Last week, after I picked Monkey up from preschool, I took him on a date to see Disney’s Frozen. Even packed a lunch to eat in the minivan. In ten degree weather. In Chicago, we get desperate this time of year, so it’s my version of a polar vortex picnic.
I think I cried nearly the entire movie. Well about, 75% of it.
See, I haven’t cried much in years, especially since Moose’s diagnosis back in 2011. This was the most I’ve cried, ever. Man, did I need a good cry. It was like this film struck a geyser of emotion that has been brewing for years, to the point that my 4.5 year old Monkey turned to me, and said, “Don’t worry, Mom, I’ll take care of you.” Then he patted my hand.
I’ve been the proverbial ice queen, not allowing myself the space and time to feel what it means to raise a child with autism. In real life, I am the type to withdraw and go quietly within myself. I’ve never been able to really “let it go”. By letting it go, I mean the guilt, the anger, the rage, and of course, the worry. Autism has taken so much away from our life, but at the same time, autism has given my family back so much more: a deep understanding of health, learning, education, food, unconditional love, and acceptance.
This post will be filled with spoilers, and though I’m sure since I’m so late in the game, this won’t be new to you. I’m probably the last parent on earth to have seen this film, and judging by the nearly empty movie theatre, I’d say so.
The waterworks started for me during this song, “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” Why? The premise of the song is about the younger sister, Anna begging her older sister, Elsa ,to play, despite Elsa shutting Anna out. This is autism right here. The isolation. The lack of social interaction and engagement.
This song paralleled my boys at the height of Moose’s autism: Monkey would try to engage him constantly, and Moose would shut Monkey down and tune him out.
It was like watching the cartoon version of my sons as Disney princesses.
For me, it was heartbreaking watching my sons struggle with the most basic forms of play. Monkey wanted to connect with his brother, but Moose didn’t know how despite years of intervention and “thera”pay”.
Like all autism siblings, they never give up. They see the beauty inside of their brothers and sisters. They persist and persist. Now, nearly three years later post diagnosis, the proverbial break appears in the clouds.
Moose is functioning better each week. He engages with his brother. I even watched them wrestling in the snow today. Sure, they are not running about playing superheroes, but I’d say, it’s on the horizon.
So, after the movie began with that snowman song, I of course, dusted off my analytical skills during the rest of the film. I’m sure this could be applied to any marginalized population: special needs, LGBT, etc. But, frankly, for me, Frozen was a film about acceptance. Learning to master your gifts, despite being outside “the norm”.
Later in the film, the song “Fixer-Upper” had me thinking about therapy and autism. Anna meets a character, Kristoff, who is “socially impaired” and would rather talk to his reindeer than real people. Again, this song highlighted an autism struggle for my family: choosing the best for your child. Even if people are outside the biomedical/homeopathic/nutritional realm of helping autism, most families do try some sort of therapy to “fix” their child be it speech, OT, PT, ABA, RDI, SonRise, Floortime, etc.
The message of this song, is that, the only thing that can fix people is love, which is in line with the type of “therapy” we’ve been doing the past few months. Simply, spending quality time engaged with our child rather than having a parade of therapists in and out of our home.
An autism diagnosis doesn’t mean life without a childhood. Which in some families, it becomes a hectic nightmare of therapy to therapy. We lived like that for years with little improvement.
Now, life feels like life. We can breathe. Go on playdates (despite the fact I hate that term). Go to movies.
Now, we bring Moose to community classes. We take him out and about. For years, it was easier to avoid the tantrums and meltdowns than to face them. Now, that stage of autism is past for us, and he’s a joy in public. The hardest part of his autism was in the 2-3 year old range, and today Moose is happy-go-lucky most of the time. Despite attacking the treasure box of lollipops at Trader Joe’s, he is a sweetheart.
Frankly, this “Fixer-upper” song made me realize my approach to therapy has changed. We can’t afford another thing at this point. It’s PDI: Parent-Directed Intervention (my term for it), but the basis of it is love. Maybe one day, I’ll write a book, and change the face of therapy for our kids.
Not $150 per hour and data sheets. Love. Engagement. Unconditional acceptance.
That’s the message that Frozen gave me in the end: finding it in your heart to accept and love. On those down shitty days, and yes, in the autism world there are a few-you may find me and my sons doing our “music therapy” by spinning and laughing to the Frozen soundtrack.
Finally, now, I’ve really let it go.
Something happened while watching that film, a tide shifted in me. I can’t quite explain it, but I realized that my negativity has held my son back.
By me letting it go- letting go of all the anger, rage, guilt, and worry: my son will be able to truly thrive.