One kickass family, finding your tribe, and other lessons from Finding Dory

By Laura Smith|December 19, 2016|Apraxia, apraxia blog, Childhood Apraxia of Speech, developmental coordination disorder, dyspraxia, global apraxia, special needs|

I finally watched “Finding Dory” last night.  I had already wanted to see that movie because I’m sorry, Ellen Degeneres is awesome, and her Dory character in Finding Nemo is the best!

However, when the movie came out, my clients started asking me if I had seen it.  “No…” was my reply as I sighed in disappointment.

“You HAVE to see it!” was the resounding response.  Yeah, yeah, I know.  I want to.  In good time.  I will.  One day.  Then I started to read about it on the disability pages and websites I’m part of.  Finding Dory had struck a cord with a variety of disabilities including: depression, autism,  sensory processing disorder…the list goes on.  I purposely didn’t read them so the movie wouldn’t be spoiled.

Ashlynn is seven and to this has never been interested or captivated by movies.  She completely checks out and gets distracted and then I’m annoyed and movie time is over.  Whatever.

Jace is better at watching shows, but he has about a 30 minute attention span for a story.  Now he can watch 3 successive 30 minute shows, but watching an entire movie is not really his forte either.  I obtained a copy of Finding Dory, and since I’m on break, I was finally able to fire up the DVD player and put in a movie.  It was seriously below zero outside and I was excited to get cozy and watch a movie with the kids. Ashlynn was interested for about 3 minutes before she announced she was going downstairs to play with her dad.  Jace snuggled with me for about 30 minutes, his max, before dragging out toys and playing with them.  So much for that fantasy.  Oh well…


If you know me, you know I talk about emotional intelligence.  I talk about it so much because I wish it was valued as much as intellectual intelligence.  I have met brilliant people who literally cannot function in society or hold a job because they have zero ability to relate to other people.  I would argue they have a disability in emotional intelligence, but  no one cares about emotional intelligence so those people don’t get the proper help they need either.

This may be me because I think too much, and please don’t quote me because I am only stating an observation, not a research article; but isn’t it curious that many people who are gifted in intellectual intelligence seem to have a deficit in emotional intelligence, and those considered to have an intellectual deficit seem to have a heightened emotional intelligence?

Let me give you an example.  I have a young 5th grade friend in the schools who has Down Syndrome.  This kid is some sort of angel.  I mean, everyone loves him!  Even my toughest, most challenging fifth graders will smile and tell me, oh yea…he’s cool.  Sure they know he’s different, but he just has this special charisma you can’t NOT love.  I mean I know I’m biased, but I LOVE this kid.  If I’m having a bad day, or even if I’m not, this kid makes it instantly better with his smile, his incredible memory for names despite his memory difficulties for other tasks, and his social competence.

I was talking to the main school SLP before break, and she was telling me a friend we have with autism in the 1st grade started school and his mom was terrified no one would like him.  One day when she was picking him up, this fifth grade friend was passing by, and stopped and asked if this woman was the 1st grade friend’s mom.  She replied yes and he smiled his big perfect smile and announced how happy he was to have this boy at his school, and he said the boy’s name.  When he walked away, the mom was crying because she was so happy that someone had noticed her son and not shunned him, and someone had actually even known him by name.

THAT’S emotional intelligence.  To have THAT effect on a mother of a special needs child takes an incredible person, and that person is my 5th grade friend who just happens to have Down Syndrome.

Oh but I digress.  Back to Dory.

Where do I even start with this movie??  I guess since I’m on the topic, let’s start with emotional intelligence.

Dory suffers from short term memory loss.  Consequently, she is not the person, ahem fish, who is good at math, reading, writing,  or following directions.

She WAS, however,  the fish to whom young Nemo looked up to the most.  He felt loved by her.  At the end of the day, do you want to be with someone who is smart, or who makes you feel loved?  I’m pretty sure most people would say the latter.

Let’s go to her parents.  She does finally find them, and as she gets closer to home, she starts remembering more and more.  Maya Angelou said, “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but they will never forget the way you made them feel.”

Dory started to feel loved again, and through this she started to remember more and more.  She starts to remember the encouragement of her parents,

“It means you can do whatever you put your mind to.”

“When life gets you down…just keep swimming.”

I smiled watching those moments and thought of a phrase someone told me once when talking about prognostic indicators, “Don’t underestimate the power of one kick ass family.”  Dory found her way back IN SPITE of her disability because of her belief in herself that was fostered and ingrained by her family.

Finally, the parents.  Watching the opening scenes and seeing their realization as to the extent of her disability, but then the resolve to put things in place to help her overcome it speaks to EVERY family I have met.  The anxiety that is 10x magnified when you have a child with special needs, the strategies you try and teach to help them compensate, and the undying hope they exhibited at the end of the movie as Dory realized they spent the entire time she was missing laying out shells for her to find her way home……it speaks to the painful yet infinite hope we parents have in our children.

Finally, when Dory was reunited with her biological parents, she was separated from the surrogate family, Marlin and Nemo, she had known now for years.  Her parents understandably didn’t want her to risk her life again to get them, but she was not deterred.  They were her family too, if not by blood…they had been loyal, they understood her and accepted her, and appreciated her for all of her talents.  So much so, that Nemo frequently used the phrase, “What would Dory do?” to problem solve.

So no.  Dory went back and rescued Marlin and Nemo, because if you are in the special needs community, you know what it feels like to have found your tribe, even if they aren’t blood; and so you will go back because your tribe understands you, they love you just for who you are, and when you have found your people, it is unacceptable, no UNIMAGINABLE  to lose them too.

Finally, at the end, Dory’s memory has improved and she is living with her biological parents and surrogate family..her tribe.  She declares she is going to swim to the drop off..a known danger zone if the fish ventures further.  Marlin, her surrogate friend freaks out, reigns it in, and then supports her.  Fearing for her safety though, he cautiously follows her to make sure nothing happens.

Without looking back she remarks,

“Hello Marlin,”

to which he tries to casually play off.  She of course though has a heightened emotional intelligence and tells him, “You look worried.”

He replies something to the effect that he’s pretty sure that’s just his face now and I cracked up!  My God that will be Ashlynn some day.  She will be spreading her wings, and I will want her to so I will support it, but then I will stalk her and she will know it and tell me I look worried and I will answer her with words that could never be more true,

“It’s fine. It’s how I always look.”

So yeah… fish movie left me with all that!  If you haven’t seen it, I’ll channel my clients and tell you,

“You HAVE to see that movie!”




Share this Post: