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!