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Movie Review: Temple Grandin by Tabatha O.

Salient message in film as it relates to exceptionality

The message that was portrayed to me by this film was how individuals with disabilities can

succeed, or even exceed, the expectations set to someone without a disability if only give extra support

or special allowances. This is apparent in many examples of Temples experiences throughout life.

One instance of this is seen when Temple went to college and struggled because she had no way

of calming herself to face the challenges she would meet. Temple eventually built her 'squeeze

machine' to face this obstacle. However the college would not allow her to keep the machine for

various reasons. This forced Temple to persuade the college to make allowances for her special needs,

by showing them, through scientific research, that overall her machine, not only calmed her down, but

a majority of the student body as well. Because the college made this allowance for her, Temple

excelled in her studies and became valedictorian of her graduating class.

One instance was when Temple was working on her PhD thesis and wanted to study agitation in

cattle when they were going through the flea dip at the slaughter ranches. Unfortunately one of the

owners refused to let her conduct her research there because of her exceptionality and because she was

a female. After still going back repeatedly to observe the cattle, another owner showed respect to her

and signed the form to allow her to begin her thesis research. If he had never seen her potential and

made this allowance for her, she would never had designed the cattle routes/blueprints that over half of

all slaughter ranches use today.

An overall allowance that was given to her was in the boarding school when the science teacher

recognized the way her brain processes information: through pictures. The teacher not only adjusted his

teaching style/method to fit her learning style/needs, but also expanded upon her preconceptions of

learning. He encouraged her to create her own knowledge based on discovery of the world around her.
Images/roles of exceptional individuals as portrayed in the film

There are several images and occasions throughout the film where Temple's exceptionality,

autism, is depicted in a positive or negative light. Some of the rather upsetting parts of the film where

when Temple would get incredibly frustrated and not fully be able to control/deal with her anger. It was

truly amazing, however, when she was able to recognize what she needed to do in order to calm down;

self-stimulate/use the “squeeze machine”. This really put her and her disability into a positive light

from the negative one. It showed that she was able to adjust to her own aggressions and that she was

not unintelligent by no means – but just thought of things in a different way than most individuals.

While in college, Temple shared a dorm room with another girl who also had a disability,

though hers was more known/accepted – she was blind. I think that Temple really interacted well with

this girl, as opposed to other peers because they both were able to identify something that they each

shared: a challenge. The girl who was blind was always shown in a positive light as a great personal

support system for Temple throughout her life, even after college.

It was interesting to see the use of literal imagery throughout the film to portray Temple's

“thinking in pictures” as she refers to it. For example, when the psychologist at the college asked her if

being in her “squeeze machine” made her feel like a cow, they showed images that she remembered

from having pet a cow. She immediately responded “No, I don't feel like a cow.” But she really did not

understand the non-literal meaning behind “feel like a cow”. I believe that this directing technique

really helped to expand my knowledge of how a person with autism thinks about something and

processes that information.

The film does an amazing job at describing how Temple is able to recall memories, like movies,

in her head and still see every detail of when she first had that memory. This allowed her to be able to

understand livestock and what made them nervous. It also presented the idea that Temple had a

conscious understanding of humanity and how livestock should be taken care of and given a humane,
painless death.

Relationship to literature or information discussed in this course

“The diagnosis of autistic disorder is reserved for individuals who display social interaction and

communication impairments, as well as repetitive, sterotypic, and restricted interests and activities

prior to thirty-six months of age” (Friend 378). All of the above mentioned “symptoms” fit perfectly to

Temple and the way the film portrayed her disability. “From the time a child is diagnosed with an

autism spectrum disorder (ASD)-often before age three-to the time he or she transitions into the adult

world, it is the responsibility of parents, guardians, therapists, and educators to provide the best

possible treatment, therapy, and education. It is a vitally important job and one that works best when all

parties work collaboratively, always keeping the child's best interests in mind” (Stull 82).

Something that was shown in the film is where Temple's mother first is told of Temple's

disability, autism. The psychologist does not want to tell her what was believed at the time to cause

autism – refrigerator moms. However, her mother was very intelligent and demanded the doctor

explain to her that it was believed that during a crucial stage of the child's brain development the

mother was cold and uncaring or did not physically hold their child enough, and therefore caused a

child with autism who fears touch from other human beings. This theory was a common theory

throughout the 1950s and 1960s, when Temple was born/grew up. Luckily, Temple's mother refused to

believe this theory, and tried to provide the best education and assistance for Temple that she could.

