Saturday, November 25, 2006

The Autism Story, as told through the movie "Happy Feet" (Journal #43)

"Remember son, the word triumph starts with "try" and ends with..."umph"
~ Memphis (Mumble's dad) in Happy Feet

Twas the night before Thanksgiving and all through the house,
mama Cottington had a meeting , and the boys were not quiet as a mouse.

So off to the theatre dad took them so quick,
to see a new movie, the Happy Feet flick... Brent took Zach and Sam to see Happy Feet, the adorable movie about a penguin named Mumble, starring the voices of Robin Williams and Elijah Wood, on Thanksgiving eve before we had a late night departure for grandma and grandpa's in Iowa. They loved it, and I was incredibly bumbed I couldn't go with them, as we love doing those movies as a family. When Brent got home, he told me I would have loved it, that it had lots of meaning behind it related to someone I know, but he did not elaborate. We then left for our trip to Iowa.

On Thanksgiving night, with all of our nieces and nephews, children, siblings and grandma and grandpa, off to the theatre we all went again. The movie of choice would be Happy Feet again, and of course the boys did not think twice about another viewing of it.

When we had gotten our popcorn and finally sat down ready, Brent looked at me and said that he wanted me to tell him who this movie reminded me of after viewing. He also told me that it would make me cry, especially after I figured the meaning out. Boy did I, and did I really appreciate Brent's synopsis and correlation of Happy Feet to autism. So here is how the movie goes with a direct correlation to Sam and autism.

Mumble, an adorable little penguin is born a little differently than all the other penquins. He comes out physically looking different than all the other penguins as well, when he hatches out of his little egg with all eyes on him. It is very obvious from the beginning that there is something different about Mumble.

The one thing that is the same, or "neurotypical" to penguins, is that they all have a heart song to attract them to their soul mate. It is made evident in the movie that all penguins must have this special ability to sing, or they can never truly belong. Mumble is so happy and content with who he is, not even realizing that it is a problem. He tries so hard to communicate to others that he has a song, but they don't understand him, because he doesn't sing his heart song like everyone else. His song is in his feet. He communicates differently. He taps his feet. He dances. He is happy with the way he does it. Mumble doesn't realize it is a problem until they separate him from group. Like a child with Autism. They try so hard to communicate. Even if they have words, are verbal, as with Mumble, the way they express their words and language still make it difficult for others to understand. While Sam is verbal, we have difficult times understanding what he means throughout the day. He has a hard time communicating to us what he wants, which is a huge basis of his melt downs. He can use his words, but he can't tell me when he is sick. It can be hard sometimes. What the movie makes clear though, is that it is not hard for the child to understand themselves. Mumble is so happy and ready to venture through life. I never doubt that Sam doesn't know what he wants. It is just the way that we understand each other. Now that people can understand Sam more and more, he still repeats so much of what he hears around him and from t.v. He understands when to use certain phrases, but he will expect the same response from you that he heard from "the other situation, show, or conversation he first heard it from." If you don't respond the way he expects, then severe frustration sets in. Mumble didn't understand why singing was so important. He didn't think he needed it. But the other penguins knew he would need his heart song to find a mate later in life.

The movie continues with Mumble's parents, Mempis (Hugh Jackman) and Norma Jean (Nicole Kidman) wanting to fix him. They take him to the most professional pengiun singing teacher in Antartica. Reminds me of the whole "cure Autism", gotta fix it now epidemic. In the movie, Mumble doesn't need fixed. He knows his heart song is dancing. It is others that can't accept him. You can even see the disapointment in his parents eyes. Mumble continues to happily go along, not seeing that anything needs fixed. He is a good sport and tries singing lessons, but to no avail, even the "professional" is done. The discussions/debates in the Autism community about cure, always come back to those of us with comments like, "you have him in speech and OT, you have tried diets, you have him on meds, isn't that wanting to fix or cure?".

No. It is helping him along lifes way. Helping him in areas of his life that can be challenging. Everyone (autistic or not) needs a good nights sleep, so Clonidine has helped him get that, and even helped him focus at school better. Neurotypical people use sleep aides who aren't seeking a cure for anything. We don't want Sam cured, we love him the way he is. To me, helping Sam communicate, learn how to use silverware, or how to use his words is simply helping him through this journey called life.

As Mumble grows older, he is unable to graduate with his fellow penguins and is the very last to lose his adolescent feathers. The gap in his development is very evident by now. Somehow, Mumble never lets this get him down and he is determined to do things the same as his peers. As parents of children with Autism, we see the gap between the things our children can do compared to their peers. While Sam is just approaching Kindergarten, it is becoming more and more evident just how far behind he is. We are staying focussed on the things he can do and celebrating the new things he learns along the way.

In Happy Feet, the fish population is decreasing for some reason, causing starvation among the penguins. The entire Penguin Nation blames Mumbles odd dance for disturbing the natural order. Mumble then sets out to prove them wrong. He discovers that humans are at fault in the chain of life. Through his "heart song", his dancing, he wins over the hearts of humans when captured and placed in a zoo display. His dancing reminds people about how adorable and imporatant these creatures are. Hence, the environmentalists come to the rescue, and thanks to Mumbles soul reaching out, the fish increase with abundance.

Perhaps, if we just accept and love our little ones with autism, knowing there is a beautiful heart song that they each sing, then life will be easier for them and their families. Maybe Sam won't marry like Mumble finally does, when he connects with his soul mate who uses his foot beat for her song, but Sam will be able to share his heart song with us forever. Autism is all about acceptance, awareness, and the human spirit.

A Twist of Faith

The three A's:

Awareness of others~ Jesus made evident through His parables and stories the importance of understanding others, from the women at the well to the hunger of 5,000. Awareness of others needs helps us to understand others.

Acceptance of others~ Jesus accepted everyone no matter what. He healed and touched lives of those whom others could care less.

Awareness and Acceptance of Autism, a must.

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?" "The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these." (NIV, Mark 12:28-31).


kristina said...

We've yet to see it but will definitely have to-----seems significant the penguin is named "Mumble," too, in regard to having a speech/singing "impediment"!

Unknown said...

It sounds like a touching movie. We've had a few fast food meals this week and the plastic penguins are starting to pile up. Time to go see the movie!

Mom to Mr. Handsome said...

What an interesting correletaion, Autism and Happy Feet. Gabe and Boo loved that movie. Sometimes what others see as a weakness can be at times our greatest strength. Know what I mean?


mysamiam said...

Hadn't even thought of the name link, cool!

You gotta see it.

I do know what you mean!

Anonymous said...

I saw Happy Feet when it first came out, with my sons, and I was simply floored at the time by it--I am Aspergic, as are at least three and possibly all four of my sons. It was astonishing how that movie was all about autism spectrum. I'm glad to see that I wasn't the only one who saw that.