Thinking in Pictures
Temple Grandin
HBO Films
Airings throughout March
DVD available for purchase at

Temple Grandin doesn’t like to be touched by other people. When sh’s feeling overstimulated, she crawls into a contraption she built that she calls her “squeeze machine.” The machine is designed to mimic the calming effect of a cow’s holding pen by giving her a mechanical hug. Grandin, who suffers from autism, a disorder characterized by the abnormal development of social and communication skills, stunned the crowd with this anecdote at a national autism conference in 1981. HBO Films’s Temple Grandin tells the story of this young woman, who went on to serve on the Autism Society of America’s board of directors, write best-selling books, and travel the country as an advocate both for animals and for people with autism.

Claire Danes plays a robotic, easily agitated Grandin, who finds peace as a teenager surrounded by animals on her aunt’s Arizona ranch. She struggles, and throughout her life often fails, to understand people and to behave acceptably in public. In high school, she’s expelled after tossing a book at the head of a teasing classmate. On the fi rst day of college, she throws herself into a screaming panic that frightens her dorm mates.

Despite these challenges, Grandin thrives on the incredible observations granted by her condition. “I’m not like other people,” she admits. “I think in pictures, and I connect them.” Clever imagery helps to make her ideas accessible—for instance, layered on top of a scene of circling cattle, graphics illustrate the geometric equations she uses to design more humane livestock-handling facilities.

The film is based on two of Grandin’s books and brings welcome visions to her words. “I have a gift,” Grandin says. “I can see details other people are blind to.” This film gives us a glimpse of what we are missing.