I know why Elsa wears her gloves, I wish I had a mama pair too. Those gloves not only prevent the queen from hurting people she loves but they keep her safe from being frowned upon;
“Elsa, don’t let them see the monster you really are.”
A metaphoric barrier which protects her from society – I wonder if Disney would mind sending me a pair too?
As a parent to an autistic child, who I witness in so much distress and who experiences self-loathing (due to losing control in front of others), it feels like this film was written for us personally. When Elsa’s sibling Anna questions her sister with these words, it sends goose pimples down my spine:
“Why do you shut me out? Why do you shut the world out? What are you so afraid of?”
I have studied my daughter and realised that she succeeded in shutting me out; she hid her true self away and it was only when she started school that her identity was ever exposed. Under the microscopic eye of being in a restricted and uncontrollable environment, her gloves fell off and she allowed all to see the pain she was in.
She had successfully masked her PDA (and often does so in certain places or with chosen individuals). I have since learnt that many children with learning disabilities mask their difficulties, not just children with PDA. This often frustrates parents as professionals may not take their worries seriously.
My daughter keeps her gloves on until she is too anxious and the cracks begin to appear. Once she’s had exposure, there’s no going back. I try to steer her to a safe place where she can open up and recover from the distress. As you might have guessed, she no longer shuts me out. I’m her true ally now and having followed the PDA strategies for parenting, she feels safe with me.
I’m trying to look at it through her eyes and see why does she feel the need to shut the world out? I’ve worked out that people don’t understand her – she is confronted by a stream of frowns and stares and being told to do it differently. Maybe it’s the added baggage of having me: an embarrassed mum forever apologising behind her. That probably adds to her view of self-loathing.
Sometimes I dread to go out for fear of being judged at how I handle a situation. This need to shut out has rubbed off on me and I often feel like I just want to cocoon away. I can’t take another person confront me about my parenting or to feel like I have to be hyperactively vigilant to survive outside of the home. I’m too scared to just let it go how can I teach her to?
Maybe it’s because we have also been shut out by so many people that she feels an inability to show her true self. To be told that nobody is willing to work with her or to discover teachers gossiping that she doesn’t belong in their school- well it cuts me deeper than a knife. She may not have heard those words, but once uttered they have an impact on the whole family. I’m the first person to admit how complex her needs are but I will be the last person to give up on her.
When Elsa’s gloves come off in Frozen we as the audience still love her as our heroine. We see the beauty not the monster – more importantly we understand when she is not in control; she doesn’t choose it that way.
Maybe my monster has learnt to cope this way in school and rarely shows the glimmers of the princess inside. But I assure you she is there. She makes more appearances at weekends and school holidays and I know for sure she was there before we ever entered mainstream education. I love her with her gloves off, I just wish others could do too. I would like to hope that there are still teaching staff out there ‘wanting’ to overcome those challenges with her and to help her manage independently in society without having her gloves.
I’m sure this is also part of her fascination with adopting new personas – she can pretend to be somebody new. It’s merely a coping strategy. She spent many months last year dressing up as Kevin from Home Alone or Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz – her learning journal opens with the name: Kevin. The days when she adopts a character’s persona are often the times when she is at her most happiest. She loves nothing more than camouflaging behind a false identity. In costume she is able to let it go.
Back to Frozen and I will use Anna’s words as they resonate so deeply to a child with PDA:
Please don’t shut me out again,
Please don’t slam the door
You don’t have to keep your distance anymore
‘Cause for the first time in forever,
I finally understand
For the first time in forever,
We can fix this hand in hand
We can head down this mountain together!
You don’t have to live in fear…
‘Cause for the first time in forever
I will be right here.
We didn’t give up on Elsa, let’s not give up on kids who can’t control their emotions, for whatever reason that they behave differently to what we expect. There will always be reasons behind the communication they are showing. It may just be their only way of saying just how they are feeling. My daughter doesn’t need to be frozen in fear any longer – as her mum I too will be right here for her. I just need to find a way to teach her how she doesn’t need to still shut the world out.