Emergence: Labeled Autistic
Born in 1949, Temple Grandin was first diagnosed with brain damage at the age of three and then, at the age of five, labeled Autistic. Today Temple Grandin, self-labeled as a recovered autistic, is a well-respected doctor in animal science, a professor at Colorado State University, a bestselling author, an autism activist, and a leading consultant to the livestock industry on animal behavior. While it is easily argued that Temple Grandin’s life does not represent the norm for most children with autism, her autobiography, Emergence: Labeled Autistic (1986) offers a powerful picture of the influences and experiences that steered Temple through her journey ‘emerging’ from autism. Considering Temple’s challenging behaviors as a toddler and the norms for the time, it would not have been surprising if Temple’s mother had followed the advice of the doctors and placed Temple into an institution at the age of three or kept her isolated at home. Instead, her mother provided therapy and activities that kept Temple “from tuning out and failing to develop” (p. 20). At the age of three, Temple began regular therapy with a speech teacher who “helped [her] hear the consonants by stretching out and enunciating the consonants” (p. 17). Although the reader only has a glimpse of the challenge it must have been, it is clear that Temple was included in the daily and special activities of her family’s life with little allowances made for her atypical behavior: “Being a child of the 1950’s was an advantage because of structured Miss Manners meals and lots of turn-taking games kept me tuned in. The family meals and games also taught essential social skills” (p. 20). As Temple grew older, her mother continued to strive for Temple to have a normal life, enrolling her in kindergarten at the age of five, while also taking a proactive role in preventing problems before they happened. “The school I attended was a small private school for normal children. Mother had discussed my problems extensively with the teachers. On the first day of school I was kept home so that the teachers could explain to the other children that I was different” (p. 32). Temple’s mother was consistently an advocate for her; she did not shy away from providing Temple with experiences that would be challenging for Temple, for herself or for others. The summer after third grade, Temple went to sleep away camp. Even though this experience could be labeled a failure, Temple’s mother did not place the blame on Temple; she believed that the poor outcomes were the result of the adults handling the situation ineffectually. “When Temple is in secure surroundings where she feels love above all, and appreciation, her compulsive behavior dwindles” (p. 52). “The second problem was the camp personnel’s lack of insight” (p.55). After graduating from her small elementary school, at the advice of her teachers and therapists, Temple was enrolled in a large private school. When it became clear that this setting was not appropriate for Temple, her mother, once again did not blame Temple. “I explained and she listened carefully. As usual, she stood up for me” (p. 68). Temple’s mother then took considerable time (and, in likelihood, spent considerable amount of money) to find a school that would be the best match for Temple. With Temple’s input, Temple’s mother selected the Mountain Country School in Vermont. “The Mountain Country School was started for gifted children like you” (p. 70). The Mountain Country School, as described by Temple, appeared to be an ideal school for children with high-functioning autism even by today’s understanding and standards. The basic philosophy of the school rested upon the principle of permitting students an opportunity to achieve what they could in specific areas, while at the same time both academic and personal allowances were made for areas of...
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