Polly's pages (aka 'Donna Williams')

Ever the arty Autie

Childhood pictures of Temple Grandin


Temple Grandin months old in her mother's arms

Temple Grandin was born in 1947 and diagnosed as brain damaged at age two around 1949. I was diagnosed as psychotic at age two and a half in 1965. I wondered how two people later both diagnosed as autistic (which was deemed childhood psychosis until the mid 70s) had quite different early diagnoses. The first picture here is of Temple Grandin at probably two months old in her mother’s arms taken around 1947.

I had been looking online for pics of Temple from babyhood through to adulthood as I felt it would be great to see her progression and to also compare with my own online gallery of pics across the same age span. Though these pics seem impossible to find online, someone did send me some they’d collected. So I thought to present them here in one place for those who’d like to explore a pictorial diary of Temple’s development alongside some of my own.

This is one of me just two months older taken around 1963:

Donna Williams aged around four months old

Temple had a severe speech impediment so around age 2-3 she couldn’t say ‘ball’, she could only say ‘bah’. She reports that her inability to make herself understood or engage with her parents’ dinner party conversations frustrated her enormously. It was by age 3 and a half that Temple attributes gaining comprehensible articulation and speech, play and socialisation to speech therapy, intensive interaction with nannies and her younger sister, and nursery school. By age 4 she had fluent comprehensible speech. Here’s Temple Grandin aged 4-5 (1952) reaching for a toy from her father:

Temple Grandin aged 4 reaching for a toy from her father

Her father died in the mid 1990s around the time Temple’s first book became popularised but he had been a real estate agent. Temple has described him as solitary and bad tempered (and somewhere I read he had rages). Although Temple is now an even tempered adult, she reported having endless tantrums around age 3-4 and is well known as someone who has seen herself as solitary by nature, not comfortable with emotionality or intimacy. Perhaps she gained some of her temperament from her father but enough eventual sociability from her mother to now do well as a lecturer, entrepreneur and public speaker.

Interestingly, in the photo with her father she’s reaching for a helicopter toy. Her mother’s father, however, was an engineer who apparently invented the automatic pilot for airplanes. So engineering/inventing already ran her the family just as the arts ran in mine. With her mother an actress, singer and writer, and her maternal grandfather an inventor and engineer, perhaps Temple got her engineering (including her skills in visual thinking), from her maternal grandfather and her writing and public speaking abilities from her mother.

Here’s a pic of me aged 4 around 1967. My (older) brother has his fingers and legs crossed which is what kids did to ‘not catch the germs’:

Donna Williams aged 4

Here’s one of Temple Grandin at age 5 (around 1952) on her mother’s lap at a picnic together with her sister (one of her three younger siblings) in the background:

Temple Grandin aged 5 sitting in her mothers lap at a picnic with her sister in the background

Here’s one of me aged four and a half at my brother’s sixth birthday around 1968. The other kid is my uncle. The green ball is an object I had carried since I was 2-3 yrs old. I was always afraid of balloons but I’ve had one stuck in my arms (and a party hat put on me) for the photo. I’ve probably allowed all that in order to keep my green ball.

Donna Williams aged 4 and a half

Here’s one of Temple Grandin aged 9 in 1956 pictured seated to the right of her mother who is holding one of her 3 younger siblings (photo probably taken by her father)

Temple Grandin aged 9

And here’s me at age 9 around 1972 with my younger brother:

Donna Williams aged 9

I hope you’ve enjoyed the pics. It would be great to see more pics of Temple Grandin in childhood, particularly between age 2 when she was originally diagnosed as brain damaged by a neurologist and the ones here at age 5. I read that her mother recognised Temple as autistic around age 4 (1950) as autistic by a checklist published around that time. Kanner wrote of autism as Childhood Psychosis in 1943 and lectured on it since 1938 so given Temple’s family recognised Temple as autistic by 1950-51 Kanner’s work already had 7-8 years in public by then. A diagnosis of autism in the 1940s-50s was one of Childhood Psychosis and as such would have been done by a child psychiatrist. Childhood Psychosis (autism) was differentiated from brain damage and a neurologist would not have been in a position to diagnose a child with mental illness (which autism was thought to be at the time).

In the 60s the standard recommended treatments for Childhood Psychosis (autism) included shock treatment, LSD, pain and punishment. Temple, however, puts her progress between age 3-4 instead down to speech therapy, lots of interaction with nannies, placement in a good highly structured nursery, and an ABA style approach. She was indeed lucky to escape a formal diagnosis of autism in the 50s or 60s. For those unfortunate enough to get one in that era the recommended treatment for Psychotic Children was not nearly as humane. It was the lack of a formal diagnosis by a child psychiatrist which likely saved Temple from the inhumane treatments of psychotic children popular in Kanner’s time right into the 1960s.

Temple was told by her family of her autism when she was 15, a year after her parents divorced. She was formally diagnosed with Aspergers as an adult. However due to her significant speech impediment and subsequent late development of comprehensible speech by age 3 and associated frustration and tantruming, Temple and her mother identify her as autistic rather than having Aspergers.

Donna Williams, BA Hons, Dip Ed.
Author, artist, singer-songwriter, screenwriter.
Autism consultant and public speaker.