Talking With Temple: On Being a Woman

Interviewing Temple Grandin is a rare treat.  Sitting and chatting with her after an interview is…life changing.  I had that opportunity a few weeks ago.  The interview portion of our time together went well.  She is a consummate professional.  She restates your question so the editing job is cleaner and easier, she knows where to clip the mic so her cowboy tie won’t rustle.  She’s in the zone and ready when the cameras are on.  So when the interview was over I really expected her to be all business and quickly depart.  Not Temple.  She graciously stayed for pictures and the autographing of plastic cows, during which I asked her if she was still teaching. 

Everything about Temple Grandin changes when she talks about teaching.  Her face softens, her voice becomes more lyrical, she smiles with her eyes.  Clearly it is her love.

She told me that she does still teach despite the fact that many have suggested she stop, so she can just tour and speak.  In reality, she could.  I asked her if she’d ever considered it.  She leaned forward, looked me in the eye and said, “It’s important for me to keep teaching…as a woman.”

It was a moment of total honesty that quite frankly took my breath away.  She went on to explain that teaching is her passion and that she MUST continue to pursue her passion while being of service to the Autism community.  She reminded me that even if it weren’t her passion it would still be important to keep her job, because it is the very fact of that job that spreads hope through the Autism community.  As a mom who has held on to the fact that the spectrum swings far enough to create college professors, I knew what she was talking about.  I suddenly saw Temple Grandin in a whole new light.

This woman, transcended in a male dominated career path at a time when no other woman would dare to, and indecently she did it with an Autism diagnosis.  Now she manages to dominate her field, teach a new generation of young men and women and find the time to share her story with those of us who gather at her feet, while never losing sight of who she is.  Humbled doesn’t begin to describe how I felt.  I found myself feeling emotional.

That was the moment Temple chose to turn the tables on me.

“It’s so important for all of us to find things to do outside of Autism, so we don’t lose ourselves.” She said to me.  Then she asked me, “What do you do that doesn’t have to do with Autism?”

She smiled at me knowingly, like a really good therapist.  As an Autism Mom, I frequently live on the “all Autism all the time channel”.  I panicked a little, knowing she had me.  I told her that I am directing a play at my son’s school.  Surely that had to count?  She was thrilled!  Not only was it using my passion, but acting is something Temple considers to be useful to individuals on the spectrum.  I agree with her.  Then she asked about how I find time to spend with my husband when it isn’t about Autism.  Now I laughed.  I couldn’t help myself.  The idea of alone time with my husband…not talking about Autism?  High hilarity!

The really interesting thing was that Temple wouldn’t let it go.  She sat and talked with me for a good ten minutes about how my husband and I had to find alone time.  She wanted to know what the obstacles were, and then she and I brainstormed about how to overcome the obstacles.  At one point we were laughing and I said, “Temple! When did you become my marriage counselor?”  She looked at me with a gentle smile and said, “Problem solving is what I do, it doesn’t matter what the problem is.”

I sat there with Temple and realized that I was a caterpillar getting a good long look at a butterfly.  Temple’s life is different from mine.  Her challenges have always been different. But her view of the world and its working is so much more than my caterpillar brain can comprehend.  For a few minutes she shared that view with me.  I may have only gotten a glimpse, but it was a doozy.

I don’t know exactly when I got so caught up in this journey through Autism that the thought of saying…. “It’s important to me…as a woman,” became a far-fetched notion.  But now that Temple has reminded me, I can’t ever go back. I once again see how important it is that I honor who I am so I can truly be of service to my son or anyone else.  And yes, I went on date with my husband, thanks to services of Grandin Problem Solvers.  I highly recommend it.

Next week, as the last in this series I will share the “prescription” Temple Grandin wrote for my son, to help him progress and to stave off his boredom.