Saturday, July 12, 2014

Book Review: Temple Grandin by Sy Montgomery

Book: Temple Grandin: how the girl who loved cows embraced autism and changed the world
Author: Sy Montgomery
Published: 2012
Source: Local Library

Temple Grandin was different from every other kid she knew. She could zero in on the tiniest details, but missed the subtleties of body language. Things that didn't faze them caused her intense distress, but she could work all night and day on her out-of-the-box inventions. Her mom and friends knew that she would grow up to be something special - but what?

If you were to ask the average person on the street to give the first name that they associated with autism, odds are most of them would come up with "Temple Grandin." (Unfortunately, some of them might come up with "Jenny McCarthy" but that's a fight for another day.) Grandin is arguably the face of autism for many Americans, and it's because she's made a success out of what most would consider a disability.

As I read the chapters on her childhood, I was struck by how often young Temple came close to being institutionalized or marginalized, and how often a supportive adult or accepting friend was there to let Temple be who she was. Part of this was being autistic in the 50's and 60's when many people still thought it was something that could or should be fixed. Part of that is still around today, which makes me think about the valuable role of people who work with kids.

Though the author spends a lot of time on matter-of-fact explanations of the experience of having autism, that's not all the book is about. Alongside the biographical chapters, the author intersperses chapters on the engineering and animal science that made her famous. Some of the details of the animal slaughtering and the inhumane conditions that Grandin battles might be pretty strong for sensitive kids. Still, for its science, its biographical information, and its message that true success lies in embracing your own abilities, no matter how atypical, this is an invaluable book for any library.

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