Saturday, December 18, 2010

Temple Grandin

Someone is going to think I am way "out of it." And that is fine. I can handle the embarrassment. Though I have an idea I'm not the only one who is rather behind the times when it comes to Temple Grandin.

Her name first came into my consciousness sometime early this fall. I was listening to an interview, probably on NPR or CPR (Colorado Public Radio)--though neither of these particular linked interviews includes the specific portion of the interview that I recall.

In case you are unfamiliar with her, Grandin is a PhD professor of animal science at Colorado State University who is also autistic (has been since early childhood; she didn't speak until she was four years old). Her research and ideas have rather significantly impacted the livestock industry in the United States. Over half of all meatpacking plants include basic inventions of hers.

About a month ago, I realized Grandin was to be one of the featured speakers at the Acres USA conference last week. And one of the three films they would show was titled Temple Grandin. I was excited to see her . . . and, hopefully, to watch the movie.

As it turned out, there was a seminar I wanted to attend that was at the same time as the movie. I figured I could watch the movie later. But I heard her speak.

She is a passionate woman. And her autism, I think, is rather obvious in her manner of speaking. After she had finished her main presentation, the floor was opened for anyone to ask her questions. Sometimes her answers came out making obvious good sense, but socially or emotionally . . . ummmm . . . "off." Too passionate. Too emphatic. Not quite "right" for the audience or the people asking the questions.

When I returned home, I told myself, I wanted to watch the movie.

And yesterday, when I went online and discovered that 124 people had reviewed the film on Amazon, and it rated a solid 5-stars (something one almost never sees whenever any item gets more than about 50 reviews), I realized I had to watch it. And so I rented it and Sarita and I watched it together last night. She once; I twice--once "regular," and once with audio commentary by Grandin herself, the director, and the script writer.

I am glad I watched it twice. I wouldn't have appreciated the commentary without having first watched the film, but the commentary deepened the experience immeasurably. Grandin and her co-commentators affirmed the historicity, the accuracy (or occasional fictionalizations), and the meanings of various things portrayed on screen.

Claire Danes (Juliet in the 1996 Leonardo DiCaprio Romeo and Juliet) plays Grandin. She does an absolutely masterful job. Her voice sounds like Grandin's; her mannerisms--even though I have never spent significant time with an autistic person--I am convinced, are spot on: the way she holds her eyes, the way she rushes her words, the emotional responses. In one scene, the way she runs: I sensed even that was perfectly acted to portray the way someone with autism would carry her body.

Partially through the movie itself, but if you're willing to take the time, much more through the audio commentary, I believe the film conveys a tremendously helpful and eye-opening view of what it is like to live with autism--from the perspective of the autistic person.

You come to understand (at least a part of the range of the autistic spectrum), and you come to appreciate some of the unique strengths that someone with autism may enjoy. As Grandin has said, even "If I could snap my fingers and become non-autistic, I would not do so. Autism is part of who I am."

Maybe I should say: You may find you learn to appreciate some of what Grandin and other authorities are describing as neurodiversity.

Watch the movie. I am sure you will not be disappointed!

And here is a TED presentation Grandin made: The World Needs All Kinds of Thinkers. (Oh, wow!)

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