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Temple Grandin (2010), starring Clare Danes / 24 April 2012

Temple Grandin is an animal behaviour expert and autism advocate. HBO recently (2010) made a film following her early years staring Clare Danes for which role Danes won a Golden Globe.

The film shows Temple on her path to university and sees some of her past in flashbacks and a bit of what she managed to accomplish after she finished her studies. The film really makes the viewer see life through Temple’s eyes. Therefore, you get a sense of what it is like being autistic, such as being hypersensitive to sound and seeing things through pictures rather than words. In this way, Temple’s way of seeing the world is celebrated; it is very much stressed that she is 'different not less'.

The film does not shy away from a criticism of general views of autism in the years that Temple was growing up, the 50s to the 70s. The doctors' understanding of autism was then very much distorted, labelling people with autism in some cases, as with Temple, as having infantile schizophrenia. A key idea at the time was making the condition the fault of the mother, saying autism was due to 'refrigerator mothers' not putting enough care and affection into their child’s early life. Of course this is a horrible view and thankfully one that has shifted to people now having a richer understanding of the the autistic spectrum.

More generally, the film focuses on what people can achieve despite, or even because of, their impairments. For instance, because Temple is autistic, she is able to see the world differently from others and is able to create things and design ingenious systems that help animals and people.

This movie could be a real inspiration to autistic people and their parents. It has also made me want to go and buy a few books by Temple as I am sure they are as interesting and inspiring as the film.

One draw back of the film is that focusing on Temple only it does not show how different people with autism can be from each other, but it does make the point that it is worth the effort and the hard work of giving every autistic child extra attention in terms of considering different learning styles. Given the right level of affection and good quality teaching, young autistic children can go on to great things.

But a richer understanding of autism is only partly what this movie is aiming to achieve, and its director (Mick Jackson) or stars would probably advise wider reading for that. What it does instead is show for all Temple's achievements the world can be cruel and judgmental and maybe we should be less so when it comes to difference, since different people can achieve great things, and 'different is not less'.

The film originally aired in the UK on Sky Atlantic (2012). A UK (Region 2) DVD is going to be released soon.


Keywords: autistic,biography,disability representation,disabled women,discrimination,drama,empowerment,film,history of disabled people,labelling,psychiatry