At age four, Grandin began talking, and she began making progress. She considers herself lucky to have had supporting mentors from primary school onwards. However, Grandin has said that middle school and high school were the worst parts of her life. She was the "nerdy kid" the one that everyone teased and picked on. She would be walking down the street and people would say "tape recorder", because she would repeat things over and over again. Grandin states that "I could laugh about it now, but back then it really hurt."
After completing her schooling in the 1960s, attending the Hampshire Country School in Rindge, New Hampshire, Grandin went on to college. She received her bachelor's degree in psychology from Franklin Pierce College in 1970, her master's degree in animal science from Arizona State University in 1975, and her PhD in animal science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1989.
Grandin became well known after being described by Oliver Sacks in the title narrative of his book, An Anthropologist on Mars; the title is derived from Grandin's description of how she feels around 'neurotypical' people. Grandin has also been featured on major television programs, such as ABC's Primetime Live, the Today Show, and Larry King Live, and written up in Time magazine, People magazine, Forbes, and The New York Times. She was the subject of the Horizon documentary "The Woman Who Thinks Like A Cow", first broadcast by the BBC on June 8 2006 and Nick News in the spring of 2006..She has also been a subject in the series First Person made by Errol Morris.
Based on personal experience, Grandin advocates early intervention to address autism and supportive teachers who can direct fixations of the autistic child in fruitful directions. She has described her hypersensitivity to noise and other sensory stimuli. She is a primarily visual thinker and has said that language is her second language. Temple attributes her success as a humane livestock facility designer to her ability to recall detail, which is a characteristic of her visual memory. Grandin compares her memory to full-length movies in her head that can be replayed at will, allowing her to notice small details that would otherwise be overlooked. She is also able to view her memories using slightly different contexts by changing the positions of the lighting and shadows. Her insight into the minds of cattle has taught her to value the changes in details to which animals are particularly sensitive, and to use her visualization skills to design thoughtful and humane animal-handling equipment.
Grandin is considered a philosophical leader of both the animal welfare and autism advocacy movements. Both movements commonly cite her work regarding animal welfare, neurology, and philosophy. She knows all too well the anxiety of feeling threatened by everything in her surroundings, and of being dismissed and feared, all of which motivates her in her quest to promote humane livestock handling processes. Her business website has entire sections on how to improve standards in slaughter plants and livestock farms. In 2004 she won a "Proggy" award, in the "visionary" category, from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
One of her most important essays about animal welfare is "Animals are not Things," in which she posits that animals are technically property in our society, but the law ultimately gives them ethical protections or rights. She uses a screwdriver metaphor: a person can legally smash or grind up a screwdriver but a person cannot legally torture an animal.
As a proponent of neurodiversity, Grandin has expressed that she would not support a cure of the entirety of the autistic spectrum.