Autism Unexpected: Temple Grandin’s Mother Offers Words of Hope

Because of the new HBO movie about her life, Temple Grandin is currently just about the most famous person with autism in the United States today. Grandin has always been quite famous in autism circles, with suggestions to read her books being some of the first suggestions many new autism parents get.

Grandin is an incredible woman, autistic or not, but she didn’t raise herself alone. Her mother, Eustacia Cutler, whom I saw speak at an autism conference last week, took on much of that. I don’t know a tremendous amount about Grandin’s life, being one of those people without access to HBO and having read only one of her books, but I admire her a lot. After listening to her mother speak, I admire Eustacia Cutler a great deal as well.

It was lovely to sit in a room with dozens of other people star struck by this 80-something year old woman who spoke about raising an autistic child in the Bettelheim days, when it was commonly believed that autism was caused by frigid and unloving mothers—refrigerator mothers.

She eloquently spoke of the many struggles she faced as a young mother with an unsupportive husband. By doing so, she was encouraging her rapt listeners to keep fighting as well. Although we are in a different era than when her daughter was growing up and autism is much more understood, the path of parenting an autistic child is still not an easy one.

Cutler had many wonderful things to say about people with autism and their characteristics. “These [autistic] traits endure because they are useful to the species,” she said after encouraging us to help each other: “By [mentoring each other], we change each other.”

She didn’t offer easy answers—probably because there are none. Each parent of a child with autism must beat their own path, as each person with autism must do. “There are no answers,” Cutler said. “There are only choices.” Each of us in the room jotted down her words on our notebooks, wiped away a tear, or thought of ways to apply her wise and witty words to our own lives.

See, Cutler already did what most of the parents in that room want to do: She helped raise an independent, happy, successful, autistic person. She is hope personified. Not all of our special kids will grow up to get doctorate degrees and live independently. But some of them will. And many of them will be happy, healthy, and successful in their own ways.

As Cutler said of her daughter last week, “Temple is not cured. Temple is fulfilled.”

What more can any of us want for our children?

Originally published at Autism Unexpected on February 22, 2010.