whether your street address is a prime number or not. They usually have IQs in the mentally retarded range, though not always, yet they can naturally do things no normal human being can even be taught to do, no matter how hard he tries to learn or how much time he spends practicing.

Animals are like autistic savants. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that animals might actually be autistic savants. Animals have special talents normal people don't, the same way autistic people have special talents normal people don't; and at least some animals have special forms of genius normal people don't, the same way some autistic savants have special forms of genius. I think most of the time animal genius probably happens for the same reason autistic genius does: a difference in the brain autistic people share with animals.

The reason we've managed to live with animals all these years without noticing many of their special talents is simple: we can't see those talents. Normal people never have the special talents animals have, so normal people don't know what to look for. Normal people can stare straight at an animal doing something brilliant and have no idea what they're seeing. Animal genius is invisible to the naked eye.

I'm sure I don't know all the talents animals have, either, let alone all the things they could use their talents to do if we gave them the chance. But now that I've seen the connection between autistic savantry and animal genius at least I have an idea what I'm looking for: I'm looking for ways animals can use their amazing ability to perceive things humans can't perceive, and to remember highly detailed information we can't remember, to make life better for everyone, animals and people alike. Just off the top of my head, here's a thought: we have service dogs for the blind -- how about service dogs for the middle-aged whose memories are going? I'm willing to bet that just about any dog can remember where you put your car keys better than you can if you're over forty, and probably if you're under forty, too.

Or how about service dogs who remember where your kids left the remote control? I bet a dog could do this if you gave him the training.

Of course, I don't know this for a fact. I could be wrong. But for me, predicting animal talents is getting to be a little like astronomers predicting the existence of a planet nobody can see based on their understanding of gravity. I'm starting to be able to accurately predict animal talents nobody can see based on what I know about autistic talent.

Copyright © 2005 by Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson.

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What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
Candace B. Pert, Ph.D., author of Molecules of Emotion Animal lovers and people lovers will be thoroughly charmed by Temple Grandin's latest book. Its sweetly simple style, chock-full of fresh and funny anecdotes, somehow delivers brilliant insights into the way animals and autistic people perceive the world. As a neuroscientist researching autism, I was fascinated by Grandin's personal story and excited by her synthesis of classical learning theory and new paradigm mystery.

Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, author of The Hidden Life of Dogs Temple Grandin has done many wonderful things for this world, things that have made a tremendous difference in the lives of animals and people. Not the least of these is that she has transformed autism from being an unfortunate disability to being an enviable advantage that many of us would give anything to experience if only we could understand animals as smoothly as she does. I feel strongly that her interpretations of animal behavior are correct. She has a Ph.D., too, but the autism has probably served her better. Now she has written a fascinating and compelling book, filled with wisdom and insight, that lives up to its promise of decoding animal behavior.

Andrew Solomon, author of The Noonday Demon In this insightful, quirky, and often funny volume, Temple Grandin takes us deep inside the minds of animals. Her observations of dogs, cats, cows, pigs, birds, fish, and horses are meticulous and humane, and her approach is impressive both for its synthesis of scholarship and for its original applications of theory. Grandin opens new vistas that will be invaluable to anyone who cares about the creatures of the earth and sky.

Alex Shoumatoff, author of The World Is Burning Temple Grandin's insights are absolutely fascinating, groundbreaking contributions to the field of animal awareness. This book is deeply moving and a triumph on many levels, not the least the understanding of herself and her condition that Ms. Grandin has succeeded in achieving, conveying so lucidly, and putting to such productive use. She is an inspiration to us all.

Monty Roberts, author of The Man Who Listens to Horses Animals in Translation is a comprehensive collection of the discoveries of a gifted human being. Through a unique set of circumstances, Temple Grandin was born with the ability to live in the animal world, completely understanding their environment. At the same time, she possesses the complex brain of a learned human being who I consider a genius. I read Animals in Translation in the style of a sponge soaking up water. If one is interested in learning more about the lives and needs of animals, Animals in Translation is a must-read. I found it impossible to put down.

