Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Elf on the Spectrum

Elf is a favorite movie of ours this time of year. It's not about the real reason for Christmas--which I usually prefer--but it does tap into two of my special interests: adoption and autism.

Buddy crawls into Santa's bag at an orphanage and ends up being raised by a very fatherly elf played by Bob Newhart. His dad honorably encourages when he wants to search for his birthparents in New York City...and is there for him when he returns.

I get a kick out of Buddy, the elf, who has to learn the ways of what seems like a different planet. When he arrives in New York City, he has much to learn. Despite the warnings from his adoptive father that gum on the street is not free candy, he enjoys it all. How is he to know that waving people are hailing cabs not being friendly and the "world's best cup of coffee" is merely an overused idiom. Oh, how Carol Gray's Social Stories would help him or Michelle Garcia Winner's You are a Social Detective book or a book on idioms!

Like those articulate adults on the autism spectrum who liken their experience to being anthropologists from Mars or citizens on the Wrong Planet, Buddy will have to study hard and have many tutors before he can even pretend to be "normal" or fit in. Innately, he is not at all bad though. Actually, his honesty and sweetness are refreshing to some. His idiosyncracies makes him vulnerable though, to others and are a social obstacle to overcome.

Countless moments come to mind when Reid has done quirky and "socially inappropriate things" (that's how you get the diagnosis, after all). Depending on your prerogative the things on that list can range from being appalling to endearing. I am the first to correct him, sometimes. Other times, I like to enjoy the luxury and gift of sitting back and purely accepting, appreciating the unique creation that he is, his magnificent mind, and his own perspective on the world.

I recall once during a church service when he was giggling, flirting, and practically dancing with the woman behind us. She is now a friend who I know, trust, and love but, at the time I hadn't met her. Feeling responsible to uphold his "program goals" and maintain the decorum of the service, I kept shushing him and using those not-so-magic words like, "quiet voice," "eyes in front," and who knows what else. Their shenanigans continued. Clearly, both were enjoying the interaction. This animated woman was instigating him not to mention distracting from my effort. I was torn between the two sides of my love. The soft side wanting to encourage their soul connection and get her phone number; the hard side towing the line on behavioral reinforcement.

These are the kind of internal dilemmas that give me neck pain. He really wasn't doing anything morally wrong. In fact, one could argue he was setting a better example than others of hospitality and worship by giving his whole self in the moment. What's a mom to do? Love unconditionally or train toward independence? Both, in turns I suppose.

Maybe this Christmas for just a day or even a hour, while school is out and no one's looking, let's let our kids be who they are without any correction. Let them refresh our perspective on the planet and the kingdom.

I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." Mark 10:14-16

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Hebrews 13:1-3

They are focused on earthly things, but our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Philippians 3:20


  1. I loved the last bit you wrote. That's real acceptance and love.

  2. We love the movie Elf! The part when he's on the elevator pressing all the buttons is a total Rhema move... and then there's the tantrum in the department store - another Rhema move. I recall actually being a little sad when they put Buddy in a suit. But then he danced in it in the mailroom.

    Reid seems to be learning appropriate social behavior well, but also keeping his beautiful, pure spirit. That's a gift.