Temple Grandin (2009 HBO Biopic)

Most of us on the Autistic Spectrum know who Temple Grandin is. She was the very first person to change the face of Autism and the livestock industry. Actress Claire Danes portrayed Ms. Grandin in a film about her life, simply titled “Temple Grandin”. I wanted to write about this movie because it is very important to me. I say that because she was raised in the 1960s, and very little was known about Autism. I am not going into great detail about it, but I want to tell you about a few of the characters and some scenes I liked in the film. The film portrays what life was like for people on the spectrum during that time period. When it comes to helping other kids with my diagnosis, I must say we have come a very long way. However, we still have a very long way to go. I want to emphasize that I do not believe in a “cure”, but I do believe that we still need to do a lot more in the way of researching and finding ways to help kids on the spectrum. (Especially those who have experienced similar struggles to the ones I have been through).

One thing I really enjoyed about this film was the opening scene. She stood in the Ames room, introduced herself and explain that you need to think differently when watching this film. I thought that was a perfect way to open the movie, because it helps the viewer realize you need to try to see the world as Temple sees it. She “thinks in pictures”, which means she is a very visual thinker. When she was younger, she didn’t understand that her style of thinking was quite different from everybody else. She worked in the cattle processing industry, and she would often ask very complex questions about the systems they used. People would often become frustrated because they couldn’t answer those questions. They were very detailed questions, and a neurotypical person often doesn’t think about the detail. When she designed systems for the cattle industry, she noticed many things that can cause the cattle to balk or become frightened. People would leave articles of clothing and equipment hanging on the equipment and on the floor. In her TED.com speech, she talked about how she noticed how the waving of a flag would cause the cattle to become frightened or stubborn.

There were also people who didn’t embrace her mind and they didn’t believe her systems would work. She also had to learn how to put up with harassment from some of the more ignorant people in the industry. When she was researching how cattle acted, she would often go into the chutes to see the things cattle were seeing. People obviously didn’t think that was “normal”. It was frustrating for her because many of the people in the slaughter-house were very uneducated and hostile. In one scene, they dumped bull testicles on the windshield of Temple’s car. I also noticed how they workers would stare at her and laugh when she became angry. The film portrays some of the prejudices she had to endure not only because she was Autistic, but also due to the fact that she was a woman. After I had the opportunity to watch the entire film, I watched the movie again and listened to the audio commentary. The writer, executive producer and Temple herself discussed all the scenes throughout the movie. She mentioned that people eventually started to respect her when they actually realized her systems not only worked, but they were more humane and efficient.

During the 1960s and 1970s, people with Autism were usually institutionalized.  It was not an enjoyable experience to be put in an institution, Understanding of Autism took a turn for the worst in the 1960s, thanks to Bruno Bettelheim. His theory stated that lack of bonding between the mother and the child caused Autism.  Luckily, modern technology and research has shown that he was indeed a fraud. Autistic people were mainly thought of as infant schizophrenic until the late 1960s. Temple’s was very fortunate to have such a dedicated and loving mother, Eustacia Cutler, because she obviously wouldn’t be the person she is today if it were not for her. She was one of those mothers that refused to institutionalize her. She knew she could become somebody in the future. I hope to buy the book “Thorn in My Pocket”, which was beautifully written by her Cutler. It explained her fight to make her the person she is today.

Aside from her mother, Temple was also fortunate to have her high school science teacher, Dr. Carlock as a mentor. I firmly believe that everybody (Autistic or not) deserves at least one person who will set a good example and will always respect you. I consider Aaron from Computing Workshop as a friend and a mentor. I started spending time with him three or four years ago, and he was still in high school at the time. It felt great to know that somebody was actually excited to see me, because nobody at Freeport really was. David Strathairn portrayed Dr. Carlock, and he was probably my favorite character in the movie. He used to work at NASA, and Temple got along with him really well because she was interested in science. I liked him because he was one of those dedicated science teachers who would always show their students interesting things. He was also one of the few teachers who actually recognized Temple’s visual skills and actually tried to understand her Autism. Dr. Carlock really convinced Temple that it is important to study and do well in school. He also encouraged Temple into going to college. In life after high school, Temple sought him for advice quite often, until his death.