Candace B. Pert, Ph.D. author of Molecules of Emotion Animal lovers and people lovers will both be thoroughly charmed by Temple Grandin's latest book. Its sweetly simple style, chock full of fresh and funny anecdotes, somehow delivers brilliant insights into the way animals and autistic people perceive the world. As a neuroscientist researching autism, I was fascinated by Grandin's personal story and excited by her synthesis of classical learning theory and new paradigm mystery.

Oliver Sacks author of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat Deeply moving and fascinating.

Dr. Temple Grandin has, in her own inimitable way, brought to us a no-nonsense account of her unique insights into animal behavior and cognition in her most recent book, Animals in Translation. Temple sees it as it is, calls it as she sees it, and explains her rationale in scientific terms. Ably assisted by her coauthor Catherine Johnson, Temple has confronted many of the sacred cows of old school behaviorism and laid them to rest. This book is both entertaining and enlightening for those who would learn more about the way animals think and behave. Two thumbs up for this thoughtful and educational compilation.

— Dr. Nicholas H. Dodman, author of If Only They Could Speak and The Dog Who Loved Too Much

Animals in Translation is vintage Grandin; she just gets better and better. Each page is crystal-clear, conceptually profound, and empirically fascinating. Whether the reader is a cattle rancher looking for guidance in managing animals in a non-stressful way, or a layperson interested in what is going on behind the eyes of a pet, Grandin's work is the guidebook of choice for what, to most of us, is terra incognita. Her wit, crisp clear style, and unique voice synthesizing the most up-to-date scientific knowledge with voluminous personal experience make this book a pleasure to read, and a joy to learn from.

— Bernard E. Rollin, Colorado State University Distinguished Professor, and Professor of Philosophy, of Biomedical Sciences, and of Animal Sciences

