First of all, on her own, Temple is an amazing woman. She has singlehandedly shaken the world of autism. Know how she did it? By having autism. Did you know that having autism is an extremely viable and highly respected career path? That’s why I’m milking that cash cow myself. Everything you do is ten times more amazing to people when you have autism. Thank you, affirmative action!
But Temple has also contributed enormously to her own ‘not-tistic’ field of expertise: animal science. She has designed over-the-top elaborate slaughterhouses that kill animals more humanely, even though the halal and kosher methods of preparing food found in Islam and Judaism respectively have existed hundreds of years before. Only in America would people recognize an autistic person reinventing the wheel, so to speak, before the Jews and Muslims who invented the damn thing in the first place. Just sayin’. Either that or a respectable nation like America with its indigenous white Christian population would never stoop to the level of the Jews and Muslims! Again, everything you do is ten times more amazing to people when you have autism. Thank you, affirmative action!
One of her most notable essays is “Animals Are Not Things.” In it, she reminds us that animals can feel pain but screwdrivers can’t. And that both are useful. And that it’s legal to torture a screwdriver but not an animal. Dat’s some deep shit, yo…. deeeeeeeeep shit.
I may not speak for all auties when I say this but I’m gonna go out on a limb and say it anyway: We are sick of hearing about Temple Grandin. I personally am sick of hearing all that “I think in pictures” crap. I have autism and yet I’m a word man, an audio man, and an ideas man. I have difficulty thinking in pictures and I don’t want a representative of myself and my autistic brothers and sisters suggesting that we think in pictures. Words, ideas, and sound are far easier for me to grasp than images. Maybe I should write a bestseller called Thinking in Words, Sounds, Ideas ‘n Stuff. Then maybe I can go around the world attending high-profile speaking engagements talking about autism, and designing studios and live rigs that can make Justin Beiber sound like Meshuggah. And then they’ll make a film about me called Angry Autie: A Life (which, if at all accurate, will be the first nihilist-existential romance).
“But Temple has overcome her autism! Show her some respect!” She has “overcome” her autism? Before I accept that as a reason, I’d like to know what you mean by “overcoming” autism. In my mind, autism is a part of identity so when you say “overcoming” autism, I think of it as the equivalent of a lesbian “overcoming” her lesbianism or a black man “overcoming” his blackness. Is this what you’re saying, hypothetical questioner? Is autism really something I have to “overcome”?
The other issue is that Temple rarely if ever calls attention to the social aspect of autism. She talks more about the scientific research being done in the field, as though that were the only thing in autism worth talking about. Her being a communicator for the research in autism reinforces the notion that researchers are really the only people who have any say in this discussion. However, she’s purely a science woman and science is the only thing that’s real to her because of its exacting and concrete nature. To her, the arts, philosophy, and, to a lesser extent, the social sciences are blobs of meaninglessness and sophistry. While we need someone manning down the science front, we can’t just ignore all the other aspects. Of course, me asking her to accommodate other non-science fields is a tall order since she doesn’t and can’t understand philosophy and the arts.
That’s where other autistic people with their own interests come in. Understanding autism is not a one-man, one-perspective job. There’s an entire experience of being autistic that could be understood by looking at their place in society or by looking at the art that they create. To understand autism from a purely scientific or neurological perspective is not enough. We can’t just put the burden on one person or one group of people.
(Or you could just, you know, be unconditionally accepting of who we are. But in a society dominated by norms, I don’t expect that to happen anytime soon.)
But most people are (understandably) afraid of calling her out, lest they receive a wave of hate mail from those who think that they are good people for being accepting of people with autism but yet still call it a disease.
But I have to hand it to Ms. Grandin. She has taught me that if I assert my autism enough, I will become wildly successful like her and everybody will like me.
But if I really had anything nice to say about Temple, it’s that her “hug machine” is a pretty neat therapeutic device for auties with extreme sensory input issues. Still, what the hell is she doing on the Time 100 list?
UPDATE: If you thought I was too mean here, I wrote a more reasonable version of this post. Read Part II