Trigger Warning – May contain upsetting content, controversial discourse, and mentioning a controversial charity (not by name) and their enabling methods .
When I first did autistic research not long after my diagnosis, I stumbled upon an autistic icon. Temple Grandin. I have previously read a few of bits and pieces of her works here and there, but one book stands out to me, which is Thinking in Pictures.
Grandin’s words of her visual mindset in order to work efficiently is mind blowing for me. She is a visual thinker, like me. However, I think her visual thoughts are one of the more detailed examples. I may have a photographic memory, but I can’t see entire blueprints that I could translate accurately into paper. For autistics, not all women or men are visual thinkers. Some can focus on details extensively in other ways, like numbers or words. Numbers is my weak point, that’s for sure.
The problem with Grandin nowadays is that some of her mindsets are outdated. The 21st Century focuses more on equal rights for all genders, rather than just a male dominated society like the fifties. Sure there’s still some way to go (as disability rights is usually overlooked). Her ideals conflict the views of today’s society!
Some examples including, Grandin criticising unemployed autistic’s (without regarding today’s unemployment rates!). This is definitely judgemental in my opinion. Not every autistic can work. Some can, others struggle to hold a job. I’m sure there are “lazy” ones out there, but making a “one size fits all” assumption over autistics in the workplace doesn’t work. Yes, some can work repetitive jobs or jobs involving computer coding, but not all of us are like that. Some of us prefer to work from home or like to work with the same routine everyday. I’m sure Grandin means well, but she needs to realise that not all autistic’s can find work easily. Today’s unemployment rates and even just looking for a job can be a tough world, especially for autistics. Some might not know how to get started. The key is to find support first!
I encourage autistic’s to start small, but if they can’t work, we shouldn’t shame them. Give them a “project”. Something to keep them productive! Even if it’s just volunteering, at least they are doing something to keep themselves busy.
There have also been complaints about her “humane treatment” to animals, but I won’t be discussing that.
Another criticism against Grandin is that she believes that autistic people are either “high” or “low”functioning. Something that is definitely restrictive in thinking. She also believes that autistics should normalise their behaviour and be less autistic. This is the ableist (and possibly elitist) mindset of “curing autism”. (Mel Baggs has a good article about this topic!) This is worrying, as autistic minds can be something of their own. Making everyone into the same mold just creates the same problems, enabling society’s fatal flaws and/or habits of their ingrained social constructs. She also believed that a vaccine causes autism, which is bad. People still believe a lie despite the fact it’s been proven, multiple times, that vaccines DON’T cause autism. How many times do we need to shout this at the top of our lungs?!
Incoming rant below. This is where the discourse and triggering content comes in. Read at your discretion.
Parents may complain that “high functioning” autistics have expressed their opinions too much and that their “aspergers” ain’t like their children (I’ve seen these in comments in various articles. I will not link them as I don’t want anyone to get targeted with hate mail). They think that “difference not disability” is flawed. I’m sorry, but they shouldn’t shut any autistic advocate down unless they are promoting problematic things. They also think that we shouldn’t complain over certain specific “fatcat charities” that promote or enable killing of autistic children. They say this specific charity is not for us. An autistic charity should be for all autistics. Every autistic person needs support, and dismissing it for only severe cases is very closed minded. (You know the one I’m taking about, it rhymes with “Ballistic Peaks”). Some autistic adults can understand autistic children and it’s useful for them to help autistic children so they can teach parents.
Grandin is an example of being a problematic advocate as the generation opinions changes. Grandin isn’t the perfect example of an autistic person. Wherever you’re on the severe end or not, autism is a case by case basis and some people have symptoms of both “high” and “low” functioning. I am not like Grandin. There are various advocates out there. Even those who are non verbal. You just need to do your research and not listen to celebrities (or maytur parents) pity stories and how their “autistic children are a burden”.
Temple Grandin has laid the foundation for autistic people, but we also need to listen to other points of views on the spectrum. Some of Grandin’s words still inspire those today. It’s great she’s making a difference. However, I am not dismissing all of Grandin’s work, as she has provided a lot of information that can still be useful today. Her story is something that should still be read. That is autism history that we should keep! Grandin shouldn’t be the only autistic person we should listen to.
I will write a follow up with a more positive post with recommendations of autistic advocates. Each one will be beneficial for different people. No advocate is a one size fits all. If Grandin’s not for you, find someone else! I wish the public gives more autistic advocates attention. The ones who are trying to make a difference for the community.
The real problem with Grandin is the media. She sees the world from her own point of view, which is fine, but she’s taken the place of Rainman, in the public eye, and the media has a lot of responsibility for that. From Rainman to Temple Grandin is a big step forward, but it still enables people to believe that there can be someone who represents and is typical of autistics.
I think even autistics can get caught up in this. I read a blog post I’m pretty sure was by an autistic person, who’d gone to one of Grandin’s talks and was unhappy about her failing to fully address some of the questions from the audience. From what the post said, it’s pretty obvious Grandin was blindsided by questions for which she wasn’t prepared, and could only respond in terms of her own experience.
There’s some irony here: holding her up as a representative and an icon, while expecting her to be different than she actually is — a person with fairly rigid thinking.
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I do agree the media is the problem. As alot of the time they are portraying her in a way that they think is right. It’s part of the reason why there’s so much misinformation.