I watched Temple Grandin last night. Temple Grandin is an autistic lady who has made significant contributions to the field of animal husbandry. There are many things that I can say about this movie, which deservedly got a number of Emmy wins and nominations. I’ll comment on three issues, though:
1. I’ll use Temple’s Mom as a starting-point to discuss the various characters’ interactions with Temple. Temple’s Mom somewhat surprised me, for I expected her to be more like Temple’s aunt on the movie: accepting of Temple and her idiosyncrasies, yet gently teaching her what is socially acceptable and unacceptable. But my impression was that Temple’s Mom saw Temple the way that many in society did—as somewhat of a freak—although she loved her daughter and came to be proud of her, especially in the touching scene at the end of the movie where Temple was speaking to an autistic conference about her life and people were interested in what she had to say. This reminded me of something I heard a person with Asperger’s say at a group. This man had a son who also had Asperger’s, and his ex-wife was neurotypical. He said that his son was getting a healthy balance, for, while he could comfort his son from a perspective of understanding, the child’s mother could point out what he’s doing that’s odd and that may be putting people off. Temple’s mother reminded me of what this man said about his ex-wife, for she was candid with Temple about what she was doing that was off (i.e., Temple wanted to talk about cows at a dinner party, but people there didn’t want to hear about that, even though, as Temple pointed out, they asked her!).
I especially liked Temple’s boarding school science teacher, Professor Carlock, a gentle person who saw potential in Temple, giving her science experiments to do and even offering her help and assistance after she had graduated from the boarding school—when she was struggling with college and later trying to make her way in the field of animal husbandry. He was the person who taught Temple and her mother that Temple was different, but not inferior, and he gave Temple guidance on a career she could pursue. She told him she wanted to study cows, and he replied that such a field is called animal husbandry.
I also liked Temple’s second room-mate at college, Amy, who was blind. Unlike many of the other students and people Temple knew—who saw Temple as a freak and usually needed to be impressed by something remarkable that Temple did before they accepted her—Amy accepted Temple and her idiosyncrasies, and they both also enjoyed some of the same things, like Star Trek. To a lesser extent, I think the same thing about the lady Temple encountered at the grocery store, who saw that Temple was afraid of the electronic door and helped her out. This lady proved to be an important connection to Temple, for her husband was a big player in animal husbandry. Temple said that she walked through a door, and the lady agreed, noting that she helped her through it. That was true, both literally and metaphorically.
2. One area in which I identified with Temple was that some of her insights about animal husbandry initially appeared to be insignificant, but she was able to make them significant by showing how they fit into a broader picture. When Temple said that the cattle were moving in a circle peacefully, her professor sarcastically replied that this was obvious. When Temple proposed to write her thesis on cows’ mooing, her adviser thought that was beneath the school’s standards. But Temple’s insights fit into a broader project that she had—to create a system in which cattle would be moved along in a manner that would be calming to them—and she noted that her proposal would save money. I myself have many stray thoughts, but part of my challenge is to show how those thoughts can be significant and helpful to people in my field.
3. As a person with Asperger’s, I identified with some of how Temple came across, but not with other points. I myself can be blunt and say the wrong thing. My eye contact is probably better than Temple’s on the movie, but there’s room for improvement. Where I differ is that I don’t take everything literally, and I don’t have a photographic memory.
In the movie, Temple was helped by a squeezing machine, the sort that calms cows down. That made her more relaxed and sociable. I don’t know if that could work for me, but it would be nice to do something that puts me in a state of calm and peace, especially for social situations.
The real Temple Grandin actually comes across as more socially adept and articulate than the depiction of her in the movie, but she probably became that way after years of growth and learning.