Temple Grandin

I recently went to a talk by Temple Grandin while she was in my city. There seem to be many divided opinions about her, but I found the talk interesting enough to talk a bit about my impressions of her.

I have seen some people accuse her of being ablist, because of her focus on getting autistic people working. I am not entirely sure where I stand on this issue, but my sympathies are leaning towards Temple, despite my own lack of a job. Her attitude is, basically, that being on the autism spectrum is not a good enough reason to not work. The basic stance she seems to take on the matter is that a person should find A Thing that they can do, and make a job or career out of doing that Thing. Yes, sometimes it will be boring and just work, but other times it will be awesome, and the more you do it the more likely it will be that you will get to do the awesome.

She talked a little bit about the need for accommodations, though I would have liked more focus on how to get those accommodations in when dealing with bosses who think you are simply being unreasonable, or in the face of disbelief or uncooperativeness. As far as I can tell, she definitely believes that accommodations should happen to make it possible to work, but she did not say anything about how to actually get them.

Interestingly (to me), she rather explicitly stated that simply opting out of office politics or work social events or such things is a definite option for those of us who simply cannot handle it. That we should be able to do Our Thing, and not worry so much about chatting by the water cooler. In theory, I definitely agree with her. However, I would have liked to see an acknowledgement of the impact refraining from politics and socializing can have on a person’s career, and some talk on how to deal with that.

I was off in a side room for this talk (which, by the way, was awesome. I am so glad that divided people up like that, so I had to deal with a minimum of crowds of people), but if I had been in the main room she was in and had processed quickly enough to come up with questions on the spot, I think there are some questions I would have wanted to ask her:

Having a job consisting of The Thing that I do is a great thought, but how can I do that while dealing with a world in which jobs are increasingly generalized, asking people to do a wide variety of tasks? Specialization seems to be becoming less and less of a thing, at least in terms of hiring.

What is the best way to ask for accommodations, especially if one is dealing with unsympathetic bosses or coworkers?

How should we navigate opting out of socialization and office politics in a world that is demanding so much networking and socialization in jobs?

Moving back into my own impressions, she also stressed the importance of getting children talking as early as possible. I’m honestly not sure I agree with that one. I definitely believe finding a way for children to communicate as early as possible is important, and I can see the argument that talking is the method of communication that most people are familiar and comfortable with, but I think things like tablets or typing  or picture boards and such are also viable options. I am inclined to say that speech should be our first choice, but it should not be the only option. However, while I see people accuse Grandin of focusing on speech to the exclusion of other things, when I looked at her website to find verification, I instead found encouragement to find some way, any way, to communicate. “If a non-verbal child is frustrated because he/she cannot communicate, he/she should be given a means to communicate, such as a picture board or picture exchange.  There are many new apps available for iPads and other tablets for communication.” So perhaps I took her encouragement to speech in her talk too literally.

More generally, she used gestures while speaking far more than I was expecting. That actually threw me for a loop at first. She quite direct in how she spoke, but she still spoke with quite a lot of humor. I noticed that she touched and smoothed her hair rather often, and she also frequently touched her face around her eyes. I found myself wondering if those gestures were a stim for her.

I also took note of a few points of how she spoke. When I watched Temple Grandin, the movie, with commentary on I noticed that her speech sounded rather stilted and almost a little forced. Her speech was smoother in her talk than I remembered from the movie. From both the movie and from the talk I noticed that Temple seems to have various phrases and sentences that she says the exact same way, word for word, every time she says them. I realized that I am accustomed to people finding new ways to say the same things, but not Temple. It gave me the impression that she makes some limited use of scripts in her formulation of sentences. Finally, when she answered people’s questions, it seemed to me that she often did not actually answer the question that had been asked, but answered something related to the topic that had been asked about. That lead me to speculate if it might be related to her extreme visual-based thinking, and if the answers she gave were more about the images the questions put in her head, rather than about the literal interpretation of the words said. Similarly, I noticed that sometimes when answering questions her answers drifted a bit, in an associative kind of way.

Overall, I found the talk interesting and I am very glad I went. My general impressions are positive, but I do wish she spoke in more depth about some things, with more acknowledgement of how much of the world I live in does not seem open to her solutions and some talk about how to deal with that, and the intersections between autism and other issues.. Still, I think I’d be interested in going to another of her talks if she’s ever in my city again.

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One response to “Temple Grandin

  1. paisley

    “I have seen some people accuse her of being ablist, because of her focus on getting autistic people working.”

    I don’t think people think she’s ableist for focusing on getting autistic people working; I think they think she’s ableist because she seems to think that autistic unemployment can largely be blamed on autistic young people supposedly being “lazy”, when in fact many of them are looking for jobs but just aren’t being hired. At least, this is the impression that I have of her. I didn’t attend the talk that you went to, so I might be wrong. But I don’t think people think she’s ableist for wanting to help autistic people get jobs. I think people just disagree with what she thinks the problem is and how she thinks it should be solved.