September 4, 2012

Good Tues. Looks like it might be a nice day after a gray weekend with scattered showers. Temp this ayem 47 degrees.

We watched an excellent bio-pic on Temple Grandin, the well-known designer of humane beef cattle processing chutes, who was diagnosed with autism at age 2 ( the HBO movie says 4). The role of Grandin is played brilliantly by Claire Danes. Indeed, the acting throughout is high level, following Grandin from age 4 in 1951 through school and boarding school and college. Autism makes a person highly sensitive to stimulous, which can be very disorienting in a conversation, hence their awkward social skills draw unwanted attention. Grandin’s mother, a Harvard grad, wanted her daughter to be prepared to live in the world rather than be institutionalized, as was common at the time. Grandin was smart, and though other kids laughed at her awkwardness, some of her teachers saw that she creative in unusual ways and a hard worker. She was particularly adept at visualizing difficult concepts and reading space in a way that normal people could not.

The long sequence when she is studying as a graduate student at a cattle processing plant and learning about the behavior of cattle is engrossing. Naturally the kind of guy who works at such places was not sympathetic to a woman being there, much less an autistic one, and she endured some needless cruelty. Gradually, however, when plant owners saw her plans and allowed her to demonstrate them, they saw that her humane chute designs (for dipping, loading, and slaughter) would save them money. Now about half of all cattle “processed” in the US are at plants that Grandin has designed. Grandin earned MS and PhD degrees and now teaches at Colorado State University.

This movie had us on the edge of our seats as Grandin met with obstacle after obstacle and figured out how to overcome them. How other people reacted to her disability is very instructive. First rate. Inspiring. From Netflix. You can see the real Temple Grandin doing a TED lecture online, and her books are especially interesting for their insights into animal behavior and autism generally. The Oliver Sacks book, An Anthropologist on Mars, borrows its title from Grandin’s description of how she experiences being around normal people.

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