«Just because you don’t understand something does not mean it is wrong. -Merlin Backgrounds of key players: Ron Suskind – From early on, I told ...»
Disney also provided the opportunity for much practice with metaphors, similes, irony and sarcasm. The Disney characters are ideal for this kind of distilled deconstruction– all the behavior of the characters is oriented to advance the plot (except for humor). There is almost no extraneous action, no “wasted moves”. The stories parallel the events in life that we are just not prepared to face. We learn that heroes and sidekicks offer guidance for confronting the unknown and what does not seem survivable.
Widening the Cast Drawing from Carl Jung (1990), we linked Disney characters to archetypes (such as those in myths, fairy tales, biblical stories). The hero is one of the main archetypes.
The maiden - who represents purity, innocence, and, naivete.
The wise old man - reveals to the nature of our collected wisdom the collective unconscious.
The "dark father" the master of the dark side.
the animal archetype, representing humanity's relationships with the animal world.
These include many of the “sidekicks” in Disney movies.
The trickster's role is to hamper the hero's progress and to make trouble.
The archetypes and the interchanges between characters provided a foundation of adaptable scripts for day-to-day interactions for Owen. They helped decode human motivation (e.g., love, envy/jealousy, power, insecurity, loyalty, friendship, etc.), lying and subterfuge, and complicated things like ambivalence and the role of memory. Eventually Owen took the characters to heart and formed mental representations of the characters as they differed in their relationships and contexts. Their inconsistencies provided a clue to why people say or do one thing in this situation and something quite different in another one. The complexities came alive, and Owen began to be able to reflect the characters apart from the actual scenes he perfectly memorized. The characters’ contradictions and unpredictability became predictable, as Owen attended closely to social details and contexts. These gains began to serve as a template for navigating the social world with greater predictive accuracy. All family members helped bridge the concepts to real life issues.
A key part of the therapy was in tapping unexpected metaphors. While a hero might seem like a natural choice, a brave knight or the heroic lion king, sidekicks were often more usefulthe characters that helped the “hero” fulfill his destiny. These characters were usually archetypal and started with Owen’s faultless memory for scripted lines but together we helped them become guiding tropes: a consistent voice mixed with wit, warmth and faith that eventually could be applied to new situations.
Owen picked Merlin (from Disney’s “The Sword in the Stone”) as an early inner guide. Merlin never doubted in love’s power over the most improbable circumstances, even more than magic. Later, Rafiki nudged the family members more devilishly than Merlin’s more straightforward challenges to Arthur. He did not seek to make others comfortable. (“Can’t cut it out, it will grow right back.”) Iago modeled irony and wit (“Uh, am I missing something here? We're about to take a permanent residence in the Netherworld and Genie's gonna straighten out his sock draw…”).
What image goes with the person? The image and the metaphor can help trigger the tipping point: the addition or increment that seems unimportant, but unexpectedly is just the amount of additional change that will lead to a large result and enough to bolster the child or parent to move to a different pattern of action. The metaphor can increase our “selfefficacy” -- our judgment about being able to perform a particular activity.
Self-efficacy is a person's "I can" or "I cannot" belief. Unlike self-esteem, which reflects how individuals feel about their worth or value, self-efficacy reflects how confident people can cope with the challenge before them.
People with low self-efficacy toward a task are more likely to avoid it, while those with high self-efficacy are more likely to attempt the task, but they also will work harder and persist longer in the face of difficulties. And the social world is rife with difficulties.
Some Lessons Owen Drew From Aladdin
1. What is it that makes a person like another person? Aladdin has it all wrong- why does he believe what he believes? Are there things about yourself that you have tried to hide from other people or make them believe something else about you? What happens when you pretend to be someone you aren’t? What makes you who you are?
2. If you met your prince or princess, what might you be tempted to lie about in order to impress them? What makes you think that is a good idea? What makes you doubt that?
3. Why is lying so tempting- given all the trouble it usually seems to cause? Is it ever ok to lie?
4. Would it be a good thing if you got everything you wish for? Pause….then, how could you know? All you know is that you want it and you think it would be a good thing, but as Jafar finds out, you might discover that getting what you wish for could be a catastrophe.
5. The Genie is imprisoned by the bottle; are the other characters prisoners in ways that are not as easy to see? Are you a prisoner of something you long to become free of?
6. Did you ever make a promise to a friend when it seemed easy and then discovered later that it was really hard to keep your promise?
Mowgli at the Seder Freedom!-We used Passover as an opportunity to identify something Owen would like to be free of. He settled on working to be free of the fear of becoming a man. This tied easily to the dilemma Mowgli faced- not wanting to go to the man village because it would entail his becoming a man. To Owen this was wrong sighted- Mowgli has to fulfill his destiny, to become a man. Owen came to appreciate the inevitability of his destiny, which is to advance in age and ultimately become a man. He was sure that all it would entail was horrible, irreversible loss, and irretrievable memories. Owen was long unable to consider this was a perspective that could be tested. Mowgli helped him broaden his perspective and calmed some of his fear.
Talking to Yourself After being bullied in High School, Owen went through a variety of traumatic response therapies to get over the trauma, but found himself in slipping, at 16, in to serious bout of regression. The notion that his self-talk, common among ASD, was more productive than the medical literature acknowledged (this is a behavior therapy strives to reduce) had dawned on us. The precise nature of its value, and mechanisms involved, remained unclear. During the bullying, Ron noticed that Owen seemed to be in sotto voce conversation with a particular sidekick – Philoctetes, or Phil, who trains Hercules for battle. Only later, was it clear that he was trying to gird himself for battle with the bullies. But as the regression deepened, Ron wondered which Sidekick would be appropriate and effective in guiding Owen now.
Sitting with Dan, with Owen in the waiting room, he told Dan to ask Owen what one of the wise sidekicks would advis “a boy like Owen,” who wants to return to the past because the future – the adult world – terrifies him. In the session, moments later, Dan proferred this question, saying what would Rafiki tell the boy. Owen, without skipping a beat, said, “I’d prefer Merlin.” In Merlin’s voice, he recited a favorite line from the movie – “Knowledge and wisdom is the real power” – and then launching into an improvised riff, still in Merlin’s voice, that summoned interpretive speech and incisive guidance that was beyond anything he could manage in his own voice. This is a first full glimpse into the development of “inner speech,” comporting with theories of Leo Vygotksy, a crucial capacity underlying selfknowledge and executive function that is generally considered beyond ken of those with ASD. Over the coming years, all members of Team Owen – Ron, Cornelia, older brother, Walt, and Dan Griffin – nourished, shaped and guided this capacity. But it is clear that Owen developed it before it was formally noticed and deepens it, freely and independently, in his young adult life. This is humbling and heartening: the goal, after all, was for Owen to need us less and, ever more, guide his own ship. More and more, our advice to him is, simply, “Sail on!” A Smart Phone Metaphor Suggestion Most of us construe ourselves as a kind of first generation Ipod: a finite library of songs, that is, a more or less limited and fixed “self”. Inconsistency It is in our best interest to construe of ourselves as a later model, hot-spot, broad-band, wellconnected Smart Phone. Such a device can gain access an expansive, virtually infinite array of abilities, personages and far-reaching archetypes. We are always more than we present what we believe we are. Those potentialities, that pantheon from heroes to sidekicks, are enhanced by our family, our culture and our experiences. If we are fortunate, we learn how to gain access to this trove of possibilities when we need to. Affinity Therapy provides a map to this trove of possibilities.
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