Temple Grandin was born in the late 1940s. She didn't learn to talk until she was 4. She wouldn't look you in the eye. She didn't like being hugged or touched. Her mother took Temple to the doctor and was told that Temple was autistic and should be institutionalized. Temple Grandin had no hope, or so her mother was told.
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Fortunately, even back in the 50's, although autism was not really understood, not everyone believed it was the end of the world. Temple Grandin's mother was one such person and encouraged her daughter to forge on. Temple did go on, to high school, to college, to a masters and a doctrate in animal science and as a staunch advocate of autism and of humane treatment of animals.
Thanks to Redbox and the HBO movie, Temple Grandin, I got to learn a lot more of her story. I had only heard of Temple Grandin in books by Tony Attwood (a doctor, and author who is a leader in the subject of Aspergers, himself diagnosed with it). I really enjoyed this movie, it provides not only a glimpse at what austim is, but also what it isn't and how people who think differently still can go on live a great life and contribute to society.
What is Autism / Aspergers Syndrome?
For those of you not as familiar with Aspergers or high functioning autism as I am let me give some characteristics. Don't hug, people with Aspergers don't really want all that contact. Don't fret if someone with Aspergers doesn't look you in the eye, it's not personal. Expressions and colloquisms are often taken literally and not understood. Subjects of interest may be spoken about on end and with a great deal of understanding and detail. Sights, sounds, textures may all be overstimulating. Routine is also valued. However, and this is most important, people with autism are not stupid, in fact, often times, people who have autism are highly intelligent, they just look at things differently than someone who is neurotypical.
If you don't live with somebody on the autism spectrum, the best example I can point to in popular media is Dr. Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons) on the CBS sitcom, The Big Bang Theory. Athough the show never states it, most people familiar with Aspergers see all the symptoms in his character.
Temple is played by Claire Danes. At first I thought that Claires manner of speaking was an exaggeration of autism, however, in the special features, the real Temple Grandin speaks. Claire has her voice dead on. She has a rather shouting way of speaking as if in a rush to get the words out. The film starts out with Temple ready to go to college at Arizona State staying with her aunt Anna (Catherine O'Hara). She has a difficult time because other students don't understand her different ways or a hug machine that she has built. (The hug machine squeezes you, like being wrapped tightly in blankets or something). While on her aunt and uncles farm, she got really close to the animals, and was fascinated with cows. She decided to study animal husbandry.
Scenes of Temples childhood are shown in flashbacks including her trips with her mother (Julia Ormond) to her doctor and in boarding school. She was encouraged by one science teacher in particular, Professor Carlock (David Strathairn) who saw how gifted Temple really was.
Finally, despite her autism and being a woman Temple Grandin made a name for herself in the Arizona cattle industry (mostly a males only club). She was able to observe patterns in the cows and what made them distressed and what made them calm. She used this information to design a humane and efficient slaughter house.
Whether you are a vegan member of PETA or a steak loving guy like me, we can agree that slaughter houses of the 50's were a cruel affair, with cows mistreated and mishandled all the way to their final moments. Temple Grandin recognized that even though these animals final destination was for our dinner table, there was no reason to treat them poorly. She designed a slaughter house that allowed the animals to walk calmly in a series of curved paths through a flea dip bath, into the holding pens, and ultimately even to their slaughter. Her designs saved the cattle industry time and money, and created the most humane way of slaughtering cattle.
In fact, Temple Grandin's slaughter house design was so well done that she even got a Progress award and high praise from PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). Her designs are now used by most of today's slaughter houses.
She also speaks frequently at Autism conventions providing hope to the 1 in 150 children born with autism.
I was very pleased with the postive message of this movie, and the story of this young woman to make it before autism advocacy. Claire Danes gives a great portrayl of Temple. (as I noted earlier, if you think it is exaggerated, watch the special features). I also enjoyed watchng the fortitude that Temple showed in basically breaking into a very male oriented field of cattle ranching and being successful at it. Perhaps what I liked most about the movie is that it was because of autism rather than despite autism that Temple Grandin was so successful. The different way that she thought about things was what led her to the breakthroughs and innovations in the field of cattle ranching. Today, Dr. Temple Grandin is a noted author of several books on autism and aspergers syndrome. She is also a professor at Colorado State University.
I felt good watching this movie, and I hope that those watching it who are unfamiliar with Aspergers will leave the movie with a better understanding. At it's core, Temple Grandin is a true life underdog story. I gave it three and a 1/2 stars, and I recommend it.
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