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‘Temple Grandin’ a grand film

March 27, 2011
By KATHRYN SPIRA, For The Leader-Herald

With great anticipation, I got the DVD of the HBO movie "Temple Grandin" starring Claire Danes. Julia Ormond plays her mother and David Strathairn plays a science teacher who believes in her abilities in spite of her being autistic.

Based on a true story, Grandin didn't speak until she was 4 years old, and thought in pictures and absolutes, not in abstract terms. She couldn't stand being touched by others and spoke in such a strident way that she seemed odd to the point of being teased by other children.

Very little was known about autism when she was growing up, so her mother had to go it alone as far as trying to get Temple to talk or socialize.

After a trip to her aunt's cattle farm out west, she became very entranced with animals and their behavior to the point that she studied animal control and stockyard design in college.

She was viewed as an imbecile when young and wasn't expected to ever graduate from high school let alone college. But she was stubborn and that stubbornness and strong-willed focus helped her overcome the prejudice of ignorant male cattlemen who wouldn't listen to her reasoning on stockyard and meat packing plant design where she wanted the animals respected and properly treated before slaughter.

One moment in the film that stood out to me was when the cows were upset but calmed when put in restraint. Temple found that she also could calm her overwrought sensibilities from autism by putting herself in a restraint which brought her a sense of calm and tranquility.

When Herman and I watched the Emmy Awards last fall, Temple was in the audience and was thrilled to see Claire Danes win the Emmy for best actress portraying Grandin. She also went up on stage so the audience got a chance to see the character Danes played and see how well Danes embraced Grandin's personality.

After watching the DVD, we listened to Grandin's commentary as she explained the complexities of where, when and why in the film each incident showed her progress and fight for respect and eventually triumph.

To date, Grandin has written several books as well as many magazine articles on autism as well as animal behavior and animal control design. She is a professor at Colorado State University and currently about half of all cattle yards in North America have been designed by her.

She wanted cattle to be treated humanely and she wanted to have her life mean something as she quotes in the movie. Today, both dreams have been realized by an autistic woman in an industry that is dominated by men.

Herman said he was at the national autism convention where Grandin spoke with much authority and parents of autistic children really listened to one who had been through the problems of autism herself.

Herman is a parent of an autistic son, so he would know how effective her words were.

The movie is more than just a movie about an autistic person, it's about overcoming great obstacles. I highly recommend it to anyone.

Kathryn Spira, a native of Cleveland who pursued an acting career in New York City and Los Angeles, now pursues freelance writing from Caroga Lake in Fulton County. Previous columns and contact information may be accessed at her website at



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