I would have been hard-pressed to imagine that two of my recent topics -- autism and process improvement -- could combined with animal husbandry. But check out this article from the Burlington (VT) Free Press. It is about Dr. Temple Grandin, an expert in sustainable agriculture and proper treatment of farm animals.
During her 35-year career, Grandin’s work to improve humane handling of large animals, particularly during processing, has earned her much attention, from a spot on Time magazine’s list of “100 most influential people in the world” to an award-winning biographical HBO movie starring Claire Danes.
The movie vividly brings to life the challenges that Grandin, now 64 and a Colorado State University professor of animal sciences, faced as a person with autism, starting with a doctor’s recommendation that the non-verbal, tantrum-throwing child be institutionalized — a directive her mother refused to accept.
But let's go further and see what she says:
During all three of her talks, Grandin focused on setting specific measurements and quantifiable outcomes by which to judge success, whether working with animals or people with autism.
“To keep standards high, you’ve got to keep measuring,” she said, but what you measure has to be precise. “Don’t use these vague words like ‘proper,’ ‘adequate’ and ‘sufficient.’ What does that mean?” she said, noting she has worked on standard-setting projects for Whole Foods as well as on the USDA’s Good Agricultural Practices program. “Things have got to be clear,” she said.
This was one area where Grandin’s autism has been a valuable asset, she added, and something she urged those who live and work with autistic people to leverage as strength.
“The normal human mind tends to drop out the details,” Grandin said. “The autistic mind is all about the details. But the thing is,” she cautioned, “you’ve got to pick out what’s the right details, not get caught up in all the wrong B.S. details.”
Good stuff to remember in the health care world, too. A shame, though, that the following can't be applied in some way to doctor-patient relationships:
Grandin also spent time showing visual examples and explaining how to read the cues animals provide when they are about to become agitated. These ranged from the angle of an ear, the white of an eye and the swish of a tail to her statement: “They start pooping? Well, you’re scaring the you-know-what out of them.”
“This can give you early warning when you might start having a problem,” Grandin said. “If you understand these behavioral indicators of fear, they’re going to help you feel safe when you’re handling animals, because you’re going to know when they’re starting to get upset. ... They’ll swish that tail before they kick you.”
Or maybe it can!