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Evan Agostin/AP
Dr. Temple Grandin attends a screening of HBO’s “Temple Grandin.”

“Temple Grandin” Sheds New Light on Autistic Experience

February 06, 2010 05:00 PM
by Sarah Amandolare
A new HBO film tells the story of Temple Grandin, an uncommonly determined autistic woman whose impact on agricultural techniques defied what experts expected from her life.

A Unique Character and Movie

Temple Grandin was diagnosed with autism in 1950, and doctors told her parents to institutionalize her, according to her official Web site. But Grandin could not be tethered, and in her book, “Emergence: Labeled Autistic,” she asserts that an autism diagnosis is not “a death sentence to achievement or productivity in life.”

The film “Temple Grandin,” premiering Feb. 6 on HBO, stars Claire Danes in the starring role, along with Julia Ormond, Catherine O’Hara and David Strathairn. It centers on Grandin’s struggles with autism “at a time when it was still quite unknown,” according to HBO.

Grandin’s unique way of seeing is captured onscreen, “taking the audience inside her mind with a series of snapshot images” to tell how she established herself as having “an innate sensitivity and understanding of animal behavior,” says HBO.

Directed by Mick Jackson and featuring a screenplay by Christopher Monger and William Merritt Johnson, the film is based on two of Grandin’s books, “Emergence: Labeled Autistic” and “Thinking in Pictures: My Life with Autism.”

Early Reviews for “Temple Grandin”

Los Angeles Times television critic Mary McNamara indicates that “Temple Grandin” sets a new bar for films featuring autistic characters, or incorporating autism into the storyline. What’s particularly unique about the film, aside from its incredible main character and exceptional acting, is the decision to focus not on autism, but on Grandin’s work “designing a more humane method of herding cattle to the slaughterhouse,” McNamara writes.

“Here we must take a moment to tip our hats to HBO; it's difficult to imagine another group of people that would greenlight a film in which the main character's moment of triumph involves the term ‘slaughterhouse,’” McNamara adds. She also calls the film “[u]tterly and gorgeously unsentimental.” 

Danes’ performance has also generated buzz, the Times reported, but the actress remains humble, calling her acting achievements “so incredibly modest compared to the level of her (Grandin’s) accomplishment.” 

Background: Temple Grandin and living with autism

Dr. Temple Grandin’s Official Autism Web site describes Grandin’s early years, including that she didn’t speak until she was 3 and a half years old. She went on to become a frequent public speaker on autism, and feels strongly that “the characteristics of autism can be modified and controlled.”

In 2006, NPR interviewed Grandin, touching on her unique understanding of animals, and how she’s able to recognize animals’ “special talents.” Grandin also discussed what she considers the advantages of an autistic experience.

“I feel very strongly that if you got rid of all of the autistic genetics you’re not going to have any scientists. There’d be no computer people. You’d lose a lot of artists and musicians. There’d be a horrible price to pay,” she said.

Redefining Normalcy

Although more adults have been diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome in recent years, some experts, as well as those who have the autism spectrum disorder, contend that a cure is not necessary. Rather, acceptance of different personality traits is in order, they claim.  


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