I woke up this morning and while listening to the news, drinking my coffee, and scrolling through online social networks in my tablet, I saw that I had been tagged in a facebook post by my oldest son, Zachary. Zachary had been watching the newest trailer of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast movie – a live-action re-telling of the studio’s animated … “Beauty and the Beast” will be released in U.S. theaters on March 17, 2017. Zachary was so delighted that this re-telling appears to be much like the animated version.
Why is this a big deal? This is his brother, Tyler’s, all time most favorite animated movie. Zachary explained it so well…, “how many countless times my autistic brother, Tyler, watched the animated version…to the point where every member of our family could quote the movie word for word….I gotta see it. And I would LOVE to see it in the theaters with him. (Sound doable, mom?)”
And of course, my response was, “absolutely, we’ll make it happen.”
The animated Disney version came out it 1991. Tyler was born in March of 1992. We purchased the VHS tape (that’s all there was back then.) after it was released on October 30, 1992. Tyler would sit in his activity walker and watch it. He watched it all the way through, with no breaks in his concentration levels. I would talk to him, try to get his attention because I was feeling badly he had been watching a movie all that time.
As the years rolled on, Tyler continued to watch this movie. (and by the way, we’ve owned many versions…VHS, DVD, BLU RAY, and now, Amazon.)Every day, from beginning to end all day long Beauty and the Beast played. My other kids would watch it too, occasionally. But after all the times that our home space was filled with the sounds of this movie, I think they had just learned to tune it out. After all, it was just background noise that kept their autistic brother happy. We all settled into whatever made Tyler happy. It’s just how it was at our house. Otherwise, the home space was filled with screams, squeals, or an unnatural sound of something breaking or being torn. Beauty and the Beast made our world seem magical somehow. As if we were suspended in the movie setting of the beautiful town in France. Beast was to be tamed and all would be right in the world at the end. Right?!
But that wasn’t all the effect we felt. The best was yet to come. As Tyler began to grow and try to express himself, he used quotes from Beauty and the Beast movie to do so. He would say a phrase that sounded something like this to us, “Ah See A Boo See A Eye!” when he was upset by something in his world that he didn’t expect and he didn’t know how to handle the emotions. For years, we had no clue where he got that from, but knew what he meant. Then, one of his sisters said one day, “Mom! I figured out ‘Ah See A Boo See A Eye!’ It’s from Beauty and the Beast, where Beauty walks in the giant library for the first time and says, ‘I’ve never seen so many books in all my life!'” I was delighted, “That’s it! Your right!”
Then, one day, I had made dinner and called all the kids to the table. Tyler didn’t want to be interrupted at the time and ran in the bathroom and looked in the mirror and said, “I’M NOT GOING TO DINNER!” in a gruff, very beast-like voice. Well, that was quite clear, I might add. No figuring out that one! Ha! We laughed so hard about it. We were delighted Tyler had found a way to express his emotions. The defiance was ignored, at least for the time being. (You have to pick and choose your battles.)
Then, there was the musical phrases, he would hum. It’s too difficult to explain those in words without writing out the actual music, but they were the ones played when the movie depicted something sad, or mysterious. He would hum the tunes when he was sad about something, or was mystified by something in his environment. And with his perfect pitched voice, there was no discerning their meanings.
“There is a growing link between animation — not just Disney — and positive effects in young people living with autism.” http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/disney-films-help-children-autism-owen-suskind-ron-suskind-life-animated-a7477716.html
Disney has done research on the effect of their movies on language development in Autistic children. http://animatedlanguagelearning.com/disney-autism-language/
To discover that there are many others like Tyler, who have been able to use Disney movie content to express themselves in language comes as no surprise to me. I am proud that Tyler is one of the early pioneers in this communication frontier in the world of Autism.
So, next time you find your autistic child enamored with an animated video, Disney or any other, try to think of it as a learning opportunity for language development. Your child could be on a hunt for the perfect phrase to express an emotion they couldn’t catch anywhere else. You never know when, where or how they may find their expressive voice.
Zachary wrote to a friend: “ … I am fighting to watch this with my 24 year old autistic brother. I know he gets lost in his own head, still cannot speak, blah blah blah, but I know him being with family in theaters in Imax, watching his favorite movie in perfect real life facsimile…… it would mean the world….”
Our family is planning to get together and take Tyler to the Imax showing of the live-action re-telling of Beauty and the Beast on the weekend of its release to theaters…which just so happens to be the weekend of Tyler’s 25th birthday! I plan to post a video blog of the event. It’s simply captivating, this son of mine with Autism. We celebrate different moments from what most 24 year olds would be celebrating. Not a wedding, a college graduation, or a new career opportunity. We celebrate the remake of his favorite movie. It’s perfect. It’s a celebration of one of the few encounters that led Tyler to expressing his precious inner feelings…a rare glimpse into Tyler’s world!