HomeDr WhoNeurodiversity In Fiction

Last night, I had the opportunity to see Happy Feet.

It was a very cute movie, with great animation and get-up-‘n-go music, even if it did end up being blatant that it was made for children by adults with an agenda.
Politics aside, Mumble’s story hit home for me.
Mumble’s Struggles
Very cute movie.

For those not in the know, this little penguin was born into a culture that communicated and courted mates through singing. However, because he hatched late, due to being exposed to the cold for too long, he couldn’t sing. Instead, he communicated through dance.

Many types of neurodiversity are thought to be based in birth or gestational problems, which effected brain development.
The movie went on to illustrate his numerous problems in their mode of education and social issues his differences brought on. Eventually, he became separated from his colony and met up with a group of misfits from a population of a different penguin species.
When he met that group, he learned how it felt to be appreciated for his gifts, instead of constantly ridiculed and cast because of them.
Regardless of other issues it may have had, it did offer a valuable lesson in how being different isn’t bad, and how those differences can be optimized to compliment the talents of “normal” people.
Robin Williams voiced a few of the characters, and we know he’s struggled with ADHD, but I wouldn’t at all be surprised if there were other neurodiverse folks involved in the movie’s production.
The first several
seasons were the best,
in my humble opinion.


Off the top of my head, another specific influence of neurodiversity on the plot of entertainment comes from the X-Files.
I believe the episode was later on in the series run, somewhere in season 8 or 9. One of the newer agents was badly hurt and ended up in a coma. She wasn’t really dead, but since her brain wasn’t functioning, her spirit was transferred to a smaller model of the hospital hidden away in an assistant’s basement room.
Of course, she and the other two patients she ran into knew where they were. A couple of scenes showed clip-boards with paperwork. When they zoomed in on the paperwork, the words were either completely reversed or jumbled beyond understanding.
It turns out the assistant who unwittingly controlled that small world couldn’t read at all. Because she was never given the extra help to accommodate her disabilities, she couldn’t go on to achieve her dream of becoming a medical professional.
In the end, she found some measure of personal power in changing the rules of her inner world to allow the agent’s soul to reunite with her body.
The assistant’s sense of personal helplessness enslaved both herself and the spirits of coma patients. When she was able to grasp her power, she was able to release both the agent’s spirits and her own.
I loved 9, but all
of the Doctors are
absolutely amazing.

Dr. Who

As I was writing that last section, I also remembered an episode of Dr. Who.
I can’t remember the exact premise, but the child who was in the group with the Doctor was dyslexic. In fact, I seem to remember the episode opening with the boy struggling to read with his father.
Anyway, once shenanigans ensued, the kid wanted to help the group, and I seem to remember the Doctor asking him to either write or read a list of some sort.
When the boy said that he couldn’t read because he was dyslexic, the Doctor asked if he could draw a map instead. All too often, an adult’s reaction in fiction or reality would be to brush the child off.
I wish I could remember which episode it was and the exact lines that followed. I believe the Doctor had said something about how the child should follow his dreams and regardless of obstacles in his path.
I find these small examples of neurodiversity in movies and TV-shows very encouraging, to be honest. Instead of making people who communicate differently into victims who need to be saved or burdens on the rest of the world, these writers show that the individuals do have value and can make valid contributions, even if it is just in the life of one person.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the deep divisions in the world, lately. Yes, injustice happens entirely too often to all marginalized groups, and anger is an understandable response, but if we can’t get past that knee jerk reaction, progress can’t be made.
One important avenue to do this through is fiction. If you think about it, mythology has taught people life lessons since the beginning of language, and that continues through books, comics, movies and TV shows.
That makes it a vital avenue to showing others the experiences of marginalized, be it because of their neurology, skin color or whatever. The value of good fiction is in how it makes the audience actually feel what the characters do.
From there, hopefully they’ll go on to learn more about different points of view and formulate creative ways to solve the horrible problems facing us all.

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