For pure inspiration and an outstanding performance, you'll want to watch "Temple Grandin" tonight at 10 on HBO.
Claire Danes plays the renowned woman with autism who became a pioneer in the care of cattle because of her condition, rather than despite it.
It's the perfect example of why we should not just throw people away because of their disabilities. Often it's just a matter of figuring out how to relate to them.
Grandin was born at a time when autism was considered caused by a lack of bonding with the mother, that, in fact, the mother was somehow not loving enough. Grandin's mother, here played by Julia Ormond, refuses to believe that her daughter will never speak, and should be institutionalized.
Throughout her life, it seems, Grandin is graced by angels; lots of people dismiss her as too odd or just lose patient with her. But somehow someone else steps up and works a little harder to see her gifts. One such person is a teacher played by David Strathairn, who figures out that Grandin has an incredible mind but is a visual learner. That discovery pretty much sets her on a path to success.
Another turning point of Grandin's life is a summer she spends with an aunt who lives on a farm. It's there that she sees cattle being calmed by a contraption that pretty much simulates a hug. Grandin, who can't stand to be touched, builds her own replica of the machine, using it to find peace whenever the world overwhelms her.
Danes is wonderful as Grandin. Like many people with autism, she has qualities that baffle the rest of us. She's socially awkward (to put it mildly), panics at a disruption of routine, is detached emotionally. The film shows that while these qualities limit her life, they also give her what could be called the tenacity to keep going when people want to close doors. Danes doesn't shy away from the awkwardness of her character's personality but imbues Grandin with grace. Ormond, too, is pitch perfect.
And ultimately the film is a tribute to Grandin's mother, who pushed her even when it was painful and refused to let her be treated as less. Grandin's mother saw what her daughter could do, not what she couldn't.
Not every child with autism can grow up and be a Temple Grandin, but all children with autism -- or without -- have something to offer.