Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Different, But Not Less: Temple Grandin

“I do not cry easily at the movies; years can go past without tears. I have noticed that when I am deeply affected emotionally, it is not by sadness so much as by goodness.”—Roger Ebert

Although I cannot say “years go past,” without me crying at the movies, I can say, in all sincerity, that I agree with Roger: “When I am deeply affected emotionally [by a film], it is not by sadness so much as by goodness.”

This past weekend, I watched a film about a remarkable woman named Temple Grandin. Grandin was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1947. She hadn’t learned to speak by age four, and subsequently, Temple was diagnosed with autism. Awareness and studies on autism at the time were nonexistent, and Temple’s parents were told by psychologists that she was a “childhood schizophrenic.” Consequently, they were encouraged to institutionalize her.

Temple’s mother, Eustacia, a Harvard-educated woman, would not accept this advice. Instead she hired tutors to work with Temple on a daily bases. After learning to speak, as well as acquiring a variety of necessary life skills and coping mechanisms, Temple headed to high school. During this time, Temple began the several decade-long process of unlocking her neurological abilities: She came to understand that she processed the entire world through an incredible catalogue of pictures.

A few years later, encouraged by positive experiences on her aunt’s ranch as a teenager, and after graduating with a degree in Psychology from Franklin Pierce College, Temple decided to pursue graduate work in Animal Science at Arizona State University. This is where she began some of her most important work to date. Out of earnest desire to change inhumane slaughter practices in the cattle industry (She literally could perceive what a cow felt when held in a slaughter yard, due to her unique visual and emotional understandings), she designed revolutionary stockyards. Half of the entire country’s slaughter stockyards are now equipped with Grandin’s more humane designs.

She once said concerning this subject:
“I think using animals for food is an ethical thing to do, but we’ve got to do it right. We’ve got to give those animals a decent life and we’ve got to give them a painless death. We owe the animal respect. Nature is cruel. But we don’t have to be.”

Aside from her enormous contribution to the cattle industry, Grandin is also one of the rare cases of autistic individuals who are cognizant and aware of how differently they perceive the world. Consequently, she has played a huge role in autism education and activism in the past two decades.

Perhaps what touches me the most about Temple’s story is her genuine goodness. After surviving a most likely torturous childhood and adolescence, and after overcoming incredibly difficult challenges, she went on to exemplify her mother's philosophy: Temple was different, but never less.

I am moved beyond words by this woman and this film.


ldsjaneite said...

Cool. I need to add that to my To Watch list. Thanks for the review!

Fran said...

One of the best movies we have seen, I even showed it to my 5/6 grade students. It moved many of them too.