Temple Grandin is widely recognized as the world's most famous autistic person. She's written a number of books about autism, regularly travels around the globe to give talks at conferences, and was even the subject of a documentary on her early life (eponymously titled Temple Grandin). Other autistic people, as well as folks outside the community, have written on a number of aspects of the troubling things that Temple has said or the way in which she is positioned in rhetoric on autism both in broader society and within our own community.
I have several criticisms of both Temple Grandin's positioning as well as her positions.
Because Temple Grandin is functionally the world's only famous autistic person (and certainly the most famous), what she says about autism is taken as gospel, regarded as absolute truth, and frequently generalized as if representative of the experiences and views of every other autistic person on the planet. This is despite the fact that her experiences are inextricably linked to her race, her class, and the time period during which she came of age -- not to mention the inevitable tensions that come with being the first widely-recognized autistic to speak on an autistic experience.
What Temple Grandin has said about autism is frequently extremely ableist, classist, and otherwise very problematic. Because of her prominence on the world stage, her international acclaim, and her extremely high levels of visibility and name recognition, her ideas have proliferated quite abundantly. Yet this is also due in part to the fact that her positions render her an acceptable autistic, a well-behaved autistic willing to conform to hegemonic normative standards and compliance as ethics. In other words, Temple Grandin's articulated ideas about autism and autistic people fit into the pathology paradigm that dominates autism discourse.
Temple Grandin is frequently tokenized or used as a nice window-dressing -- to borrow Jim Sinclair's term, she is frequently paraded at mainstream autism conferences and symposia as a self-narrating zoo exhibit. Because she is autistic and her statements align with those articulated from an ableist sensibility, neurotypicals advancing the views that autism presents a problem of pathology can claim authenticity or legitimacy for their position through Temple Grandin's reiteration of the same sentiments.
Temple Grandin believes that "high-functioning" autistics are talented, intelligent, and necessary to human survival, while "low-functioning" autistics cannot function or live independently, and thus should be cured in the present and prevented from existing in the future. Both I and others have thoroughly deconstructed the false dichotomy of high and low functioning, but suffice it to say that such claims not only reinforce ableist hegemony, but also reinforce a capitalist notion of success and value in that only people who can produce are worthy of inclusion in society; all others are burdens.
Her belief that nonverbal autistics are tragic and pitiable evokes a sense of moral disgust and outrage, particularly when coupled with the many voices of nonspeaking autistics demanding a claim to voice, to agency, to capacity -- asserting competence, self, and pride.
Her belief that the only autistics who ought to be considered valuable and thus valued are those who have a job and learn to function within neurotypical norms is colored inescapably by classism and ableism -- the very systems of oppression that serve so frequently to reinforce the violence of capitalism.
Her belief that autistic children should be conditioned to normalize their behavior, communication, and movements for the sake of indistinguishability alone is profoundly ableist and disappointing, especially when considering the long history of violence exacted against disabled people for the crime of failing to uphold hegemonic standards of normativity.
Temple Grandin poses an answer to the question of whose bodies/minds ought to be valued and whose ought to be discredited and removed for the good of society. Her answer is a deeply disturbing one, and must concern those of us who wish to see the deconstruction of societal ableism, because both her own rhetoric and how she is rhetoricized serve only to perpetuate it.