Temple Grandin, Autism, and a Christian Perspective

Only days ago, I watched the 2010 Temple Grandin movie for the first time. With tears and laughter, I felt every uncomfortable detail and every victorious moment. While this movie portrays only one person with one type of Autism, I was encouraged. Every supporting character helped me recognize that generally people fall into one of two categories of interpreting the world and potential of others.

Let’s consider these two categories of people, then through select scriptures frame the kind of people we want to be – and more importantly the kind of person God wants us to be in Christ.

Category 1: Damaging Defeatests

Afraid of whatever is not like them, they have little use for people who look, think, or act differently. Bullies, quitters, and by-standers place others into tiny presupposed boxes, making excuses for their judgments and apathy. Prone to comments using never, they use negative statements to protect others from false hope or themselves from risk and liability.

Philippians 2:3-4 – Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

In the movie, the Damaging Defeatests were students, teachers, and supervisors who made life miserable for Temple, ostracizing rather than attempting to understand. Autism made her different, but they saw her as one without value… instead of valuable because she was made in the image of God, and because of her Autistic uniqueness.

When my son attended our first homeschool co-op, he was rejected by his teacher and headmaster soon after the year started. Even though I attended as his aide, the teacher called to have the conversation.

This included how she felt he did not enjoy her class, and never looked like he was paying attention, and took so long to answer questions she was not sure how much he was getting from her class. He was the only first grader to complete his work each week with minimal assistance, and I assured her she was teaching his two favorite topics (color combinations and rocks) – so it was certainly not disinterest. Not to mention, the lack of smiling and eye contact are consistent with Autism – ever heard of it?

Clearly not seeing her pointing to the proverbial door, she added, “It just isn’t fair to the other children to be exposed to a child with his difficulties at their age. I am really just concerned for them.” Damage. Defeat.

Category 2: Eager Exhorter.

Seeing potential in differences, they identify those struggling to belong or fit. They see what others will not see, and they value those who are different. When others give up, they champion successes for those who are rejected from opportunities just because they have Autism. They get the mantra of the Temple Grandin movie: Different, but not less!

Prone to comments that begin with let’s try, they use positive statements to impower individuals to their greatest God-given potential and discredit the temptation to protect perceptions of themselves in moments of risk. Additionally, parents of Autistic children will be encouraged by these relationships because of the relief and blessing supplied.

In the movie, in addition to her undaunted mother, Temple’s Eager Exhorters included a teacher/mentor, co-worker, parent of another Autistic child, and Aunt, and an individual with their own disability. They advocated, showed compassion, and included her in activities and groups where Temple could see the value she brought to all she did. Though Autism made her different, they chose to see her as one with incredible value and pressed others to see value in her as well.

In the Christian life, we are amiss if we are pointing others to the best version of themselves rather than pointing them to God as the Master Planner for their lives because truly, God has a plan for everyone He has created!

Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Now here is your choice, Christians: Will you be a Damaging Defeatest or an Eager Exhorter? Damaging Defeatests and Eager Exhorters are in every church. Being on the receiving end of both has made me a different kind of Christian, with eyes to see what I once could not see.

Soon after we were asked to leave the aforementioned co-op, when advocacy, arguing, explaining, defending ended, I grieved. I had almost lost hope there might ever be a co-op with whom my son could grow socially and be welcomed…but soon after, God opened a door to another co-op that welcomed my family completely.

My heart began to heal, my son continued to grow, and I believe, the children that surrounded him there were better for having been “exposed to a child with his difficulties at their age.”

Christian, which category of people are you?

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue…”(Proverbs 18:21)

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