Talking With Temple: The “R” Word

I was a fan of Temple Grandin’s long before I was the parent of a child on the autism spectrum.  Once my son was diagnosed with autism I became a fan of Temple’s mother, Eustacia Cutler. In an era where autism awareness wasn’t even in its infancy and treatments were basically relegated to institutionalizing your child and walking away, Eustacia Cutler forged her own path.  She never gave up on Temple.  She found and utilized Temple’s strengths and instilled in her the endless hope of possibilities. Like so many Autism parents, I daily attempt to walk in the graceful footprints Eustacia Cutler left behind so many years ago.

I recently had an opportunity to meet with Temple Grandin and interview her.  What a thrill! During the interview Temple mentioned that she had been kicked out of an all girl’s school for throwing a book at another student.  Like a good ABA parent, I went looking for the antecedent of the event and asked Temple why she had thrown the book at the girl.

It seems the girl had called Temple the “R” word.  Now, I want to be clear and say that I do not like violence and I would never encourage violent acts.  Having said that, I can appreciate the amount of frustration that could make someone want to hurl a book at outspoken ignorance! And, I may even have said and felt something along the lines of, “Oh, well she deserved to have a book thrown at her!”  Please keep in mind that I was speaking to an adult when I (allegedly) said it.  If I had been talking to my son I would like to think I would have emphasized the need to use words to address ignorance.  Let’s hope.

I don’t know what happened to the girl who called Temple Grandin the “R” word.  I didn’t ask that.  I wanted to know what Eustacia Cutler thought about the whole affair and that’s what I asked.  Temple had been taken to the principal’s office.  The principal had called Eustacia to inform her that Temple was no longer welcome at the school, during the course of which, he referred to Temple as “incorrigible”.  According to Temple that was what made her mother mad.  That an adult would use such words to describe her child within her child’s hearing was absolutely unacceptable.  You have to love a mom who can prioritize.  Her daughter had been called several things that day, but to have an adult in a position of authority say anything that could potentially harm Temple’s self-esteem…that was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

It was so clear to me that one of the greatest gifts Eustacia gave her daughter was a sense of personal dignity.  What a beautiful thing to behold.  It wasn’t until after the interview portion of my time with Temple was over that I could fully appreciate how deep Eustacia’s gift was, because that was when Temple gave the gift to me.