Thursday, November 1, 2012

ParaNorman. . . .

I'm going to break away from tradition a bit on this blog and use a movie as my blog title instead of a song because there wasn't a song out there that would translate what I wanted to say better than this movie.

But before I get into why, I'd like to tell you a story.

My brother married a woman with three boys, and each one of those boys has a different form of autism. For the most part, they are all non-speaking kids and have stemming quirks that either calm them or cause a problem for them. It has become very common in my family to hear one boy flush the toilet constantly, the other sing a tune in his own language, have constant clapping, touching, interruptions and best of all, kids covered in either dirt or water.

It is sometimes difficult to explain to small children, and even adults, what's happening when others encounter our family. But I was not really prepared for what was said by a young boy describing my nephews. He told me that "There's something wrong in their heads that makes them not act normal. Something's all screwed up." I was completely taken back by his description of them and immediately tried to explain it in a way that was feasible to a six year old and also wasn't rooted in ignorance. I tried to tell him that there's nothing wrong with their brains, but it's more like they're wearing a mask and this mask makes it difficult for them to talk, listen, see, etc. That there is nothing wrong with them but that they just have a hard time taking what's going on on the inside and sending it outside to all of us.

The attention span of this group is of course limited and so the subject changed very quickly. However my mind, and my husband's, dwelled on it for some time. We felt that what he had said was beyond wrong. And we were upset, in the most Aunt-&-Uncle-Bear way, that this boy spoke about our family this way. But we couldn't get mad at the boy, he is only six. Who we can direct our writhing emotions to are his parents. How ignorant are they to explain such a thing as autism to a kid as "just something screwy in their heads". It was obvious to me that his parents have not taken the time to educate themselves enough on autism to explain it, and therefore tried to explain it away by placing it in the general category of "not normal".

This brings me to the movie ParaNorman. In this movie this young, unsuspecting boy has no friends and is constantly teased. In the movie, there's a scene between Norman and his Dad that is completely heartbreaking.

Norman: This is so unfair! I wish everyone could see what I see. I didn't ask to be born this way. . .
Dad: Neither did we.

Even his Dad, someone who's supposed to love him unconditionally, wishes he was different, more "normal". Poor Norman goes around in his day, fighting off bullies, cruel words, teasing and loneliness all because he has something about him that others do not understand. Norman can see ghosts, and to Norman, this IS his normal.

Through Norman's adventure he comes to a conclusion about people, and he said something that will stick with me forever.

Norman: Sometimes when people get scared, they say and do terrible things.

I will be the first to admit, that when I see someone with a disability, I'm not sure how to approach them. I have a moment where I'm scared. I believe we all have these moments. However, it's what we do after that moment of fear, that will shape who we are.

Norman's Grandma: There's nothing wrong with being scared, Norman, as long as it doesn't change who you are.

Putting ones with autism, or anyone who is different from your version of normal, in a group that labels them as not normal is just you being scared. Saying things that are not in love towards anyone different from you, is just you being scared. Being ignorant of other's because of their disability (or anything you dislike or are uneducated about) is just you being scared. It is so difficult sometimes to fight that feeling of fear and break out of your box to understand someone else's life. The easy road is to just make fun of them and forget that they are human, just like you. But this is the worst way of thinking/behaving imaginable!

The theme to my blog is basically that perception is the key to all understanding. If you are going to sit back and keep yourself ignorant by un-educating yourself and closing your mind to what is the truth about other people, and then teach that ignorance to your children, you will only be breeding bullies. And that is just what you are when you treat others in any negative fashion, disability or not. In the movie, Norman befriends a young boy named Neil who is also teased relentlessly for being fat. However, even though Neil completely understands what's happening to him, he does not let it get him down. He is simply a happy person. Neil has a line that I feel is true to anyone who chooses to take that fear and breed ignorance.

Neil: You could be a bully too, if you were bigger and dumber.

I loved this movie. I loved it more than just about any movie I have seen and will be up there with some of my more intellectual favorites, ie. Lars and the Real Girl I know it's just a kid's movie, but I feel it really makes you think. I hope you all get the chance to see it and possibly think about the way you treat someone "different" from yourself. I don't think we will ever completely be rid of this natural fear that comes with the unknown, but don't let that stop you from becoming someone amazing. Don't let that keep you from being that amazing person to someone else.

So I ask you this, Have you let fear change who you are today?