Peter H Brown Clinical Psychologist

Psychology News & Resources

Aspergers in the News: “Temple Grandin” & “House Rules”

An HBO biopic about Temple Grandin starring Claire Danes, and a new Jodi Picoult novel bring the issues and experiences of people with ASD to the general public this month. Reviews below:

Temple Grandin

By ALESSANDRA STANLEY     http://www.nytimes.com    Published: February 4, 2010

In her autobiography, “Thinking in Pictures: My Life With Autism,” Temple Grandin explains that she values “positive, measurable results more than emotion.” The HBO movie “Temple Grandin” honors its heroine’s priorities, stressing deeds over tearful setbacks and joyous breakthroughs.

That restraint, unusual in a portrait of a person who heroically overcomes a handicap, is oddly captivating and makes the story all the more touching. “Temple Grandin,” which has its debut on Saturday and stars Claire Danes in the title role, is a made-for-television biopic that avoids the mawkish clichés of the genre without draining the narrative of color and feeling.

Ms. Grandin was born in 1947 in Boston, and her autism was diagnosed when she was a child. At that time most psychiatrists considered it a mental disorder caused by cold, withholding “refrigerator mothers.” Helped by a mother who was anything but, Ms. Grandin was nurtured at home and by a few farsighted teachers who helped her unlock her talents. Most comfortable around animals, she grew up to become a sought after animal behaviorist and livestock consultant, world famous for designing humane slaughterhouses.

In some ways her story is harder to tell than other, similar tales of valor, be they “The Miracle Worker,” “My Left Foot” or “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” in which success is so intimately linked to disability. Helen Keller, Christy Brown and Jean-Dominique Bauby, the subjects of those movies, became famous because of their extraordinary personal histories; in all three cases their most lasting work is autobiographical.

Ms. Grandin credits autism for her achievements, arguing that she would never have been so attuned to animal sensibilities or the fine points of agricultural engineering without the distinctive vision and hypersensitivity that comes with autism.

But to the outside world her eminence and inner workings are incongruent. Ranchers don’t commission her stockyard designs because they are moved by her life story; parents and teachers of autistic children don’t care about her theories on curved cattle chutes, but view her accomplishments as a yardstick for their own hopes.

“Temple Grandin” fuses the two with a wonderstruck look at feedlots and loading ramps and a practical, pragmatic view of autism.

Viewers are thrown into the mindset of the teenage Temple with little introduction or fanfare, experiencing the world as she does: in blisteringly vivid images that pop into her head faster than a Google search and that she describes in her book as “full-color movies, complete with sound, which run like a VCR tape in my head.” In that sense, at least, her condition is ideally suited to moviemaking.

In an early scene in which Temple goes to visit her aunt on a ranch in Arizona, she gets off the airplane as startled and fearful as a feral animal. Sounds and sights are heightened — the screeching whirr of the propeller, shouted greetings, the flaming desert heat — to capture how overwhelming and unbearable they are to an autistic girl who flinches at the squeak of a felt-tip marker and cannot bear to be touched.

Ms. Danes is completely at ease in her subject’s lumbering gait and unmodulated voice. She makes Temple’s anxiety as immediate and contagious as her rarer bursts of merriment, laughing too loudly and over and over, as she re-enacts a scene from a favorite television show, “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” And as the character ages and learns more social graces, Ms. Danes seamlessly captures Temple’s progress.

Julia Ormond looms surprisingly large in the small role of Eustacia, Temple’s mother, a fighter who insists that people treat her daughter as “different, but not less.” Ms. Grandin’s autobiography didn’t go into the family background — proper Bostonians with old money. Eustacia Cutler gives an account of it in her own, highly emotive autobiography, “A Thorn in My Pocket,” which has all the makings of a more lurid Lifetime movie and is perhaps wisely left out of the HBO film. But Ms. Ormond conveys the back story elliptically, adding a slight upper class inflection to her voice and showing Yankee stubbornness just beneath her sorrowed beauty. When a psychiatrist patronizingly tells Eustacia that her child has infantile schizophrenia brought on by maternal coldness, she snaps, “I’m supposed to have done this, well then, I can undo it.”

She sends Temple, who loves horseback riding, to Arizona for a summer, which introduces her to her life’s work, as well as a device to relieve her panic and anxiety: seeing how cows appear to calm down in squeeze chutes — metal stalls that press against the sides of animals to still them for inoculation — Temple tries it on herself, and finds comfort in the pressure. She designs a squeeze chute for herself, and that plywood contraption is just one of the many eccentricities that set her apart.

Temple finds a mentor, her high school science teacher, Dr. Carlock (David Strathairn), one of the first to train Temple to expand her intellect rather than merely control her impulses.

Students and other teachers were less kind. So were many of the ranchers and meat growers who stood in Temple’s way — and threw bull testicles at her car — when she began her studies in animal husbandry.

Hers is a tale that could be easily be played up for drama, intrigue and weepy reconciliations, but this narrative is loyal to Ms. Grandin’s credo: emotions are secondary to tangible results. And the result is a movie that is funny, instructive and also intangibly charming.

HBO, Saturday night at 8, Eastern and Pacific times; 7, Central time.

Directed by Mick Jackson; written by Christopher Monger and William Merritt Johnson; based on the books “Emergence” by Temple Grandin and Margaret Scariano, and “Thinking in Pictures” by Ms. Grandin; Emily Gerson Saines, Gil Bellows, Anthony Edwards, Dante Di Loreto, Paul Lister and Alison Owen, executive producers; Scott Ferguson, producer. Produced by Ruby Films and Gerson Saines Productions.

WITH: Claire Danes (Temple Grandin), Catherine O’Hara (Aunt Ann), Julia Ormond (Eustacia) and David Strathairn (Dr. Carlock).

House Rules

by Jodi Picoult
Review by Karen Campbell March 4, 2010  Boston Globe (excerpted)
http://boston.com/ae/books

Jacob Hunt is startlingly verbal and blisteringly intelligent. The 18-year-old has an uncanny ability to retain facts and figures and can take apart a broken microwave and fix it inside of an hour. He can also analyze a crime scene with remarkable accuracy and speed. What he can’t do is read social cues, make eye contact, and sense what another person is feeling. He lives in a literal world, unable to read between the lines, and he thrives on rules and closely monitored routines, becoming easily over-stimulated by touch, lights, sounds, smells, even textures.
Jacob has Asperger’s syndrome, a neurological disorder on the autism spectrum, and as the main character of Jodi Picoult’s new novel, “House Rules,’’ he offers a fascinating and informative glimpse into a condition that has become common – affecting as many as 1.5 million Americans – yet is little understood.
However, the beauty of Picoult’s book, as in most of her topical bestsellers, is that it brings to vivid life not just Jacob’s condition, but the impact it has on those around him. “House Rules’’ is told through the alternating voices of Jacob; his mother, Emma; his 15-year-old brother, Theo; and two characters pulled into their world when Jacob’s social-skills tutor Jess is found dead and Jacob becomes the primary suspect. Oliver is the inexperienced but passionate young attorney Emma hires to defend her son. Rich is the arresting officer, who initially assumes Jacob’s odd behavior, including his fascination with crime scenes, must be a sign of guilt.
When Jacob is charged with Jess’s murder, “House Rules’’ begins to unfold as a compelling and suspenseful whodunit, as the trial slowly uncovers what really happened. But along the way, Picoult beautifully evokes the tribulations of living with Asperger’s. Emma’s entries chart the exhausting daily struggles of a single mother dealing with the overwhelming demands of a child with special needs who can never connect emotionally: “A son who tries to be like everyone else but truly doesn’t know how.’’ She also deftly addresses the controversy over vaccines as a possible cause, presenting findings on both sides of the issue as well as her own carefully reasoned conclusion.
But the most engaging and heartbreaking voice in the novel is little brother Theo, who perennially feels like a freak by association. Though he loves and supports his brother, he admits to secretly hoping that Jacob will wander off and never be found so he can get on with his life, and Theo’s penchant for risky behavior adds an extra layer of ambiguity to the story …]
[… “House Rules’’ is a page-turner.[..,] well-paced and thoughtful. And it certainly leaves readers with more compassion and understanding for sufferers of a condition that puts them always on the outside without a way in.
Karen Campbell is a freelance writer based in Brookline

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March 5, 2010 Posted by | Adolescence, Aspergers, Aspergers Syndrome, Autism, Biography, Education, Resilience, Resources, Social Justice | , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Do Professional Movie Critics Evaluate Films the Same Way as the Rest of Us?

If you want to know whether you’re going to enjoy a movie, the opinion of professional film critics might not be the best place to find out. Jonathan Plucker and colleagues compared the ratings given to films by professional critics, “amateur critics”, and undergrad students, and discovered a continuum of overlapping opinion with the experts being the harshest judges, followed by the amateur critics, while the students were the most generous.

A further finding to emerge was that undergrads who’d watched more films tended to provide harsher ratings, but these were still more generous on average than the amateur and professional critics.

Plucker’s team said this is one of the first studies to compare expert and lay opinion on films in a systematic way. Their results involved the assessment of 680 films dating from 2001 and 2005, with professional ratings garnered from metacritic.com and amateur critics’ ratings taken from www.imdb.com and www.boxofficemojo.com. One hundred and sixty-nine undergrads provided their ratings for comparison.

The researchers said their findings support the idea of “creative gatekeepers” who help society decide what products in a given realm are truly creative. A continuum of film opinion suggests different people might best be served by different gatekeepers. They explained: “a gatekeeper for one person may be a well-known critic, for another, novice critics on the most popular film sites; and for yet another, their next-door neighbour or best friend.”

Plucker, J., Kaufman, J., Temple, J., & Qian, M. (2009). Do experts and novices evaluate movies the same way? Psychology and Marketing, 26 (5), 470-478 DOI: 10.1002/mar.20283
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July 26, 2009 Posted by | Social Psychology | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Aspergers in the News: Claire Danes as Temple Grandin in New HBO Biopic

HBO’s Biopic Temple Grandin is in post production according to imdb.com. This is one biographical movie that will be a” must see” for me.

Autistic Dr. Temple Grandin, a designer of livestock handling facilities and a Professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University, is an icon in the Autistic Community. Her life has been a beacon and an inspirational story and after a long negotiation is getting her biography brought to HBO.  Claire stars as Grandin in the film which is finally in post production after nine years in the making. Claire Danes may be known to you as Angela Chase in the 1992-94 pioneering TV drama series “My So Called Life.” Who better to play Autistic Temple Grandin from her high school years to her post academic period?

Temple Grandin obtained her B.A. at Franklin Pierce College and her M.S. in Animal Science at Arizona State University. Dr. Grandin received her PhD in Animal Science from the University of Illinois in 1989. Today she teaches courses on livestock behavior and facility design at Colorado State University and consults with the livestock industry on facility design, livestock handling, and animal welfare.

Grandin has written a variety of autism books, such as  Thinking in Pictures,My Life with Autism

and The Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships

(references imdb.com, wrongplanet.net )

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July 15, 2009 Posted by | Aspergers Syndrome, Autism, Biography | , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments