Emergence: Labeled Autistic Essay
Emergence: Labeled Autistic is a remarkable attempt by Temple Grandin to present an inside narrative to autism as she tells her story of transitioning from a fearful, autistic childhood to a mature adulthood and professional excellence. The story is true and the plot is autobiographical, and this is a brilliant account of perseverance, bravery, and the loving support of a few adults who saw Temple’s true persona instead of simply labeling her an autistic and by their meaning, without any potential.
The book starts with the initial chapter focusing on how it was for the author to grow up autistic and studying at a boarding school up till the time she finished high school. The following chapters use a different approach as they use imagery and symbols (as pictures are her first language, words second) which were important to her as she overcomes the challenges of her disorder and uses them to her benefit. Towards the end, the author shares her insights about autism and guides parents and others on how to help autistic children instead of alienating them.
Today Grandin is a famous autistic person who has attained success in a career suited to her condition. But it was not easy to grow up autistic in a time when the disorder was not even known. She was diagnosed with brain damage at a mere two years of age and was placed in a special nursery school. When she was four years old, she started showing progress and began talking. And while she counts herself lucky to have had the support and guidance of mentors from primary school onwards, she said that peer mockery was a big setback for her in middle school and high school as other kids would tease her and pick upon her.
She would be called “tape recorder” because of her tendency to repeat words and sentences over and over: “I could laugh about it now, but back then it really hurt. ” It was not until several years later that doctors were able to recognize her condition and she was diagnosed to have Asperger Syndrome which is one of several autism spectrum disorders, to which she says “In 1950 I was labeled autistic and groped my way from the far side of darkness. “
This book is extraordinary because it is an unprecedented event when an autistic person presents their own point of view of what it has been like for them and in a way, her book surprised many people who thought autistic people didn’t have feelings or an ‘inner life’. She talks with extreme clarity and conviction of purpose, and after reading the book, one knows that the curse of “Once autistic, always autistic” placed on autistic children by many parents and professionals is not entirely true.
In this way, she speaks not just for herself, but as the representative voice for thousands of others who struggle with autism everyday, yet emerge victorious. She talks about how the belief of “once autistic, always autistic” has translated into miserable lives for many diagnosed children, who along with their elders start believing that their condition is one which they can neither modify, nor control. As she explains the possibility of correcting the characteristics of autism, she says, “I feel strongly that I am living proof that they can.
And this seems to be especially true of autistic children who have meaningful language skills before the age of five. ” She describes various incidents which took place in her life, depicting the characteristic behaviors which guided her thought patterns and responses. She mentions an incident which happened in the car once, on the way to the speech therapist, when her mother told her to wear a hat. She tried to wear it, but felt uncomfortable, like it was pressing against her head too hard. So she threw it out of the window on the other side, where her mother was driving.
Her mother in an attempt to catch the hat veered the car into the next lane and crashed into a truck. Temple, who was normally silent, started saying “ice, ice, ice” at the sight of the smashed glass from the windshield. The child, not even five years old, felt no fear at the time, as she wrote in the book, “it was kind of exciting. ” Absence of fear responses and an above-average intelligence in interpreting visual details is an autistic trait, as Temple remembers that at the time of this dangerous, potentially fatal automobile accident, she felt no fear and on the contrary, was engrossed in the visual resemblance of broken glass and ice.
She describes her remarkable visualizing strength as, “the scenes of my childhood are vivid. Memories play like a movie on the big screen of my mind. ” This is a ground breaking book in more ways than one, as while educating the readers about autism and its characteristics, it stuns them as the world had been blinded by parents and professionals to believe that when a person is diagnosed “autistic”, it means he has no hope or potential to achieve anything in life or be productive in any way.
Grandin didn’t talk until she was four, but did not resist from communicating her frustration by screaming and humming. With great perseverance and courage, she did not change who she was, but worked with whatever capabilities she had to become a successful professional and a world leader in her field. This is the most dominant theme of this book, as she describes her feelings the time when she realizes her potential and ability to truly live her life, “That night I wrote in my diary: “When I look out the windows of the Crow’s Nest, I feel something more…. I must conquer my fears and not let them block my way. “
” Her story might have begun with feelings of alienation and powerlessness, but it transforms into a testament to the courage of a woman who worked with her disorder, and instead of being limited by it, she redirected its traits to help her be normal, and not just normal, but highly successful. She says that autism is a part of who she is, because she used her visual thinking and tendency to fixate to her advantage, choosing a career as a designer of livestock equipment.
In her childhood, she was highly interested, obsessed rather, with such equipment and in her book, she identifies a benefit of the obsessive preoccupation with particular things which is often an autistic trait: “High-functioning autistic adults, who are able to live independently and keep a job, often have work that is in the same field of interest as their childhood fixations. ” As she ends her account, Grandin urges parents, teachers, counselors and therapists to direct fixations and obsessive tendencies towards productivity and projects.
She is a staunch believer of how persistence and well-intended efforts can change lives. Her book is not an autobiography in the form of memoirs; it is an educational insight into the life of an exemplary human being who overcame her serious disability to lead a normal life. And through her efforts she tries to ensure a deeper understanding of autism, consequently enabling autistic people to reach their full potential.