Monday, February 08, 2010

Temple Grandin

If you haven't yet seen the HBO biopic on Temple Grandin, you should set aside some time to see it on demand. I was waiting for it to be smooshy and schmaltzy and one-dimensional, but no, it was quite good.

If you don't know who Temple Grandin is, Oliver Sacks wrote about her in An Anthropologist on Mars, and she has eloquently written about herself and her work in a number of books. Here's HBO's trailer which summarizes who she is and what she's done.

I think her book, Thinking in Pictures, does a better job of really delving into the way she thinks and why her slaughterhouse designs are so revolutionary, but in lieu of a book, there's always movies. Thing is, I come away from the movie being both moved and conflicted.

I can't quite get into words what it is about watching the movie that disturbed me, but I think it was something about the way the mother was handled which set me off. Possibly because I identify so much with her. The Me/Not Me thing kept getting in the way.

She's upset when the doctor diagnoses Temple with infantile schizophrenia, describing it as being caused by a mother's unnatural coldness towards the child. Clearly, any mother in that situation would be horrified. There's a scene of Temple's mother desperately trying to communicate with her daughter, and another where she cries at the idea that Temple will be teased at boarding school. And then, somehow, every other time she's on screen, Temple's mother DOES seem frozen and aloof. Although the audience KNOWS the doctor is wrong, somehow the movie subtly projects that the mother is distant? Or that she's projecting her own wishes onto Temple, who is not capable of living up to her mother's expectations? I dunno. It just felt off somehow.

Partially it's because of my own (dare I use the word?) trauma surrounding my son. Yes, at one point we thought he had some sort of mild Asperger's, but that diagnosis has fallen away the older he gets. It's definitely anxiety plus bipolar or unipolar depression. Nonetheless, he's an explosive and rigid child, so it sort of fits to say he's "Asperger's-like" since most lay people don't know what depression looks like in an young child.

Mostly, it's been awful, with a few rays of light peeking through. Three years of fighting and cajoling have paid off. He's in a fantastic program right now, with an excellent therapist and great staff. Judging from our last IEP, he'll be staying there for a few more years until he's ready to enter High School. He's bright, had some friends in the neighborhood (!), is fascinated with MythBusters and Trek and old NES game reviews on Youtube, and is sleeping and eating well. So we're on the easy upswing now where we're getting results and professionals are listening to us.

But the black past still sits there coloring most of my perceptions of parenthood now. I'm a very different person than I was a few years ago. I can't cope with conversations about parenting anymore, which makes me a not-very-satisfying friend to other mothers in my life. The girls like to complain about how hard it is to get everyone to soccer practice and I just want to spit bile all over their new frocks. People compliment me on my parenting skills and how far we've all walked and I want to say, "I feel as if you're telling someone who came through the Bataan Death March, 'Excellent constitutional, Chap.'" I don't really *care* that I've learned these skills, to tell the truth. I'd rather not have bothered.

Which gets me back to blogging, I guess. And autism. And how we see the world. And friends.

I'm trying to see where I fit. Somewhat like Temple Grandin, I suppose.


Lyvvie said...

That movie looks awesome! I've not heard of Temple Grandin. I adore Claire Danes. I don't think I can get HBO on demand from Australia. So a-huntin' I will go!!
Good to have you back.

Beth said...

Temple Grandin is so fascinating - I've listened to a few interviews with her on NPR over the years. Claire Danes does her voice exactly! I am dying to see this movie, but it looks about impossible unless you have HBO.

Hi Suisan, welcome back. I missed your voice. Hope the whole fam is doing okay.