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McKenzie Millican

Disabilities in the Media


6/4/14

In a world increasingly permeated by technology and media, the depiction of social minorities in
movies can hold considerable sway over societys perceptions of these people, whether they are socially,
culturally, or physically atypical. Many people live their lives without interacting with people that vary
significant from their own way of life, so these media depictions can be incredibly influential. In
particular, media depictions of people with disabilities provides important insight into the minds and
lifestyles
Temple Grandin, as presented in this film, is a very high functioning girl on the autism spectrum.
This presents a number of issues of its own she is integrated into the typical education system, because
her communicative and interactive abilities are at a level at which she can function among her peers, but
not without difficulty. She alludes to having a difficult time interacting with girls her age because she
doesnt identify with their interests, such as boys or clothing. She also expresses that she is anxious about
college because of the people. The students at her current school know that she is different, but
understand it and respect it, and shes worried that wont be the case at her new school. As she grows and
works her way through the education system, she learns a lot about how to interact with other people and
about her own limitations and strengths.
Temple presents as autistic in a number of ways. The film does an incredibly good job at
portraying how she experiences the world sounds and sights are amplified in her mind, and everything
is competing for her attention. This makes it difficult for her to focus on things around her and maintain
her attention on the thing that she should, such as a conversation or a person in front of her. Prolonged eye
contact is also difficult for her, or staring at one object for too long. She explains that in her mind, when
she watches something (such as a door), every other door shes ever seen flashes through her memory, as
she is an incredibly visual learner.
Temples experience with education perhaps gives the most insight into how she is integrated into
the world of her typically developing peers. She has a difficult time in high school when it comes to
interacting with other people, but she is very bright and has the capacity to do well in school. She has a
very photographic-like memory, and has a strong interest in science. When she transfers to college,
however, she has a harder time. Her techniques of coping with the world around her are not accepted by
her peers. During Temples time working at her aunt and uncles farm, she realized that a hugging
machine, which suppresses her sympathetic nervous system, calms her down and helps relieve panic.
Her new roommate is disturbed by this technique and protests, leading to the removal of the machine.
Temple also cannot understand why she must take subjects such as French, which do not relate at all to
biology, which she intends on studying. She flunks out of her semester. Her mother decides to put her in a
program for atypical learners, which focuses heavily on small class sizes, hands on activities, and
interactions with nature. A teacher there helps her understand how to use her strengths to the best of her
abilities, and encourages her to move forward with her studies, even if she doesnt agree with the
methods.
Ultimately, Temple is able to maneuver herself through the world of education, driven by her
love of science, and not necessarily for her love of people. However, she learns a lot about social
interactions and is much more confident talking to people as she grows older. She even develops a close
friend in college who is blind, and who is not bothered by Temples odd habits. This kind of friendship is
often difficult for people on the spectrum, as they have difficulties picking up on social cues and
connecting empathetically with other people.
Temple also had to learn how to interact with people outside of the education world people that
held biases against her for not only being autistic, but also for being young, female, and very educated.
Ranchers who were very set in their ways had little interest in being told what to do by a young girl who
had a hard time speaking to them. She had to prove herself through experience and persistence, and a little
bit of luck. Overall, this dismissive treatment from them was nothing new to Temple she had been
dismissed by her peers since she was young. While this was very unfortunate, it gave her the capacity to
push through rejection in order to achieve her goals. On a more positive note, Temple is also surrounded
by many adults who personally take it upon themselves to make sure she succeeds. Some of them
understand her condition, while others dont. Her mother acts as her stronger proponent many of
Temples manners are clearly instilled in her as a result of her mothers training. When she meets a
person she greets them and shakes their hand. This is an action that is clearly uncomfortable for her and
not her natural instinct, but has been ingrained in her by her mother, who is trying to provide her with the
skill set she most needs to succeed. Her aunt also is a huge support for her. It would have been easy to be
made uncomfortable by her interest in farming and cows and laying in fields, but her aunt took it all in
stride, because it made Temple happy. Teachers also play a hugely positive role in her life, keeping her
focused and finding ways for her to excel, even if she doesnt realize them at first.
This movie is very accurate concerning people in the autism community. Temples initial
diagnosis, around age four, presented a very bleak world for those on the spectrum. The doctor informed
her mother that she would never speak, should be institutionalized, and was that was likely because her
mother was cold and unaffectionate. She had no apparent prospects, and her mother should give up hope.
Its very difficult to image just how many parents were told that. Many effects existed in the movie to
provide insight into how Temple processed the world. Sights and sounds were amplified, and noises often
seemed too busy and overwhelming. This helped the viewer understand why she was having a hard time
focusing and what differences existed between her world and everyone elses. I also appreciated how the
movie depicted a wide variety of peoples responses nothing was wholly negative or wholly positive. It
gave a wide view of the range of people she would have interacted with. Lastly, I found the ending
incredibly powerful and emotionally accurate. Temple and her mother visit an autism conference, where a
variety of professionals and parents are arguing over stemming and other coping techniques. Temple
offers her input, and astounds the crowd when she announces that she herself is autistic, and briefly
describes her success. For these parents, this was a ray of hope in a future that was likely just as bleak as
the one presented to Temples mother. The support systems and educational structures that exist today
were not present in their lives, and so their emotional response to seeing Temples success,
communication abilities, and confidence was an incredibly moving moment for them. This resounded
with me emotionally as well, and was one of the strongest points in the film.
Overall, Temple Grandins story acts as a story of personal and familial triumph, despite a vast
array of obstacles. The move neither glamorizes nor condemns autism, but rather presents it as a different
set of skills and perceptions. Temples struggles do not have easy solutions, and she meets failure just as
often as she meets success. This film does a fantastic job of presenting autism as a real disorder that
deserves much awareness, but also does not make this incredible woman out to be any less than she is.