Nowadays there are several new theories as to what causes autism, though none are definitive,

conclusive, or proven. Biological factors, environmental factors and immunizations have all been

theories presented. “One of the most controversial causal issues related to autism spectrum disorders is

immunization, especially that given for measles, mumps, and rubella. However, findings to date on the

causal relationship between MMR shots and autism spectrum disorders do not warrant stopping these
immunizations. For example, most of the authors of a key study on this topic have retracted their

original conclusions, now indicating that no causal link was established” (Friend 383).

A key component to any disability is remembering to respect the individual you are discussing,

writing or speaking about. This idea is put into action by using person first language. In the beginning

of the film, the psychologist called Temple “an autistic” as opposed to saying she has autism. For this

scene to be shown, it was not out of disrespect, but rather a real representation of how language was

used previously in referring to persons with disabilities. But later in the film Temple refers to herself

has “having autism”. She recognizes this theory of thought. “Regardless of which terms is used to

describe persons with disabilities in a respectful manner, the purpose is defeated if the disability is

allowed to dominate or overshadow the person” (Collins 7).

Overall assessment of film and its impact on you

After viewing this film a couple of times, I have gained new insight on the potential of

exceptional people. I have realized that with the right support services, guidance and great teachers all

students with disabilities can succeed socially, intellectually and emotionally in their own lives –

blowing away our wildest expectations. This movie also showed me that good teachers and related

service providers are powerful influences on these students and are in extreme need.

I think the film shed a positive light on people with autism spectrum disorder, but still rang true

to the trials and challenges faced by these individuals and their families. I think it showed that we all

face different obstacles, even without having a disability, but that we are capable of what others and our

self believe we are capable of.

I would say that I have a personal connection to this film in a number of ways. This film also

really helped me to further understand my brother who has autism, and how he processes information. I

had completely forgotten the fear aspect of why children with autism do not like changes in what's
expected, like schedule changes, etc. It renewed my understanding of this and therefore developed my

knowledge of why he reacts the way he does when something unexpected occurs. I have begun to relate

to him in this manner and trying to live through some of his fears of change. I truly is just the fear of

the unknown that drives their fear of change.

Considering that I eventually want to explore past being a special education teacher and moving

more into the field of autism to potentially become an Autism Specialist within a school district, I

would say that films such as these expand my knowledge and relation base with these students. I hope

that other films of this nature are developed/created in the near future to sometimes be as a guide to my

interpretation of the topic.

Some might say that this film is not an accurate representation of this particular disability,

however I would have to disagree strongly because of the wide spectrum it entails. Unless some

characteristic is clearly not associated with the autism spectrum disorder, it is hard to say that Temple

Grandin the film is not spot on with this category, since there is such a broad spectrum to encompass. I

do concede that Temple is on the higher side of the spectrum to where she is perfectly capable of

physically taking care of herself and living on her own, whereas a majority of the individuals on the

spectrum do not have this capability. I think it would be fascinating for them to study other people who

have autism, and show “examples” of the full spectrum in order to compare the characteristics. This

assignment has led me to seek out other films/shows that portray disabilities from different angles or

perspectives. I particularly enjoyed the one called Black Balloon, about two brothers and one has

autism. I think I can really relate to the story, though maybe not all the details.
Works Cited

Autism Society of America:. Web. 10 Feb. 2010. <http://www.autism-society.org/>.

Collins, Belva C. "Chapter 1: Defining the Term: Moderate and Severe Disabilities." Moderate and

Severe Disabilities A Foundational Appoach. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2006. 1-22.

Print.

Friend, Marilyn. "Chapter 12: Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders." Special Education

Contemporary Perspectives for School Professionals (2nd Edition) (MyLabSchool Series).

Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 2007. 374-405. Print.

Stull, A., et. al., The Team Approach to Helping Children with Autism Succeed at Home, School, and in

the Community [Part of a special section: U.S. Military Section: Community of One--From Our

Families...To Your Families]. The Exceptional Parent v. 39 no. 10/11 (October/November 2009)

p. 82-4. <http://vnweb.hwwilsonweb.com/hww/jumpstart.jhtml?recid=0bc05f7a67b1790e87

b1ca7b5ce4b836105635d3d8c180786f0d7d3b364a0e96828df9587d6102b1&fmt=P >

Temple Grandin. Dir. Mick Jackson. Prod. Scott Ferguson. Perf. Claire Danes, Catherine O'Hara, Julia

Ormond, and David Strathairn. HBO, 2010.