Guest Author - Bonnie Sayers
I have always referred to Temple Grandin as the 'autism expert'. Several years ago I taped her keynote speech at an autism conference in Pasadena. It had slipped my mind to bring her books along for signing since she was at the table doing autographs for visitors. I did wait in line to chat with her for a few minutes, noting that my son Nicholas is very similar in his thought process and connection with animals.
The HBO Movie Temple Grandin was filmed in 2008 with the autism community anxiously waiting for it to air on HBO. Entertainment Weekly provided an advanced screening in several cities across the country. Los Angeles was one of the locations so I signed up. These took place February 2, 2010 with the first airing on HBO February 6, 2010. Seating was limited to theatre capacity with one guest allowed with photo IDs necessary to enter. The screenings were monitored to make sure no recording devices or cameras would be utilized.
I decided to just purchase HBO instead so my son Nicholas could watch, plus I wanted to have a copy of the movie. A few days before the movie I had Nicholas watch portions of The Woman who thinks like a Cow on YouTube to get a sense of Temple Grandin beforehand. We tuned in Saturday night for the premiere.
I did have to explain to Nicholas a few things along the way as the movie jumped around a little bit, but mostly as a flashback, thus confusing him somewhat at times. The visualization of Temple's thoughts were quite remarkable. In Thinking In Pictures she has stated her mind is like a vcr tape in her head. We got a real sense of this when the images would be thrust on the screen based on a word, sentence or thought. Based on the buckle and attire worn by one gentleman she immediately asked him if he was a cowboy.
There were awkward moments when Temple spoke to people or was first introduced. During the summer after high school Temple stayed with her Aunt before her Mother arrived to take her to college. Temple was busy watching the cattle, soon finding comfort in the contraption they went through. She even designed a system for entering the property without having to get out of the vehicle to open the gates. Her Mother was impressed upon arrival to see the handwritten note on the gate indicating the alloted time to get through the gate.
There was a wonderful segment during the summer visit to Arizona at the beginning when Temple's Aunt Anne asked her why she did not want to go to College. Temple shared her difficulty in getting along socially with her peers and her confusion with their interests. Anne asked Temple to show her what her happy face looked like compared to another expression, yet both seemed to be the same. She took many pictures of Temple with notations on what expression this symbolized. To this day this pratice is used with autistic kids to teach them about facial expressions and feelings expressed by others.
When Temple arrived at her Aunt's house she wanted a visual to show her that the room she was to stay in was hers, so a sign was made indicating Temple's room with Grandin inserted later by Temple. Temple had difficulty with sounds and automatic doors and only ate pudding and jello.
The viewer could sense her frustration while at the cafeteria on the college campus and the times she encountered automatic doors. The connection Temple had with her visually impaired college roommate was evident. They liked going to the rec room to watch and listen to Man from U.N.C.L.E.
Her Mother reflected on Temple's autism diagnosis and what the Doctor had stated back when Temple Grandin was four years old and nonverbal, as she left Temple in her college dorm to get acclimated. This was at the time of the Refrigerator Mother theory. The flashbacks showed the determination of Eustacia Cutler in helping Temple reach her full potential in life.
When the grades were posted at College showing an F for Grandin she immediately went to call her Science teacher from Boarding school. He was the first person to recognize her talents and suggested she was a visual learner. Viewers saw the respect Dr. Carlock showed Temple.
There were some amusing moments when Temple figured out how to get on a cattle ranch by driving a truck with a hat and later she obtained a media pass and changed her look, which is still her signature style when you see her at autism conferences.
Claire Danes spoke just like Temple, her angly gait was mimicked with perfection along with her wide-eyed look. Temple Grandin is very matter of fact in her conversations, never changing her monotone or really looking at the person as she is introducing herself while continuing with her speech and not missing a beat.
The fact that Temple does not like human contact was portrayed well and her singing a song at her graduation showed her indifference. Her mother's motto regarding Temple was, "Different, not less". I felt the acting was superb all around.
The ending has Temple and Eustacia atteding an autism conference in 1981, although the reason for them being in the audience was not shared. At one point Temple spoke up and shared what it is like to be an adult with autism. At first the parents asked if she was a parent and turned away when she answered no, until she revealed how she is autistic and how she thinks.
She was handed a microphone and led to the front of the stage to speak in front of the audience. This is the Temple Grandin the autism community knows and respects. Learning firsthand through the Temple Grandin movie which the screenplay is based on her books is very unique and insightful for parents.
This is a movie that should go along with the term "autism awareness". Anyone viewing this HBO movie will gain such insights into the autistic mind, as well as sensory issues and visual learning. There was no mention of medications, so I highly recommend reading her books for more tips and ideas on living with autism as an adult. If you have the opportunity to attend an autism conference where Temple Grandin is the keynote speaker, I highly recommend doing so and bring along your digital recorder - she is a very inspirational speaker not to be missed.
Other Temple Grandin books
Official Temple Grandin website
A Conversation with Temple Grandin NPR 2006
Autism Women's Network interview with Temple Grandin - Blog Talk Radio
transcript of the AWN interview
Interview with Temple Grandin on the making of the HBO movie
A Conversation with the HBO cast
Educational Autism Tips for Families 71 page resourceful ebook for families entering the school system with a recent autism diagnosis. Find out what issues take place over the course of a school day and meet these challenges head on.