How an Obsession With Disney Helped This Boy With Autism Find His Words

DC, my 25-year-old autistic son has a complete, over-the-top obsession with all things Disney. This obsession began when he was about six months old. He loved to watch Disney Sing-A-Long videos, over and over.

DC didn’t take naps as a baby. He didn’t like the playpen. He liked the bouncing chair but was over it after a few days. The swing lasted a little longer than a few days, but he was quite over that after a week or two. He didn’t like to play with toys. He wasn’t happy unless he was being carried around. Disney sing-a-long tapes were the only thing that captured his attention. So yes, I used them.  For 30 minutes, I was free to do something else.

He graduated quickly to full length movies. The “Jungle Book” was the first full length movie he owned. I was a bit surprised that he was able to pay complete attention for the entire length of a 90-minute movie at nine months old.

His obsession with Disney grew from there, especially for Cinderella. The boy loved his princesses! It got to the point that this “one movie” or “one Sing-a-long” a day was interfering with everything else we needed to do. He was so preoccupied with watching a movie that he didn’t want to do anything else. I didn’t want to take his movies away from him – he loved them, but I had to try to limit his movie watching to weekends only. This did not go over well at all.

One night, when he was four-years-old, DC wanted to watch a Disney movie, and I told him he no. Now, at the time he was non-verbal, afraid of the dark and would never think to go anywhere without me. Communication was rough, he was still having meltdowns and really had a hard time understanding many things – but on this night, when I told him he could not watch a movie, he took his video, put it under his arm, marched to the front door and signed “Dad.” He was determined to go to Dad’s house because apparently he would allow him to watch his movie.

DC had officially learned how to play the “Guilt Card.” Obviously, he wasn’t going to go outside in the dark, but he did make me feel awful and as always, like the bad guy. No, he did not get to watch his movie, but I realized then that he understood much more than I’d been giving him credit for.

Cinderella led to his fixation with flowing dresses and shiny shoes. Out in public, he would grab at strangers wearing flowy dresses or skirts. He’d get on all fours to stare at their shiny shoes. This wasn’t always welcomed by the people wearing the “Cinderella-like” garb. I had to be aware of everyone and what they were wearing at all times  to avoid uncomfortable situations.

Around this time, I had a long flowy gauze type skirt. It was hand washable of course. I always had to be careful about drying it. We lived on the second floor and I was afraid that if I were to hang it to dry on the clothes line, DC would try to go out there to play with it – yes, among the other worries and issues these were the other things I had to think about. So I used to hang it on a hanger from the shower head and close the shower curtain so he would not see it. One night, in the middle of the night, I woke to giggles, and some thrashing about. I went into the bathroom to find DC in the bathtub playing with the hanging skirt. I got rid of it not long after.

There was ONE Disney book in his classroom when he was in his “in-between birth to 3 and Kindergarten” SPED classroom. It was the Little Mermaid. His teacher hid this book on a daily basis because he couldn’t concentrate on anything else knowing the book was in the classroom.

Every day he found it.

She went to great lengths in hiding it – finally hiding it in a storage closet that DC had never stepped inside of – but as always he found it. It was almost as if he could sense it.

It took a while but we finally had the movies in check and he did get past searching for that book. I didn’t want to take Disney away from him altogether. I wanted him to learn to live with Disney but not be overtaken by it. When he seemed to be in that place, it was decided it would be safe to take him to Disney World without him regressing back into his Disney-Obsessed behavior.

I know, I know… “Why would you do that”? and again I’ll say that I didn’t want to take away something he loved so much, I just wanted him to be able to function around it.

His first trip to Disney World was when he was seven and it was there that his first words (other than “Momma) were spoken:

  • Bus (because he knew the bus would be taking us to one of the parks each day)
  • Room (because we all know how much DC loves a hotel room, even back then)
  • “Citronelle” (DC-Speak for Cinderella)
  • ‘Too-pay’ (DC-Speak for Peter Pan)
  • “Dal-may-zaas” (DC-Speak for Dalmatians)

For a boy whose only word up until this point was “Momma” – I thought “Dal-may-zaas” was quite amazing.

After a very long hunt, he was able to find and meet “Citronelle” for the very first time. He’d meet her many other times over the years and it is remains exciting for him, but nothing will ever compare to their first meeting – ever.

A trip to Disney World helped this boy with autism find more words. On that trip, he added four words to his vocabulary when previously, he only said Momma!

Moving on to grammar school, we thought the Disney book distraction was behind him. Just to play it safe, his new teachers removed Disney of any kind from the classroom before the school year began. We thought we had this covered, but little did I know, there was an entire Library in this school full of Disney books. Realizing very quickly that this was becoming a problem, they were removed as well (for the first few months he was there, anyway, then they slowly came back so he was not overwhelmed with a large number of books all at once).

Now that he was becoming more and more verbal, he began reciting random movie lines. The lines he recited did not always have anything to do with what was going on at the time (they still don’t), they were just what might have been spinning around in his head. Some were recognizable right away, others were obscure lines that really many people would not know.

While dropping him off at Daycare one morning before school, he bowed to me and said “Thank you Lucifer.” Now I know that Lucifer is Cinderella’s cat, but really, how many other people could make that connection? Fortunately, the Daycare staff got it but I still felt it necessary to e-mail his teacher to let him know that we’re not worshiping Satan at home (and yes, that e-mail made his day).

While walking through the grocery store “Please don’t send me away, I like it here!” (Disney’s “Summer Magic” – there are very few people who even know of that movie, never mind that particular line).

Now that he’s older, he has more of a handle on his obsession. He is not so distracted by Disney that he can’t or won’t do anything else. Still, he’s limited to movies on weekends. He will spout the random movie line. He still loves his princesses. He will almost always assign anyone he meets a princess or Disney character name.

If you’re wearing a flowy dress, he’ll ask you to spin. Most people oblige.

A trip to Disney World helped this boy with autism find more words. On that trip, he added four words to his vocabulary when previously, he only said Momma!

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