I loved the Temple Grandin movie for the same reasons most of us did. It is a wonderful story. Claire Danes is a superb actor and she was fabulous in this role. The story outlined the frustrations and obstacles of autism brilliantly! The inspiration to people and families struggling with autism was a breath of fresh air! That is why I loved it.
I started to hate it when I heard the take-away from people who know almost nothing about autism apart from this movie. Last year we went to a family dinner party and we brought Naomi. As usual we explained her condition to those that didn’t know her. Later of in the evening one of the other guests asked “Autism, is that the condition that they were portraying in that movie with Claire Danes? “ When I told her that it was she continued. “That movie really made a point for me. I mean, we’re all different; we’ve all got things that are a little odd about us! That doesn’t mean we need a cure for them.” This was a little surprising since this same person seemed to cringe a little when Naomi moved around, trying to grab other people’s hands at this event. Maybe she just didn’t like children in general, but I sensed she was less than fully approving of this little oddity in particular. After hearing her refer to autism as if it were a simple ‘quirk’ I wanted to ask her if she noticed that she had eaten dinner, started dessert and was on her second glass of wine before I had even had a chance to take my first bite of anything. That’s the life of an autism mom. Something the Temple Grandin movie left out.
Aside from how her condition affects me, there’s Naomi to consider. Autism really isn’t a simple ‘quirk’ for her. Maybe she isn’t entirely comfortable with how autism will affect her life. The movie clearly indicated that Temple Grandin has never been interested in any kind of romantic relationship. Most people are - autistic or not- and yes, autism gets in the way of that. Independent living – or lack there of, effective communication and major barriers to obtaining things that she may want in life aren’t just little ‘quirks’. No matter how accepting the environment around her is, autism will affect her quality of life.
When I try to talk about Naomi's future, sometimes people will say “Look at Temple Grandin!” The tone isn’t “Look at Temple Grandin! What an inspiration!” It’s more along the lines of “If she can do it, why can’t your kid? Stop worrying about her and get on with life!”
I hear these things and I wonder if parents of children with polio were told not to worry, because hey, look at Franklin Roosevelt? Somehow, I doubt it. Somehow people got that polio was a serious epidemic and not just a quirky thing. I wish that people would get that when it came to autism.
The movie only briefly showed Temple as a child with her mother using flashcards as Temple sat passively. Then suddenly, Temple is a young adult, working on her aunt’s farm, engineering a gate that let cars through and keep the cattle in. She’s even getting ready for college in the fall. I know there must have been a lot more blood, sweat and tears in those years between. It’s too bad we didn’t get too much insight into them.
Then there’s the squeeze machine. Yes, the squeeze machine worked wonderfully for Temple and I am happy that she made it work. It doesn’t mention that since autism affects so many people in so many different ways, the squeeze machine isn’t the answer for everyone with autism. To have the insight, the skills, the communication abilities and the intellect to figure out what your sensory needs are and build something to address them is much more difficult and far rarer than it appears on a movie screen. For people with autism, many of the sensory and emotional conditions are much further outside of their control then most of us can ever imagine.
I still loved it. I truly think she is an inspiration and role model. I think everyone, including people with autism should strive to use their gifts and work hard to make accomplishments. It’s just that the difficulties that come with autism don’t go away by treating everyone like Temple Grandin. The world of autism is so much bigger than this, or any movie can encompass. I guess it’s like dismissing racism by pointing to Barak Obama or figuring that we don’t need to help people on welfare by pointing to JK Rowling. It is far more complex world out there. So yes, Temple Grandin does not need a cure. Many others do.