HBO’s recent biopic Temple Grandin presents the life story of a gifted autistic woman. As the sibling of an autistic brother, I watched the film with particular interest. The early scenes brought back memories of my family life: my brother’s incomprehensible tantrums, odd mannerisms, and language delays; my mother’s daily, unrelenting struggle to help him; the various professionals devoted to teaching him. But something was also missing in Temple Grandin—the “me” character. Where was her sister?
Grandin’s mother mentions a sister once in an early scene, but this sister never comes up again. I was especially struck that she wasn’t at Grandin’s graduation. Was she there in real life, but left out by the filmmakers because she wasn’t considered integral to the story?
Truth or fiction, the absence is not surprising. As a group, siblings of special-needs children are often overlooked. Among the many pains of having a disabled sibling, the one that hurts most is the pain of feeling forgotten—lost in the crisis of autism.