Until Buddy was four years old, he did not really talk. I could not get him to talk. He learned just enough to get by, like “cup” (good luck guessing if it’s juice or milk he wants) and “no.” Our trip to Disney changed everything. When I posted about it on Facebook, someone sent me a link about this little boy who was very similar. Take the time to read it, if you can. It greatly describes my life with Buddy.
In the article, Owen, a little boy, wasn’t talking. Here’s a passage:
Owen’s only activity with his brother, Walt, is something they did before the autism struck: watching Disney movies.
So we join him upstairs, all of us, on a cold and rainy Saturday afternoon in November 1994. Owen is already on the bed, oblivious to our arrival, murmuring gibberish. . . . “Juicervose, juicervose.” It is something we’ve been hearing for the past few weeks. Cornelia thinks maybe he wants more juice; but no, he refuses the sippy cup. “The Little Mermaid” is playing as we settle in, propping up pillows. We’ve all seen it at least a dozen times, but it’s at one of the best parts: where Ursula the sea witch, an acerbic diva, sings her song of villainy, “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” to the selfish mermaid, Ariel, setting up the part in which Ursula will turn Ariel into a human, allowing her to seek out the handsome prince, in exchange for her voice.
When the song is over, Owen lifts the remote. Hits rewind.
“Come on, Owen, just let it play!” Walt moans. But Owen goes back just 20 seconds or so, to the song’s next-to-last stanza, with Ursula shouting:
Go ahead — make your choice!
I’m a very busy woman, and I haven’t got all day.
It won’t cost much, just your voice!
He does it again. Stop. Rewind. Play. And one more time. On the fourth pass, Cornelia whispers, “It’s not ‘juice.’ ” I barely hear her. “What?” “It’s not ‘juice.’ It’s ‘just’ . . . ‘just your voice’!”
I grab Owen by the shoulders. “Just your voice! Is that what you’re saying?!”
He looks right at me, our first real eye contact in a year. “Juicervose! Juicervose! Juicervose!”
Walt starts to shout, “Owen’s talking again!” A mermaid lost her voice in a moment of transformation. So did this silent boy. “Juicervose! Juicervose! Juicervose!” Owen keeps saying it, watching us shout and cheer. And then we’re up, all of us, bouncing on the bed. Owen, too, singing it over and over — “Juicervose!” — as Cornelia, tears beginning to fall, whispers softly, “Thank God, he’s in there.”
This is exactly what it was like. My son wouldn’t talk until that trip to Disney. As we walked away from his heroes, Buzz and Woody, he suddenly turned back and said, “Thank you, Buzz. Thank you, Woody. Good-bye!” I was speechless. He had spoken!
Reading this article made me realize I had seen a lot of Owen in Buddy. The next time Buddy tried to put a movie in (he never asks for anything, assuming that if he wants it, he should have it) I let him. He watched part of it, rewound it, watched it again, rewound it. He did it until I couldn’t take it anymore and left the room. praying that something was clicking in his brain. A few days later, he suddenly quoted a line from the movie, in context. Buddy was figuring it out!
Now, there are always movies playing in my house. Yes, always, even when he’s sleeping. Nearly two years later, he speaks without just quoting movies, but he still picks up new phrases from it. For example, one day I was threatening to leave my misbehaving oldest son behind instead of going to get ice cream with the rest of us. Buddy came to me and said, “Ohana means, ‘family.’ ‘Family’ means nobody gets left behind or forgotten!” It really clicks with him. Call me a bad parent if you want, but I can finally talk about things with my son, and earlier this year I finally heard, “I love you.” He was almost five years old.
The most recent Disney movie we have seen is called Inside Out. I highly suggest everyone go see this movie. The movie mostly takes place inside a little girl’s (Riley’s) head and follows the story of her emotions: Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust. Joy tries to run everything, determined to keep Riley happy. Sometimes, one of the others will grab the controls and Riley reacts accordingly. An example of this would be when Riley’s parents tried to feed her Broccoli. Disgust refused and Anger made her cry. The story is very deep for a kid’s movie, but somehow easily explains things like depression and how it’s okay to be sad sometimes or how a healthy fear keeps us safe.
Ask any parent of an Autistic child and they’ll likely tell you that one of the biggest issues is The Meltdown. Once a child hits that stage, it’s very difficult to reach them. Buddy and I have phrases (like in Dollhouse [a brief television show by Joss Whedon], which uses specific phrases to obtains specific responses from the “dolls” and gave me the idea) so that when he starts to meltdown, I say, “Can I talk to you?” This tells him that I acknowledge his distress, but if he listens, i can explain it. He usually pauses the meltdown long enough to hear me, if I keep it brief. If anyone interrupts (“helping”), he loses it.
Thanks to Inside Out, meltdowns have greatly reduced. When he starts to lose it, I hear him say, “Anger cannot take control of me. Joy will help me. I can do this.” Even though he was incredibly frustrated, he was able to do calm himself down. I had not seen him do that before. Another example is when he wanted to go to the playground, and I told him no. He started to get upset, and I said, “I know Sadness wants to take over.” He instantly stopped and pondered that, which allowed me to continue. “But I said no because we are going to the pool, to play in the water. After Lily wakes up from her nap, we will go play in the water at the pool.” It worked! He has slowly begun to understand that I say no for a reason, and that he should find out why. I actually got him to try a new food by saying, “Disgust is worried, but Joy knows you could like it!” He actually shut his eyes and opened his mouth. He only ate the one bite, but he tried something new! A new food!
I recently went through a very, very difficult time. I was depressed and had trouble getting out of bed. Buddy came and asked to snuggle, and I wanted to tell him no; he must have seen it on my face. He looked at me with his amazing eyes and said, “Don’t worry, Mom. Joy will come back soon. I will wait.”
A Disney movie got my Autistic son to understand depression far more and easier than I ever knew growing up. I didn’t even know depression existed until I was an adult and got treated for it at 27 years of age. My five-year-old understood and said and did exactly what I needed to get me out of it.
It’s been almost two years since we went to Disney. My son went from “Cup” and “no” to, (right now, as I write this). “Mom, what is that? It’s like a ‘boop.’ There it is again. Do you hear it? It’s over there, on your dresser. Oh, Lily is night night.” He is reading off the letters as I type them, singing a song to himself. I hope Disney comes out with more important topics for us to learn and discuss!
Hey, Disney, can you make a movie about keeping your room clean and/or not stealing?