Emily Gerson Saines is the executive producer of Claire Danes‘ upcoming film Temple Grandin, a project about a woman with Autism that’s been a decade in the making. Once the vice president at the William Morris Agency, Emily represented actors such as Robert Downey, Jr., Scarlett Johansson, and Angelina Jolie – finding her the role in Girl, Interrupted that won her an Oscar. It was around that time that Emily’s son was diagnosed with Autism.
Co-founder of the Autism Coalition, now known as Autism Speaks, Emily Gerson Saines took on the moving film, Temple Grandin, the true story of a woman with Autism who became one the leading scientists in humane livestock handling. Emily opens up to Celebrity Baby Scoop about her son who has Autism and her hopes that this film will give parents of children with Autism “a renewed sense of hope.”
CBS: Why did you decide to make the movie Temple Grandin?
EGS: “When my son Dashiell was first diagnosed [with autism] in 1996, I felt very isolated from the world. At that time, the incidence rate of autism was only 1 in 10,000. A home computer and internet were a relatively new phenomenon. There was virtually no autism community locally, and it was so very hard to find any amount of support. People didn’t know how to respond to me, and they certainly didn’t know how to respond to him. I did my best to put on a happy face at work, but as a mother I felt hopeless. My son was out of control and each day slipped further and further into his own world. It was not a happy time in my life.
One day my mother called. She had been at Barnes and Noble and saw a book entitled Thinking in Pictures by a woman with autism named Temple Grandin. Not long after that, my grandmother called to say she had read an article by Oliver Sacks about Temple Grandin. They sent me the materials and then pestered me every day until I read them. This was a time when my energy, motivation, and spirit were at an all time low. Yet, I couldn’t believe what I was reading. Temple’s story brought me hope and Eustacia’s story (Temple’s mother) gave me direction and purpose. Parents of a child with autism everywhere need to hear it, functionally and spiritually. I knew this story had to be told and given my access as a talent representative in the entertainment industry, I felt it was my responsibility to make that happen.”
CBS: Tell us about your experience with Autism.
EGS: “I live with Autism 24/7. He [my son] falls somewhere in the high end of the middle of the Autism spectrum. He can only read sight words. He can spell his name most of the time, but mixes up upper & lowercase letters. And he speaks, but mostly in limited and short phrases. Through the years, he has seen ABA therapists, speech therapists, occupational therapist, we’ve been to doctors, and had all kinds of tests. I’ve asked people of every faith to pray for him.
And lastly, I co-founded the Autism Coalition which was a fundraising organization that raised millions of dollars for Autism before we folded it into Autism Speaks. Our goal was to raise much needed dollars for biomedical research, education, and awareness. Before awarding grants we needed to review proposals and thus we’re talking to top researchers and educators.
Looking forward, I plan to explore the area of housing for Autistic people. When my son was diagnosed with Autism, the incidence rate was 1 in 10,000. Today it is 1 in 110 people, 1 in 70 boys. Where are they going to live?”
CBS: Temple Grandin is a women who overcomes the barriers of Autism. In making this movie, do you feel children with autism are able to overcome their diagnosis and reach unthinkable goals?
EGS: “Temple has not overcome her barrier of Autism, but in many cases she has used some of her issues to great effect. I think it’s important that we all set goals for ourselves and as the parent of an Autistic child we need to help set those goals for our children. Sometimes goals are unrealistic, and sometimes they can be achieved, but they’re certainly not going to be achieved if you don’t push yourself or your child to be the best they can be.”
CBS: What message do you hope to portray in making this movie? Are you hoping to inspire parents of children with Autism?
EGS: “I hope people will walk away from this movie with a renewed sense of hope and a message to ‘stay the course.’ It can be challenging and I for one know, as the parent of an Autistic child, what a sacrifice that can be. You can never forget that with perseverance almost anything is possible.”
CBS: Do you think some parents of children with Autism will be upset with this movie and think that it sets up unrealistic hopes and dreams?
EGS: “It was our great desire that the message of this movie be one of inspiration and hope. This is Temple’s story, not my son’s, and not anyone else’s. It is specific to Temple. If I saw a film about Michael Jordan, I wouldn’t assume my typical son would have a career record of 32,292 points, 5,633 assists and 2514 steals.”
CBS: Why do you think the incidence of Autism has risen in recent years?
EGS: “The honest answer is that I don’t know what causes Autism and I don’t think anyone yet really knows. I suppose one day this pervasive term of Autism will be broken down into a variety of diagnoses with different characteristics and different courses of treatment.
Most of the research being done today is exploring genes and environmental factors. Autism was long overlooked in the area of research in part because of Bruno Bettelheim’s theory that Autism was the result of uncaring parents and thus thought to be a psychological disorder as opposed to a neurological disorder.
We have polluted our environment and thus polluted ourselves and our children. There are many that believe that this toxicity is a trigger. Me, I don’t know but I am grateful that we are raising awareness and in doing so raising much needed research dollars.”
Temple Grandin airs on HBO on Saturday, February 6 at 8:00 P.M. ET/PT.