Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Peering into the mind of Temple Grandin

I had the chance to watch the HBO movie Temple Grandin. If you haven’t seen it, you should.  It’s been said that Temple Grandin is the most recognized person in the world with autism and has done great things for the autism community.  She is also a well-known animal behaviorist and became world-famous for designing humane slaughterhouses. The inventive HBO film paints a picture of Temple’s perseverance and determination while struggling with the isolating challenges of autism at a time when very little was known about autism spectrum disorder.  The movie takes place in the 1950’s when psychiatrists considered autism a mental disorder caused by cold, withholding “refrigerator mothers”.  Grandin’s mother was anything but cold and so much of Temple’s success can be attributed to her mother’s nurturing support. One of my favorite lines from the movie was when her mother declares “I’m supposed to have done this, well then, I can undo it”.  The film follows Temple from her early school years, completion of her Masters and emergence as a woman with a keen self-awareness and an innate sensitivity and understanding of animal behavior.  With the help of her mother, a woman who insisted that people treat her daughter as “different, but not less”, a farsighted teacher who helped Temple unlock her talents,  as well as Temple’s own relentless determination, Temple Grandin paved her way to a successful career as an author, lecturer and pioneering advocate for autism.    

What I loved most about the film was the insight into Grandin’s world, taking the audience inside her mind and the way she visualizes things by using a series of snapshot images that pop onto the screen the same way that they pop into her mind.  A great example of this is when she attempts to enter a supermarket with automatic sliding glass doors. Images of a guillotine keep popping into her head, preventing her for entering the store and forcing her to instead shop at a small mini-market across the street. In one scene she gets off a plane and the sounds and sights are heightened, the screeching whirr of the propeller, loud greetings, the blazing desert heat, all to capture how overwhelming and unbearable simple daily activities can be to someone with autism. But Temple never let these roadblocks stop her.  Very noteworthy is the way in which she deals with her panic and anxiety with the invention of a contraption she designs to apply pressure by squeezing her when she goes into sensory overload, so typical of autism. What is so admirable about Temple Grandin, and is conveyed brilliantly in the movie, is how unapologetic she is about her disorder as she plows through life. She credits autism for her achievements, arguing that her hypersensitivity and the unique way in which she sees things is what allowed her to be so in tune to animal sensibilities.

Overall it is an inspiring story that is dramatic but at the same time charming and offers a wonderful glimpse into the mind of someone with autism. So much in line with Temple Grandin herself, this movie sends a great message about autism. You ought to watch it.


Daniel Adatto, BCBA

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