Thursday, September 16, 2010

Temple Grandin/Emergence

The HBO Temple Grandin movie arrived via Netflix today, so I rounded up everybody and made them watch some of it this evening. The kids chose to watch some of it during their "fun" time (that small sliver of time between putting on pajamas and going to bed), which shows how engaging they found it. (C and I watched the second half of the movie in Washington State when we were on the road.)

I finished reading Temple Grandin's Emergence: Labeled Autistic (1986) a week or two ago, so I should probably talk about it, too. Let's go quickly to bullet points, because I'm not really a paragraph person:
  • Temple didn't talk until she was three and a half.
  • Temple was one of several children and her parents employed a governess. Strict Miss Cray was on to Temple's sensitivity to noise. "She used sound as a means of punishment. If I daydreamed, my spoon in mid-air, while eating lunch, Miss Cray would say, "Temple, eat. If you don't finish your soup right now, I'll pop a paper bag at you." She kept a supply of paper sacks on top of the refrigerator so that she could burst them in my face if I misbehaved or drifted away from the world of people."
  • Temple went to a small private elementary school where she was successful in reading and hands-on activities like sewing, embroidery, wood-shop, and "projects." There were only thirteen children per class and the school worked closely with her parents.
  • For 7th grade, Temple went to a large private girls' school, which was not nearly as successful as her elementary experience. "Entering Cherry Hill Girls School with thirty to forty students in a class and a different teacher for each subject, was a confusing, traumatic experience. I was lost--overwhelmed by the jostling, noisy crowd, and unable to do well in subjects such as math and French because these subjects are not learned visually." She did well in biology and "creative classes such as jewelry making." "But again, as in elementary school, when I didn't understand the subject, I became bored, and when I became bored, I was naughty." After 2.5 years, she was booted out of Cherry Hill for temper tantrums, the last one involving Temple hitting a classmate in the eye with a history textbook after the classmate called her a "retard."
  • Conveniently, Temple's mother had just been writing for documentaries about special needs schools, and she had discovered a small (32 students) boarding school in Vermont specializing in emotionally disturbed children. Her new school had "classrooms, theater and library" as well as a dairy, stables, and sheep pens. Temple was very excited about the horses.
  • For Temple's first six months at her new school, "I still reacted to any problem with a flare of temper and a forceful smack." This eventually ended after Temple "smacked a classmate for laughing at me when I tripped over a croquet wire" and Temple lost her horse riding privileges for a week.
  • Some of the more entertaining but sad passages of Emergence have to do with Temple's suffering at the hands of mid-century Freudians. "As a child growing up, instead of psychotherapy I should have received more speech therapy. Practicing with a tape recording and playing it back probably would have done more for my social life than trying to ferret out the dark secrets of my psyche."
  • One of Temple's most characteristic projects was a squeeze machine that allowed her to deal with anxiety, just as the squeeze chute on her aunt's ranch calmed down cattle. The Freudians had all sorts of dark suspicions of the symbolism involved. When she started building herself prototypes of her squeeze machine at her boarding school, "The psychiatry department, too, thought my project was strange--sick--and I shouldn't use it." The desire to prove the benefits of the squeeze machine empirically was a major motivation for Temple's further studies and inspired her college senior thesis.
  • After high school, Temple went to a college near her boarding school. "I will forever bless those who selected a small college for me."
There's a lot more, but to summarize, for autistic children: small schools--good. Big schools--bad.

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