Movie Depicts Famed Animal Behavior Expert Temple Grandin

Event is lead-up to Dr. Grandin’s NCC visit

Myra Saturen,

“I am not like other people.  I think in pictures,” says Claire Danes in her role as Temple Grandin in the film, “Temple Grandin,” depicting the life of the renowned expert on animal behavior, who has autism.  Grandin is an author and professor of animal science at Colorado State University.  She served as an advisor to the movie. 

The film was shown to a full-house on March 20 at the Banko Alehouse Cinema in Bethlehem, as part of Northampton Community College’s (NCC) 2018-19 humanities series Humanity’s Best Friend: Dogs and the Human Saga.  A talk-back followed the screening. Dr. Elizabeth Bugaighis, dean of education and academic success, introduced the film, and Robin Cuconan-Lahr, coordinator and founder of NCC’s special education program and a disabilities attorney, led the talk-back, assisted by two special education majors.  

Diagnosed with autism in 1951, at age four, Grandin had a mother who rejected a doctor’s advice—common at the time—to institutionalize her daughter.  Instead, she believed in Temple, teaching her to speak and insisting that she go out into the world and to college.  “You are different, not less,” her mother told her.  In college, a science professor who recognized her intellectual and visual brilliance championed her against naysayers and helped her find a path working with the animals she most loved, cattle.  Her Aunt Ann also encouraged her, hosting her niece at her ranch every summer. 

Nevertheless, Grandin’s social awkwardness and fear brought out her classmates’ cruelty and her teachers’ doubts.  Fortunately, she discovered that being alone in an enclosed space calmed her.  She invented and built what she called a “squeeze device,” an enclosure that offered her solace when agitated.  Eventually, she adapted her discovery to create cattle chutes that eliminated the anxiety of cattle about to be slaughtered.  Acknowledging that cattle are raised for their meat, she said that “nature is cruel, but we don’t have to be.”  By duplicating the circular pattern of cattle movement, the chute substituted a cow’s natural instinct for the trauma of being plunged into water, placed into chaos and getting clubbed.  Grandin felt that humans owed the cattle, who provided their food, with respect. 

The film demonstrated Grandin’s perseverance in the face of prejudice against people with autism and bias against women.  Her visualization of doors encouraged her to walk through these obstacles to open opportunities for herself. 

Audience members, some of whom have relatives with autism, found that the film strongly resonated with them.  Their observations included the high intelligence that often accompanies autism and Grandin’s embrace of her difference to use her rare spatial and conceptual genius toward providing more humane treatment of animals.  Moreover, instead of withdrawing from society, she focused on her strength: her ability to see beyond the obvious. 

The audience also pointed out the positive impact of Temple’s mentors.  One viewer asked, “As Temple Grandin had accommodations for learning, why don’t we accommodate education to everyone’s learning styles?”    Like Grandin, some students who do not have autism learn best through visual means.  Others are auditory learners.  Trieste Kennedy, adjunct professor in the special education program, spoke about the discarded and cruel theory of the “refrigerator mother,” an emotionally cold parent whose failure to bond with her baby was supposed to cause their autism. 

Those interested in knowing more about Temple Grandin will have a wonderful opportunity; on April 16, at 7:30 p.m., NCC will host a live talk by Grandin at its Arthur L. Scott Spartan Center on the Bethlehem Campus, 3538 Green Pond Road, Bethlehem Township.  Admission to the talk will be free, but reservations are necessary and are made on a first come-first served basis.  For reservations, visit www.northampton.edu