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Animals in Translation 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 58 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I knew about Temple Grandin, but I had never seen her or her books. Then I read this. It was really eye-opening for me. There was not a single page that didn't teach me something new, which is a very rare event for me. Heck, I read 'A Brief History of Time' and didn't learn as much as I have reading this. For everything I've read about autism (and experienced), I still received new insights into the good and bad involved (as well as the strange, like opiates), as well as theories behind it. Then, of course, is the stuff about animals. Now THAT was eye-opening. There was so much about how animals think and behave that I never would have even thought of thinking of (probably inattentional blindness). But it all makes sense. It has made me better able to understand animals, which is vital for people to know nowadays, now that we rely on machines more and animals less. But in fact, it's at least partially repaired my relationship with my cat, who would generally avoid me and my bear-hugs. Now I pet her and understand her and the way she works better, so I can work with her instead of against her. There's just so much to learn in this book that I don't think you even should be allowed to have animals without this book. Oh, and by the way, death is an inherent part of life. Death happens all the time. Just because we cause it (in the times that we do) doesn't make it any more wrong. As much as people argue that breeding animals to eat them is unnatural, humans have been doing it for centuries. And anyways, it'd be impossible to not do anything to any animals. We are a part of their world just as much as they are part of ours. The best we can do is to change what we can, and help them with what we cannot change. More animals live when we love and understand them than if we we stop breeding them or release them into the wild. The difference between you and Temple Grandin is not that she assists brutal murders of animals and you don't. It's just that she does the little things to change our and their world for the better, and you don't. Sorry if that's a little harsh, but Temple Grandin is a visionary among animal researchers, and if you're too stubborn to read how to better communicate and co-exist with animals, then you obviously don't care about animals as much you think.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is packed with information and provides a new window on ourselves as well as the world of animals. One of the most unusual and compelling books I have read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Temple Grandin's book "Animals in Translation" is highly enlightening to any pet or animal owner. The book reads as an authoritative text, quoting studies and research. For the light reader it may be overwhelming, but for a person looking to truly understand their pet or the animals they manage it's a MUST READ. A truly extraordinary lady, Temple's insight and life's work benefit us all and "Animals in Translation" is an excellent addition to the animal lover's library.
dancer2 More than 1 year ago
Having a grandchild diagnosed with autism, I was curious to see what the author had to say regarding the similarities that she found between autistics and animals. Uncharacteristically, I found her empathetic and compassionate and enormously inciteful. I would recommend this book to anyone who has a curiosity in the dynamics of animal behavior but especially, how a woman such as Temple has overcome and succeeded so profoundly in her field of journalism. It was a fascinating read.
marjo More than 1 year ago
Temple Grandin, through her own autism, reveals extraordinary personal insight into the thoughts and responses of animals . . . and of humans. Based on credible scientific research, but easy to read and understand. If you've ever felt a special connection to animals, this book will enhance that relationship. If not, it's likely to change the way you see and relate to animals in the future.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As an animal trainer I would highly recommend this book. I just found it very interesting. Each time I re-read it, I learn more. Temple Grandin has done her research and has a wealth of knowledge to share. She understands animals in a way few others can.
Guest More than 1 year ago
For those who were born onto the Autism Spectrum or is related to someone who was, Dr. Temple Grandin tells it like it is from our perspective. If your boss is on the spectrum, it should be required reading.
Guest More than 1 year ago
For the true animal lover/healer this book leaves out something that's needed respect and compassion for EVERY animal. She tends to talk to much about how to better the ability to get cattle around within the boundries of the slaughter fields that they are made to live in. What's compassionate about that? I agree, everyone interested in healing animals needs to read this book, and then move on from it and find another way to create an actual world where all animals are loved and cared for. I respect her for her own journey it's just not how so many animal care workers feel.
StevenJ More than 1 year ago
Temple Grandin gives us her unique perspective on what may be going on the mind our dogs. For me, Dr. Grandin stands on a very short list of authors giving us some scientific insight into dog psychology. I've had dogs all my life, but have recently become involved in the rescue of breeder dogs (with Delaware Valley Golden Retriever Rescue - These dogs have been neglected and abused for their entire lives and present us with the challenge of helping them to become "normal" dogs. Dr. Grandin's concept that animals (and autistics) "think in pictures" is difficult to comprehend, yet goes a long way in getting me out of my word-based thought process when dealing with unusual or unwanted behaviors. Trying to see the world through the eyes of a dog makes me appreciate just how amazing our relationship with them is! This is a must read for all serious animal lovers.
chrisps More than 1 year ago
