This weekend we spent time at my in-laws’ cabin at the lake. Within three minutes of arriving, Castle was requesting that I “Come pay Yochyo” or in normal speech, “Come play Pinocchio.” Watching Pinocchio at the lake is a special activity that we can’t do at home since we don’t own the movie (and can’t currently buy it on iTunes) and the only copy is on VHS. (All we have are DVDs.)
Castle derives a lot of joy from watching his beloved Pinocchio. It’s the only movie that he’ll watch from start to finish. He’s memorized dialog and acts out scenes. He gets up and dances with Gepetto and Pinocchio and sings along with “When You Wish Upon a Star.” As soon as the movie ends he starts it back up again. (Which is when Mean Mommy intercedes and shoos him outside for awhile.)
Each time he watches the movie again for the fourteenth or fiftieth or five-hundredth time, I wonder what it is about this particular movie captivates him so much. We’ve tried other Disney and other animated cartoons with nowhere near the same kind of success. There’s just something about Pinocchio that clicks with my son.
Of course I have no real way of finding out what it is about Pinocchio he loves. This goes far beyond his limited vocabulary, and we are talking about a three year old boy – not the most introspective population. Even if he had the vocabulary of a ten year old I rather doubt he would be able to verbalize what in the movie speaks to him.
So, while I drove us back from the lake yesterday, I wondered. And as I wondered I started thinking. (A dangerous past time, I know.*) And I realized that perhaps it’s not surprising that my autistic 3 year old is drawn to this movie. After all, it’s about a kid who will get to be a “real boy” if he’s good enough. And isn’t this the message we keep implicitly sending to borderline Spectrum kids like my son? After all, the whole point of his evaluations, his therapies, and his special school is to get him up to a “mainstream” standard, to “normalize” him, to make him into a “typical” or “real” boy. We parents may never say the words or vocalize something as clear as the promise by the Blue Fairy to Pinocchio to “Prove yourself brave, truthful, and unselfish, and someday, you will be a real boy. ” But we imply that if you do enough speech therapy (or occupational therapy or ABA or whatever), make enough eye contact (or whatever social skill), eat the right diet and make enough progress that someday you’ll be a “real” kid and not the labeled one you are now.
And this, of course, breaks my heart. After all, there is no guarantee that any of the stuff will work. My kid might always be labeled. And besides, he’s no less of a real boy even with a label, and I would hate to think that all of this has made him feel less than everyone else.
Of course, I am probably just overly reading into a simple movie passion. (A danger of having to analyze everything your child does.) For all I know, Castle loves Mickey Mouse and Pinocchio so much because they both wear red shorts.
At least when I asked him if he was a real boy, he told me yeah.
*From Disney’s Beauty & the Beast – from the Gaston song, which I love!