Tuesday, October 13, 2009

like a what?

I just read a profile in the online version of Beef Magazine (something I never imagined I would do). The article was about an upcoming HBO movie about Temple Grandin, who has been called everything from the "woman who thinks like a cow" and "the most famous autistic on the planet." She did not speak during her preschool years. Most people thought she'd spend her life in an institution. Instead, she took her very peculiar brain (she feels a deep kinship with animals - to the level that she believes that she understands how animals experience the world) and found a way to do what she loves and what she's good at. She revolutionized the American slaughterhouse so animals' final moments are not traumatic. She teaches animal science in a university. She dresses like a cowboy.

I grew up in the 70s, before multicultural curricula and efforts at political correctness made an impact on Indiana elementary schools. I heard the classic story of American life that involved white-haired presidents, machine guns, and paeans to prosperity. It's a different world now, a world where my son might see a fairly mainstream movie about a person who shares in his struggles. It's a world where every Columbus Day brings the streams of public protest about the other side of the story. Martin will sing not only Christmas songs in school choir, but probably a Hanukkah number and maybe something about Chinese New Year.

I'm an adult and I find myself thankful that my experience of difference (having an autistic child) can be part of popular discussion and reflection. How much more important is it for children to see these things and know they are not alone. I'm glad I live in a time where a woman who thinks like a cow garners serious public reflection on her experience. The 1970s might have had some killer polyester and fabulous album cover art, but I'll take today.


  1. Yes! I saw a profile of her a few years ago on 'CBS Sunday Morning.' It was fascinating. Thanks for reminding me of her and thanks for writing your truly wonderful and thought provoking blog.

  2. Yesterday I heard Tim Page (author, music critic, prof. @ SoCal) on NPR discussing what it was like to grow up w/unidentified Asperger syndrome. He said he chose to stop wearing glasses (he could function OK w/slight blurriness) because it made everything too vivid and intimate when he wore them. So fascinating.

  3. I remember seeing this woman on a TV special, too... and was also amazed at how her struggle with autism was transformed into a gift. Fascinating and truly inspiring.