Animals in Translation by Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson

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Animals in Translation: The Woman Who Thinks Like a Cow

Five words from the blurb: autism, animal, behaviour, welfare, research

I hadn’t heard of Temple Grandin until I started doing research into autism, but it is almost impossible to go to an autism seminar without her name being mentioned several times. Her autism has given her a special insight into the way animals think and she has probably done more to improve the lives of farm animals than anyone else. Although I had heard a lot about her life and inventions I hadn’t read any of her books and so I decided it was time to change that.

Animals in Translation was her first book on animal behaviour. She has gone on to write several other books about more specific areas, but I think this is the perfect introduction to her work.

The book begins with a brief introduction to Grandin’s life and an explanation as to why animals and autistic people have a similar outlook on the world. It goes on to explain why animals behave in certain ways and how we can help them to be happier. If you’d like to know why pigs are scared of yellow things, how roosters can become rapists, and why autistic people enjoy being in a squeeze machine, this is the book for you!

Animals in Translation is interesting to both animal lovers and those wishing to learn more about autism. There are lots of little tips about dog training and this book will be especially useful to farmers who own several different species of livestock. I occasionally became bored by the focus on farm animals, longing for the odd mention of a monkey or a crocodile, but as cows and pigs are Grandin’s area of expertise I suppose this focus is understandable.

The explanations of the way autistic people see the world were insightful. It can be hard for us neurotypical people to comprehend, but this book explained the autistic outlook more clearly than any other book I’ve read on the subject.

Brief summaries of many pieces of scientific research were included, but most of the book was made up of Grandin’s own observations.

The single worst thing you can do to an animal emotionally is to make it feel afraid. Fear is so bad for animals that I think it is worse than pain……I’m sure that’s why I relate to prey animals like cattle as strongly as I do: because my emotional makeup is similar. Fear is a horrible problem for people with autism – fear and anxiety.

I didn’t agree with everything (eg. dog pack theory and the use of shock collars), but as this book was first published 12 years ago it is possible that Grandin has changed her mind on these issues too.

Temple Grandin has a special perspective on the animal kingdom and I’m looking forward to reading more of her work.


Temple Grandin is talking in the UK on 18th June. Members of the National Autistic Society can book tickets here. I’ve just booked a ticket and am looking forward to hearing her speak.

Have you read any of Temple Grandin’s books?

Have you ever heard her speak?



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