I often have unexpected encounters during my time at the Disney Parks and my last trip was no exception to that. It is unsurprising that one might have conversations with random strangers. There is a lot of time spent in line waiting for things: rides, characters, buses, meals. And when you wait for a while, you get to talking. One of my conversations was with an autistic seven year old and her grandma.
We were waiting in line to meet Joy and Sadness from “Inside Out”. The Princess and the Duchess were off gallivanting without me since they had other things to do. The little girl noticed I was in line alone and mentioned (loudly) to her grandma that I needed to have a kid with me. Grandma apologized. I informed her that there was no need for an apology and explained to the little girl that my kid was big now, but I still liked getting autographs. We then began to share the pages of our books with each other. I had a lot more signatures than she did. I explained that my book was from more than one trip to Disney. Grandma informed me that hers was too, but they didn’t get a lot of signatures because it was hard for the little girl to wait in the lines. They would get into short lines when they could, so their book was a little thin. (Though the little girl had signed one of the pages herself.)
I noticed that the line we were in was a little long. It wasn’t Anna & Elsa long, but we had been in line for about twenty minutes at this point and the little girl seemed to be doing fairly well. Grandma told me that they had talked about how long the line would be and the little girl was committed to waiting because meeting the emotions was very important to her.
“Inside Out” had been a defining movie for the little girl. Like most on the autism spectrum, she has a hard time identifying and responding appropriately to emotions, both in herself and others. For her, having a face and definition for five emotions was a huge tool for coping. The characters gave her an objective measurement for what she was feeling. She could compare her emotions to the ones depicted in the movies. Once she identified what she was feeling, her family could help her learn what an appropriate response should be. They were also using the film to help her identify emotions in others. She was learning to recognize when people were acting like the characters in the movie and learning how she was supposed to react to them. Grandma could see the difference in the little girl in the time since they had watched the movie. And while the little girl might not have been able to identify the difference the movie made in her life, the fact that she was willing to tough it through a long (for her) line to meet these characters speaks volumes.
I have written a couple of times about how meaningful I find “Inside Out”. It tackled negative emotions in a positive way that was empowering for people who aren’t happy all the time. It was amazing to me to hear how the film has also become a tool to teach emotional intelligence.
Too many people, not just those with neurological disorders have difficulty identifying their emotions. Researchers have found that when people cannot correctly identify the emotion they are feeling they respond to situations in an inappropriate manner. Men and boys especially default to anger instead of fear or sadness which causes them to lash out sometimes to the point of violence. Being able to correctly identify what we are feeling helps us to deal with the causes and unravel the emotion in the right way. The fact that a Disney/Pixar film is helping children with this process is a beautiful thing.
Emotions are important. All of them, not just the ‘good’ ones. Anything we can use as a tool to teach this to our children or ourselves is worthwhile and important. The fact that “Inside Out” is easy to understand and has identifiable icons of basic emotions makes it an accessible tool for a lot of people.
I stood in line to see Joy and Sadness because I like to get autographs. For others, meeting them was a moment that acknowledges how far they’ve come and how important those two characters have been in their lives. I was blessed to be a small part of that experience for someone else.