| Jun 27, 2016

"Finding Dory" and the exceptional child

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[WARNING: this post contains tons of spoilers!]

Dory is a fish, and she has a problem. You see, she doesn’t really have any short-term memory. That means you can have a conversation with her, but within second she forgets it -- and has the same conversation again. And again. She forgets so many important things, such as the fact that sea anemones sting, and she has to be very careful not to get lost. She’s well loved in her community, but her friends and loved ones clearly see her as a burden. The constant, repetitive conversations are annoying. She causes a great deal of annoyance and she requires a fair bit of looking after to make sure she doesn’t hurt herself -- but her memory issues lead her astray anyhow.

Dory, voiced by comedienne Ellen DeGeneres, is sweet, happy and very open about herself. She constantly tells those around her that she has short-term memory loss. She knows who she is and it doesn’t get her down.

As the film progresses, however, Dory’s perspective begins to shift. She begins to remember her childhood and her parents, in scenes that are often super cute. But other memories begin to return as well, mostly centered around her parents. They struggle to get her socialized; her memory issues clearly make it hard to make friends. They practice playing with other kids in a failed attempt to mix it up with the other little fish -- something she desperately wants to do. They constantly work to bolster her self-esteem. The image of the forgetful but happy-go-lucky little fish begins to crack.

Finally, Dory has a very sharp and agonizing memory that makes it clear that more is going on with her parents than their endlessly patient encouragement -- the burden placed on those around her by her disability is finally revealed, and she’s devastated. It is a truly painful moment.

In the end, Dory realizes not only that she is loved and accepted by everyone in her life, but that she has had a powerful positive impact on many folk she has met. She relates to people in her own unique way, emotionally connecting even with a grouchy, misanthropic acquaintance (well, the octopus equivalent of misanthropic). Most of all, her memory issues means she lives in the moment and follows her heart -- an example admired by her family and friends. Dory does, in other words, have her struggles, but she also shines in her individuality.

In the end, Dory’s disability is not something that holds her back or makes her a “broken toy” -- rather, it’s something that does, in words that have become so cliche around the world but in words that will forever be true, make her special. Educators who work with kids, including of course private tutors and in-home tutors, have an intimate understanding of all the exceptionalities and the struggles faced by the young people who have them. Indeed Tutor Doctor is guided by the knowledge that one-on-one, tailor-made tutoring can bring immense benefits to students with exceptionalities.

To sum up: Finding Dory is a super-entertaining (and highly successful) movie about the adventures of a fish and her pals, but it’s also a loving portrait of someone with special needs. Our society could use more such portraits.