Temple Grandin: Changing the Face of Autism
Temple Grandin was thrust into the national spotlight
nearly one year ago year after the release of HBO’s critically acclaimed movie, Temple
Grandin. She then became a near-household name last month after Claire
Danes, who portrayed her in the film, took home a Golden Globe award for her
However, few are aware that prior to the hit HBO film,
Temple Grandin was featured in a 2006 BBC
Horizon documentary, giving a fascinating glimpse
into her life and mind.
The Woman Who Thinks Like A Cow tells the true-life story of Dr. Grandin, who has autism and is a professor at Colorado
State University, specializing in the field of animal science.
In addition to the Golden Globes award, Grandin’s HBO movie was also nominated in 15
Emmy categories and received 5 awards, including Outstanding Made for Television
Movie and Best Actress in a Drama for Danes.
Grandin’s story has single-handedly shattered the misconceptions and
expectations of what people with autism can achieve in their lives and has
become an inspiration to many.
The Woman Who Thinks Like A Cow, differs from its HBO counterpart because
it shows the real Temple Grandin at work and in her element. As a
result, the viewer feels like they are getting a glimpse into what the world is
like from the vantage point of someone who grew up with and conquered autism.
Temple Grandin has a highly controversial and
groundbreaking theory that the autistic mind is closer to the animal mind when
it comes to perceptions of the world around us.
She describes these minds like that of a prey animal, frightened and highly sensitive to outside stimuli. This includes being easily
startled by strange sights and sounds and constantly feeling alert and anxious.
Temple uses her intuition to understand the animal mind and associates it with
her own struggles with constant anxiety. This has enabled her to make a major
impact on animal welfare, in particular, the treatment of cows. She has been
instrumental in modifying the ways these animals are held, moved and slaughtered
and has developed numerous innovations in the humane treatment of beef
cattle. In fact, it has been reported that
nearly half of the cattle in the United States now go to slaughter in humane equipment designed by Temple Grandin.
The Woman Who Thinks Like A Cow is more than just
the story of Temple Grandin. This
short film also tries to address how our understanding of autism has progressed.
For many years, during the fifties and sixties, many psychologists and
doctors were of the opinion that autism was an emotional disorder,
brought on by a disturbed childhood. Psychologist
Bruno Bettelheim believed that children developed autism because their mothers
had consciously or subconsciously rejected them as babies, and he consequently
believed that children with autism could be cured with psychotherapy.
When Temple Grandin was a baby, autism research was in its
infancy and many doctors didn’t even have a name for her condition.
In her own words, as a young child Temple demonstrated “all the
full-blown symptoms of autism.” Many
children like her were even institutionalized.
With intensive tutoring and special care, it still took her many years to learn
basic skills. To this day, social
situations are still a struggle for her. But
approximately twenty years ago, Temple did something no one with autism had ever
done before — she wrote an autobiography entitled, "Emergence: Labeled
Autistic," which was her story of what it was like to grow up with
autism. Since then, she has written
several other books on autism and her life has been a revelation for parents
and scientists, providing much-needed understanding and insight into the inner
workings of the autistic mind.
Labeled "mentally retarded" when she was just three years old, Temple
is now an associate professor of animal science, a best-selling author and now
arguably the most famous person with autism in the world.