Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Temple Grandin: Innovator. Author. Activist. Autistic.

This Saturday, February 6th HBO will be premiering their movie, Temple Grandin, which is a biographical account of a high-functioning autistic woman who managed defy all expectations, earning her Ph.D. in Animal Sciences and becoming a respected scientist and autism advocate.

This movie couldn't have been released at a more important time, as The Lancet, a leading medical journal, formally retracted the seminal paper linking autism to vaccinations.

Some history...
In 1998, Dr. Andrew Wakefield and co-workers published an article in the Lancet that suggested a possible link between autism and the common childhood vaccine against measles, mumps, and rubella. The paper sparked widespread concern over the safety of vaccinations, and resulted in an increase in the number of parents who chose not to have their children vaccinated. Yesterday, the Lancet fully retracted the paper in response to the ruling by U.K.’s General Medical Council that Dr. Wakefield acted dishonestly and that the specific study, which started the anti-vaccine movement, did not actually demonstrate a causal relationship between autism and vaccines.

Autism is a disease that affects approximately 1 in 110 children. Autism is diagnosed on a spectrum and no two patients have exactly the same symptoms. There has been a lot of research into the causes and potential treatments for autism, but at this point very little is known.

Two of your New Voices bloggers got to see a sneak peek of the movie last night. Here's what they thought:

Sarah’s reaction
Temple Grandin highlighted major strides made for the widespread recognition of the human component of autism. At the start, the movie showed the struggles a mother faced when her daughter was diagnosed with autism in the 1950’s. Doctors in that era were quick to suggest that the solution for the disease was institutionalizing autistic children. They believed that the cause of autism was poor parenting and that there was no potential for recovery. But by the end of the movie, in the 1980s, parents were trying to get more involved and were seeking out information about the condition and trying to play an active role in their children’s treatment.

The movie also provided insight into the autistic mind through the story of the life of Temple Grandin. It related difficulties autistic people have navigating social interactions by showing how Temple did not understand how to use her face to convey emotions. The movie also tried to give viewers a glimpse into the way autistic children think. The director used series of rapid pictures to convey the way Temple’s mind uses imagery to process information. As a result, the film successfully juxtaposed some advantages and disadvantages of her pictorial reasoning.

Heather's impression
Temple Grandin is a mix between Rain Man, Forrest Gump, and October Sky. From animated scenes in Temple's mind to the portrayal of her human and animal research, this movie gives anyone who isn't "normal" a heroine to look up to and love.

The film captured the essence of not only Temple's view of the world, but the world's view of her. Autism is difficult for even researchers to define, so it isn't so unbelievable that many people don't understand the disease. We can only hope that as stories like Temple's become more mainstream, that discrimination against autistic individuals will decrease.

This is a must see film about an incredible woman who has made an amazing impact in both medical and animal research. She also happens to be autistic.

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