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Temple Grandin and Autism Spectrum Disorder

Michael Bishoff

Chesapeake College


This paper explores Autism Spectrum Disorders and how Autism is portrayed in the film Temple

Grandin. In the film, Temple is autistic and her inability to effectively understand and express

emotions and her abnormal behaviors impacts her life in a multitude of ways. Her ability to

visualize and remember things in great detail plays a significant role in her success. The

assumption that autistic people are not as intelligent and cannot be self-sufficient is shown in the

film and this paper provides evidence that disagrees with that assumption.

Temple Grandin and Autism Spectrum Disorder

Explanation of Issues

Autism Spectrum Disorders are a group of five complex brain-based disorders. The five

Autism Spectrum Disorders are; Pervasive Developmental Delay - Not Otherwise Specified

(PDD-NOS), Autism, Asperger Syndrome, Rett Syndrome, and Childhood Disintegrative

Disorder. The Centers for Disease Control describes ASDs as: "developmental disabilities that

cause substantial impairments in social interaction and communication and the presence of

unusual behaviors and interests. Many people with ASDs also have unusual ways of learning,

paying attention, and reacting to different sensations. The thinking and learning abilities of

people with ASDs can varyfrom gifted to severely challenged. An ASD begins before the age

of 3 and lasts throughout a person's life". While scientists arent positive as to what causes

ASDs, a lot of research points to it being a genetic based condition. (Foundation, 2014)

Children affected by ASDs are likely to each have a unique pattern of behavior, which

may make it difficult to determine the severity of the disorder. Some behaviors that may be

associated with ASDs are; failing to respond to their name, resisting to being held, preferring to

play alone, delayed or lack of speech, speaking with an abnormal tone, not able to express

emotions and unaware of others feelings, performing repetitive behaviors, following specific

routines, and having odd food preferences like eating only foods with a specific texture (Autism

Spectrum Disorder, 2014). In the film Temple Grandin, viewers see several of these symptoms

in Temple. For example, when Temple was young, she wouldnt speak at all and wouldnt

respond when her mother called her name. Throughout most of the film she also doesnt liked to

be touched or hugged, and would pull away quickly. She spoke in an abnormal tone and at first

had trouble understanding her own and other peoples emotions. Temple also showed repetitive

behaviors, like spinning around in circles and being held by her squeeze machine. She had an

odd preference for foods, only eating smooth viscous foods like Jell-O and yogurt. Overall, the

film portrayed Temple with a lot of the behaviors associated with ASD.


Temples behavior impacted her life in many ways. Her trouble expressing and

understanding emotions, abnormal tone, and repetitive behaviors caused her to receive a lot of

negative attention which led people to not taking her seriously. The first school she attended was

a good example of this because people would often laugh and make fun of her and her professor

didnt take her research on the effects of people being in her squeeze machine seriously. Later

when Temple started to do work and research at a slaughterhouse, the owner treated her as if she

was unintelligent and refused to allow her to do research on the cows there.

Temple was also very good at memorizing and visualizing things, but lacked the ability

to understand abstract ideas. In the film, this is portrayed in a few ways. Temple usually did

poorly in classes focused on abstract ideas, like algebra and foreign languages, while she

excelled at things like building stuff and recreating an illusion that created a distorted

perspective. Another example is that Temple could recall specific instances of a word, like when

someone in the film mentioned shoes she visualized all of the shoes she had seen rather than a

generic pair. Her ability to visualize things impacted her life in a positive way, and gave her a

perspective that no one else shared. She was able to visualize what the cows saw, which helped

her make a design for slaughter houses in which the cows would behave calmly and were easier

to guide.


Near the end of the film, Temple and her mother attends an autism convention. A lot of

the audience asks questions about autism in which the speaker cannot answer. Temple decides to

stand up and talk about autism, which leads someone to asking if she had an autistic child. When

she answers no, most people start to disregard what she said and do not think that she is autistic.

When she announces that she is autistic, people start to ask her a lot of questions and how she

was cured. This part of the film shows that the audience generally assumes that autistic people

couldnt really be as intelligent or self-sufficient as normal people.

Temple Grandin in both the film and real life shows that this assumption isnt true.

Research shows that 46% of all children diagnosed with ASDs are average to above average in

regards to intellectual ability (Centers for Disease Control, 2014). It has also been argued that IQ

tests arent representative of a child diagnosed with ASD intelligence. Some of these children

may struggle with IQ tests if they are non-verbal or do not respond well to pen and paper tests.

For example, non-verbal children who scored low on the verbal portion of IQ tests may score

average or above average on spatial intelligence tests (Rudacille, 2011). Looking throughout

history, there have also been famous successful people who are thought to have had ASD. Some

of these are; Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Michelangelo, Sir Isaac Newton, Lewis Carroll, and

Pablo Picasso (Armstrong, n.d.).

Students Position

After watching the film Temple Grandin, my perception on ASD has changed

significantly. Previously, I had never thought about the way autistic people think. Watching the

film gave me insight on the perspective of autistic people who excel at visualizing. Seeing how

Temple was able to memorize the smallest, most unimportant details with extreme clarity made

me realize that while autistic people may lack skills in certain areas, they may excel in other

areas. The film also showed me how people with ASDs may be treated by others. Throughout the

film, I witnessed how people looked down upon Temple and disregarded her ideas. While Ive

always known that people will pick on those they perceive as weak, it was disheartening to see

Temple as a target for abuse and bullying just because she was a little different. The film has

changed my outlook on ASDs, and helped me understand life through their perspective.

Conclusions, Implications, and Consequences

Temples autism may be a disorder, but that doesnt mean nothing good came from it.

Being autistic has helped Temple excel at visualizing things. The way she was able to notice and

memorize the smallest details gave her a perspective that no one else around her shared. This

allowed her to succeed by visualizing what the cows saw when going through different areas,

like the chains, clothes, and people. Being able to understand what they saw allowed her to

design a system which was more humane and made the cows move willingly. She was then

recognized for her design, and many places actually implemented it. The actual Temple Grandin

has written several books, and often gives public speeches about Autism. She is an example that

while people with ASD may think differently, they are not unintelligent and can accomplish

amazing things.


Armstrong, J. (n.d.). 5 Famous Autistic People Throughout History. Retrieved from Autism

Support Network: http://www.autismsupportnetwork.com/news/5-famous-autistic-


Autism Spectrum Disorder. (2014, June 03). Retrieved from Mayo Clinic:



Autism Spectrum Disorder. (2014, March 24). Retrieved from Center for Disease Control and

Prevention: http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/data.html

Foundation, A. S. (2014). What is Autism? Retrieved from Autism Science Foundation:


Jackson, M. (Director). (2010). Temple Grandin [Motion Picture].

Rudacille, D. (2011, January 6). IQ scores not a good measure of function in autism. Retrieved

from Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative .