Temple Grandin: Life among the 'yakkity yaks'

Bari Weiss


'Who do you think made the first stone spear?" asks Temple Grandin. "That wasn't the yakkity yaks sitting around the campfire. It was some Aspberger sitting in the back of a cave figuring out how to chip rocks into spearheads. Without some autistic traits you wouldn't even have a recording device to record this conversation on."

As many as one in 110 American children are affected by autism spectrum disorders, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Boys are four times more likely to be diagnosed than girls. But what causes this developmental disorder, characterized by severe social disconnection and communication impairment, remains a mystery.

Nevertheless, with aggressive early intervention and tremendous discipline many people with autism can lead productive, even remarkable, lives. And Ms. Grandin—doctor of animal science, ground-breaking cattle expert, easily the most famous autistic woman in the world—is one of them.

Earlier this month, HBO released a film about her to critical acclaim. Claire Danes captures her with such precision that Ms. Grandin tells me watching the movie feels like "a weird time machine" to the 1960s and '70s and that it shows "exactly how my mind works."

At the Manhattan screening I attended, Ms. Grandin was dressed in her trademark look—an embroidered cowboy shirt, in this case brown with a red neck kerchief—and was holding forth confidently, cracking self-deprecating jokes. Parents of children with autism thanked Ms Grandin for her books; she's the reason they can relate to their children. Teachers asked for specific recommendations: How can they capitalize on their autistic students' obsession with dinosaurs? A boy, perhaps 10 or 11, sought Ms. Grandin's advice on how to deal with the bullies that pick on his nonverbal brother.

Her cadence is unusual, staccato-like, and her pale blue eyes sometimes drift off into the distance. But she seems a different person from the young woman in the film, for whom being hugged, let alone schmoozing at a cocktail party, seemed physically painful. What's changed?

Read the full story from the Wall Street Journal here


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