As I said in the very beginning of this blog, understanding of Autism has really come a long way since the 1960s and 1970s. However, we still have a very long way to go. Public high schools are not set up right for kids on the spectrum, you know that from the experiences I have written about in the past. Public schools are not doing enough to educate faculty, staff and students about this disorder. I am trying the best I can to help people become aware about Asperger’s and Autism by writing my blogs. I am proud to say that 5,537 people have clicked on and read my writing so far. Every time people read my blogs, they become more aware of this disorder. Even thought we will not fully understand Autism, we most certainly can raise awareness and research ways to help kids on the spectrum. I do see this happening in the near future!

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10 thoughts on “Temple Grandin (2009 HBO Biopic)

  1. Derek

    I work with children with ASD and you have taught me so much! To have someone so articulate as yourself to put into words what so many of my little guys can’t has been very eye-opening for me. I’ve learned the importance of allowing extra time for auditory processing and have used some of the examples you have written about when conversing with parents to help them better understand what their child may be experiencing. Thank you for your insight and your ability to put into words your experiences and emotions that accompany them.

    Keep up the GREAT work!

  2. Derek, this is so strange–my daughter ordered Temple Grandin from Netflix for me, it came on Thursday, but we just finished watching it when I opened my laptop and saw the email notifying me of your blog. I read “Talking in Pictures” 3 or 4 years ago and was fascinated. I love TED Talks and watched the Temple TED talk last winter. People may say that Temple is ‘weird’ but she is so honest. I think that people who try to be something they are not–who build themselves up with false competencies are the ‘weird’ ones. You are very good at articulating your perspective on the high school years–not just from an ASD view. One of my favorite (and many people’s favorite judging from its enduring popularity and book sales) is Catcher in the Rye. The hero envisions himself as the Catcher in the Rye, but I see the life-changing teachers like Mr. Carlock as the Catchers in the Rye. I recommend this short book if you haven’t read it. (the Rye is the rye grass on the hillside where children may fall over the hill if no one is there to ‘catch’ them–a euphemism for the trials of the teenaged years.)

    • Sally, I want to highlight these words here:

      “People may say that Temple is ‘weird’ but she is so honest. I think that people who try to be something they are not–who build themselves up with false competencies are the ‘weird’ ones.”

      Yes! And how much of therapy and education is based on false competencies (I don’t know that a competency can be ‘true’ or ‘false’, in the way I’ve defined truth or falsity [in the sense of integrity rather than in correspondence or consistency]. Yes, when someone is truly competent, it shows through in all their work). Grandin’s honesty is refreshing and hard-won: two qualities I also greatly value. And acting a lie is at least as bad as telling one.

      Grandin is what she does rather than what she feels. Your comment reflected that.

      I also enjoyed your reference to Catcher in the rye, which book I first read back in 1996. Holden had many life-changing teachers, especially in the street. The book shows how he might have been able to change his life. He trusted in innocence and goodness, and in truth.

  3. I’ve read some pieces of Thorn in my pocket, and one of the parts which moved me the most was how Cutler did visit one of the institutions. She was able to put the issue into the media most convincingly by the time Temple Grandin went to her school. In fact, her placement was connected to the media contact (the headmaster).

    Grandin was born in 1947. She was raised in the 1950s and 1960s. Her adult life began in the late 1960s (yes, 1965).

    There is at least one interesting book out there about an “exception to the rule” (just to let you know that Cutler wasn’t the only one not to institutionalise her daughter). Her name is Mary. She was raised a generation behind Grandin, at the same time as Donna Williams and Georgiana Stehli Thomas.

    I don’t often recommend parent memoirs, but My Daughter, My Teacher: Mary Ann, autistic in English and Spanish is a top one, because it shows much of the history in a relatable fashion. It is written by Martha Hanes Ziegler

    Would be interested to hear more about what you thought about the audio commentary. The extras of a DVD teach people a lot about the art and craft of film, as well as whatever things the film might be about.

    In one of the museums in my part of the world, there is a Mind room, where you listen to dialogues from people with various conditions and differences. And of course there is an Ames room. How could I go through this particular room without thinking of Temple Grandin and the way she solved her problems collaboratively?

    (A web question: How many of those clicks are repeat clicks?)

    Two more interesting books:

    Gil Eyal’s The autism matrix [2010]

    Adam Feinstein’s A History of autism: Conversations with the Pioneers

  4. I enjoyed your blog about the Temple Grandin movie. I have written an entry in my blog about the movie as well. The thing that most inspired me was how Temple didn’t give up no matter how bad the bullying got. It was an inspiration I needed because I have been badly bullied and have given up many times. I’m trying again, but every day I have to convince myself not to give up. It can be so hard.

    Thank you for sharing yourself in your blog.

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