An Ode to Temple Grandin

Thinking in Pictures, in my opinion, is Temple’s best book.

HBO memorialized the world’s most famous person living with autism on the collective psyches of mainstream media-loving America. My review of the movie, here.  For this week’s autism/disAbility post, I’m resurrecting and combining a couple of previously unfinished posts about my various encounters with the  amazing scientist.

January, 2009:

The Temple,” that is, Temple Grandin, the world’s most famous person living with autism, was talking it up with the suave-voiced Terry Gross of National Public Radio’s Fresh Air recently. Temple’s latest book: Animals Help Make Us Human apparently has the professor making the media rounds again. Listen to NPR’s interview here.

Blaring into the nighttime confines of my car via radio, while, behind the wheel, I careened home from some assorted autism therapy with my daughter. Temple was more engaging than ever. Again, leaving me shaking my head in amazement at this 50-something cowgirl articulate. I’ve heard the Ph.D. animal scientist speak four times and met her twice. I’m showing my own autism genes here by remembering the years precisely: 1997, 2003, 2005 and 2007, (and later, 2009). And, if one cared to ask, I bet I could name the months, too. Why it matters when I heard her is that each time she had taken giant leaps in her articulation, her emotive expression, her sense of humor, her…neurotypical-likeness–showing the progress a person with autism is capable of, even in adulthood.

Last I saw her, my daughter Grace and I shared a bag of Starbucks almonds with Temple behind the scenes of “The View,” where we were all guests in January, 2007. (Breaking ranks from other network features, “The View” chose not to share any permanent links to the autism episode.) The night before we were on air, I phoned all the shows’ guests who were staying at the hotel. Everyone had plans in the Big Apple, including Temple, but Temple made plans to share a limo with us to the studio the next morning. Agreeing to meet us in the lobby, she told me what she looked like: tall, black hair, black jeans, black cowboy boots and a bolo-tied western shirt. A wardrobe she even declared as eccentric during her Fresh Air interview. True, but decidedly Temple. And, I chuckled and told her that, yes, I knew what she looked like. I’d met and talked to her two years earlier at a Vanderbilt-hosted journalist autism symposium that we were again guest panelists. But, I didn’t expect her to remember me. What I found that first face-to-face meeting at Vanderbilt, was an intensely engaging woman who was sincerely down-to-business-interested in my child and how she was doing. Three years later, in the studio, sharing roasted almonds, she joked and showed me her charming, dry humor. I was taken aback by her sense of fun and even warmth.

On the radio with Gross, [in 2009,] she was more articulate than ever and once again this veteran of a dozen-plus years on this journey was surprised by what I learned. Her hard-lined pro-med approach had softened greatly. Instead of being so anti-depressant gung-ho–based on her own success–she was more tempered and added that the drugs did not work with everyone on the autism spectrum.  She cautioned about their ubiquitous and copious use in very young children with the disorder and lobbied, instead, for their use with teens and adults.

Her description of her anxiety was more graphic than I’d ever heard her speak of the first and second times I heard her lecture. And, during the interview, she gave a unique description of autism subtypes that I’d never heard before, breaking it down into those with language issues, others with sensory issues, etc.

Notes from February 2009:

Like the shining star she is in autism’s evolutionary history, Temple Grandin shone brightly last night at the Nashville signing of her latest book, Animals Make us Human. Before the Temple’s talk, from my front row seat, I twisted and turned, scanning the crowd’s faces for those I knew from the local autism community. There were only a few. Temple confirmed it when she asked the crowd if they were “autism people” or “animal people.” The majority of raised hands indicated: they were animal people.

Two odd things occurred that night.  First, I raised my hand during the Q&A and asked Temple a question about therapeutic horseback riding and autism. Instead of focusing on me and the question I was asking, she zoned in on Grace who sat beside me acting clearly autistic, rocking, probably singing quietly beneath her breath. And Temple really didn’t answer my question. And then when I went to get my book signed, I tried to chat it up, reminding her that we’d shared a bag of almonds on the set of “The View” two years earlier. My three attempts to engage her into my line of conversation failed. My future mother-in-law noticed it, too. I could have passed it off as rude, instead, I just left a bit puzzled. It took me about a week or more to realize that the same thing had happened on the phone with Temple in New York. I had tried to change the subject from the show to the extreme record cold the city was experiencing. Both times, at the book signing and on the phone in New York, she seemed to brush off my attempts to chit chat. And, that’s just it.  As amazing at Temple is, she’s scripted. This is NOT meant as a criticism. It’s just another clue into the social being of many who have autism. She could talk about what she wanted to talk about, what she knew best, but if I tried to veer her off from the book signing or our discussion about the show–about the frivolous things that us “neurotypicals” chat about–and she couldn’t follow….

Today, February 2010:

Temple Grandin: thank you. Thank you for devoting your life to helping parents and professionals and the world understand our children’s disorder. I was a new parent only a handful of months into this confusing journey when I first heard you speak in 1997. You gave me and those listening alongside of me, in a sterile hotel lecture hall, advice that became our family’s guiding force. You told us to seize hold of our children’s interests when they are 12 or 14 because that would become their career and social network. We found our daughter’s passion for art a year later, when she was only four. Your words of wisdom have held us on this path in the 13 years since. I am forever grateful to you.

In my research, I discovered that Future Horizons, the autism community’s largest publisher and conference provider, will host Grandin here, in Nashville, on Friday, April 2

Note: 2.10.10 p.m. Oh. Good. Lord. Note to self: If you resurrect a post from a previous year, remember to not only change the day it posts but the year also. Something nagged me during my few hectic odd hours at home after the snow, scrambling off to a meeting, to. check. the blog. Make. Sure. It. Posted. So, After a long day of driving everywhere doing everything–story of my life–I check. Oops. I have one comment…. This posted but I’m unsure if it posted in subscriber’s mailboxes or the commenter went back into my archives and read it as it posted on 2.11.09 but I scheduled it last night, which means it posted this morning a year later. Huh? Apologies for the repeat folks–if it is a repeat–but at least it’s here now where I intend it to be. Good. Grief.

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Leisa Hammett
Author. Blogger. Speaker. ARTism Agent.;;
Leisa Hammett

Leisa Hammett

Author. Blogger. Speaker. ARTism Agent.;;

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