With author Tera Girardin.

I just got home from watching the much anticipated movie sequel, “Finding Dory." Even though I took my kids to it, I have to admit, I’ve been pretty excited about it.  “Finding Nemo” is one of my top 10 favorite movies of all time. It had to be. It was on repeat in my minivan back when my kids were still shorter than I am and I have probably listened to / watched it over a hundred times. Pretty sure I can repeat almost the entire movie. So when I found out “Dory” was coming out, we had to go.

And it didn’t disappoint! Endearing, funny, beautifully animated — it delivered on all points. But what delightfully surprised and frankly, impressed the hell out of me, was the incredibly positive messages it subtly teaches. As I felt for Dory and her story, I suddenly realized this whole movie is a huge lesson on inclusion! 

(I might give some of the movie away here so… spoiler alert). 

Dory repeatedly deals with and tells others how she suffers from short-term memory loss. At times it annoys others around her, at times she feels bad for it, at times it provides funny moments and all the time it’s just who she is. As a mom to a child with autism, I can relate. 

In the scenes when she is young, you see her parents lovingly teach her the things she needs to know to be safe but they all struggle with her “disability” (I put that in quotes because thankfully they never refer to it as such). Again, this definitely struck close to home. How do you teach a child safety rules when she can't remember?! Dory’s parents are excellent role models for special needs parents. They patiently and lovingly and repeatedly guide Dory. And ultimately they do give her the tools she needs later in life. And yet they worry about her future. Disney / Pixar even describes them this way “They celebrate and protect her, striving to arm her with the skills she’ll need to navigate the world with a faulty memory.” 

Celebrate her! I love love love this message. (Kudos Pixar!)

Then it dawned on me the movie is filled with characters that have short comings that don’t let them get in the way of living their life! Hank the octopus is missing a tentacle, Destiny is very nearsighted, Bailey had a head injury that affected his echolocation, Nemo has his little fin. Even Becky, the very disheveled (and might I add, non-verbal) loon is a valued member of the quest. They are presented in such a matter of fact way and it’s so wonderfully inclusive. Even in the original “Nemo” movie, his new school friends make Nemo feel better when his dad explains his little fin. They all chime in with “This tentacle is shorter than all the other tentacles, “ I’m H20 intolerant,” “I’m obnoxious.”  (See I can quote the movie!)  Everyone has their imperfections.

Through the course of the movie, Dory moves from constantly apologizing for her condition and seeing it as a hinderance to recognizing it is her strength. She’s a problem solver and endlessly optimistic. She begins to value herself. "What would Dory do?"

A person (or sea creature in this case)’s perceived disability might just be their greatest asset. If Dory didn’t have the short term memory loss, she wouldn’t have lost her way, wouldn’t have found her loving friends and wouldn’t have the fearless nature that allows her to think outside the box and creatively problem solve the issue at hand.  She compensates for her memory loss by following her gut instincts which often times simply means following her joy. Which ultimately leads her home. Believe in yourself no matter what. Doing things differently is valuable. And a perceived disability might just be a different ability. What amazing messages in this movie! 

Two fins up for Finding Dory for it’s positive message on inclusivity!

Tera Girardin is a mom to three boys - her youngest is diagnosed with autism. She has been a child and family photographer for 11 years and is now a budding author with her "Faces of Autism, Stories of Hope" book coming April 2017. Through compelling photography and inspiring stories, the book hopes to change the way we view autism and move away from awareness and towards admiration. You can follow the book's progress and be inspired at Faces of Autism Book on Facebook.

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