Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Pinocchio: An Allegory of Our Son’s Battle with Autism

My son’s favorite DVD this week is the classic Disney animated feature, Pinocchio. For those of you who have forgotten much of the story as I did, Pinocchio is the tale of a wooden puppet that is brought to life by a blue fairy. He has a chance to become a real boy, but first, must prove himself to be brave, truthful and unselfish. The bulk of the movie involves Pinocchio’s encounters with all sorts of unsavory characters who try to take advantage of his innocence. He sometimes falls prey to temptations and he has to learn the difference between right and wrong.

We gave our son a book version of the story many months ago but he never really got into it. Last week, however, Kai opened it up and we read it several times at bedtime. Then, over the weekend, he wanted to get the movie from the library and he’s watched it every day since.

I’ve been trying to figure out why he likes Pinocchio so much. As my son is also a huge fan of Charlie Brown, there are the common characteristics of good-hearted little boys. And, even as Kai laughs hysterically at the funny things that happen to Pinocchio, I think he also sees himself in these characters. In the case of Pinocchio, Kai shares the wide-eyed wonder of a boy who is exploring his world as if he were noticing it for the first time.

To me, my son’s similarity with Pinocchio goes even beyond this shared innocence. I see Pinocchio as symbolic of the journey that Kai has made in his battle against autism.

When Kai was two years old, he did not respond to people, almost as if he were made of wood and did not hear you. As he progressed with his ABA therapy, he did start to respond. But, then his responses were often robotic, giving only the exact answers he was taught to say, somewhat akin to a puppet being controlled by the puppeteer. Now, he is speaking more freely and his transformation is not unlike Pinocchio’s becoming “a real boy.”

At the beginning of the movie, Jiminy Cricket sings, “when you wish upon a star, dreams come true.” In the end, Pinocchio proved himself to be brave, truthful, and unselfish and became “a real boy.”

Our son is proving himself every day and our dreams are coming true, too.

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