The insights into animal behavior that Dr. Grandin gives in this book have been invaluable to my career as a dog trainer, pet behavior counselor and an educator. In all of my obedience classes, I reference Animals in Translation and explain how animals think in pictures. This concept helps people to better understand their dogs, and to troubleshoot and find resolutions to behavior problems leading to a better relationship. This book has become my bible and serves as an inspiration that I can accomplish my dreams just as Dr. Grandin has overcome so much in her life of challenges to help the animals.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I've been very involved with animals and cruelty cases for the last 10 years and this book has given me a new insight as to how the animal brain works. It makes so much more sense to me now as to why animals do the things they do. It's alot to "wrap your head around" parden the pun, but is very interesting. As far as the "killing of cattle", that's a fact of life and has been for years. It's not a matter of compassion.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If there ever was an agenda-free author that tells it straight, it is Temple Grandin. Simple insights into both human and animal behavior are laid out in great detail, and I've been able to gain invaluable knowledge about the wiring and workings of my autistic niece and relate them to my own experience. I've read how other reviewers have carried their own biases to the reading and denounce the author for her work with the livestock industry. However, there can be no doubt that Temple Grandin's influence has greatly reduced animal pain, fear and suffering.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was recommended by Costco book reviewer. I found it absolutely fascinating! A guide in understanding animals and humans...much can be put to practical use. Our new puppy, Sir Rufus II will benefit from my having read this book!
Guest More than 1 year ago
It's not just sad, but tragic, that as we mature we lose the instinctive gift of communicating with animals we have as children. Temple's book returns us to that extraordinary ability. Amazingly readable, considering some of the hard-to-get-your-neocortex-around concepts presented, this book holds startling insights on every page. A lifetime of working with animals, both as passion and as profession, didn't teach me what 'Animals in Translation' did, and already I've employed several of her principles in working with animals (including humans). This should be mandatory reading for anyone who lives or works among, with, or near animals. Temple and Catherine, thanks for the tremendous gift you've just given us -- and our animals.
Guest More than 1 year ago
What a great book for animal lovers and people lovers! Written in a simple style, yet it is so unique and compelling. Author's observations of animals - especially dogs - are incredibly humane and meticulous. And so correct! I have two dogs and this book has just assured me I was right about them ¿ they do have feelings and they know more than we realize. Dogs do make us human.
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janet52 More than 1 year ago
I just finished this amazing book & plan to read it again. It is PACKED with information & Ms Grandin's insights, ideas & opinions. You don't have to agree with all of those opinions but you will agree the information she offers is fantastic. Gives me an open-eyed look at our fellow beings. If you are a dog owner/lover you already have a feeling there is a lot more going on than we humans can perceive. This book confirms that.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Temple Grandin's insightful explanation of how animals think is an absolute must for anyone who interacts in any way with animals.
The_hibernators More than 1 year ago
In Animals in Translation, Temple Grandin describes how her autism helps her discover how animals perceive the world. She compares an autistic person’s perceptions with animals’ perceptions, and contrasts them with how non-autistic people think. She also gives her own ideas about how domesticated animals can be treated/trained in order to provide them with the best environment possible. Overall, a very interesting book...It changed my perception of how autistic people and animals think.
Cliverj More than 1 year ago
Temple Grandin was profiled in a BBC Horizon documentary a year or two back as `the woman who thinks like a cow'. A somewhat uncomplimentary portrayal you might think, until you appreciate that Grandin is a gifted professor of animal science and champion for autism, and that cows are far more interesting creatures than might often be assumed. Grandin discovered that her way of viewing the world corresponded very closely to the perceptions of many animals. As a trouble-shooter on farms and ranches across the USA, she found that she could very often just `see' the problems which were scaring cattle and bringing their owners to the brink of despair. Combined with her prolific research and writings, autism has been a rare gift, enabling her remarkable work. As a novice in the field of animal science, I felt fascinated and challenged by the wide mix of ideas this book presents. Topics as diverse as why pigs enjoy snuggling up to each other and genetic aggression are introduced in easy, layman's terms, giving interesting details about the research but also recognising that scientists don't yet have all the answers. Grandin challenges us to question a lot of what we might believe about animal behaviour - and for that matter autism - and does so with humility and humour. A wealth of down-to-earth anecdotes ground the research and open questions posed. For example, we learn about a friend's cat who knew when `mother' was entering the lift of their apartment block some 12 floors below and of the prairie dogs of Arizona who've not only evolved a language involving nouns, verbs and adjectives, but even different dialects amongst local colonies! At the same time, familiar stories are looked at a new light. For example, the story of the German `counting' horse Clever Hans is looked at not as a disappointing scam (it was revealed that Hans couldn't really count), but remarkable for the fact that a horse had taught himself to tune into subtle human cues in the first place. This is just one example of what is often unseen `animal genius'. Grandin appeals for humane treatment of all animals, which she argues must come through a new understanding of how they interact with their world and how we deal with our husbandry of them. The joint writing with Catherine Johnson works well, coming across as a conversation between friends (including the reader). But what is remarkable is that Grandin and Johnson manage to present deep insights into both autism and animal communication, as well as linking the two together. Rarely does a book inspire us to think both about the animals around us and our fellow human beings in a new way. This is a truly wonderful book, and one which I have found myself constantly wanting to recommend to others.
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