Inspiration comes from a variety of sources and family movie night can play a significant role in cultivating acceptance and understanding, particularly for children and teens. However, special needs are often not portrayed in movies and when they are, the stories are usually aimed at a more mature audience. And that’s a shame, because in my opinion, it’s important for children to be able to see themselves or someone they may know as a character they can connect with on screen. Movies can be a great medium to teach empathy, acceptance, and offer different perspectives revolving around social interaction.
As a result, I’ve compiled a small list of movies to watch this weekend that will appeal to the whole family and are packed with great messages and role models.
Finding Nemo (2003) & Finding Dory(2016) – A classic Disney story, these two Pixar films are an obvious choice. The two main characters, Nemo and Dory both face disabilities. Nemo’s character (physically disabled from birth) has an undersized fin which doesn’t stop him from doing what he is determined to do – even if that means it’s harder and will take him twice as long – we see his confidence and determination. Dory suffers from short-term memory loss which we can presume is a mentally disability from birth. But in the movie she plays one vital role – she remembers something important. The story also embraces two other characters who are physically disabled as a result of a traumatic event (Gill) and mentally disabled as a result of a traumatic event (Marlin). But together, being different makes them normal. Age Recommendation: 5+
Cuerdas (2014) – Originally in Spanish, but the images speak for themselves. The story unfolds a beautiful friendship as soon as a little boy bound to a wheelchair arrives at the orphanage where Maria immediately befriends him. Together, they set off on an amazing adventure. Age Recommendation: 5+
An American Girl: McKenna Shoots for the Stars –– The story offers girls (and boys) several positive messages about family, friendship, and the importance of asking for help when needed. McKenna overcomes several hurdles (including both emotional and physical). Age Recommendation: 6+
Dolphin Tale – Inspired by the true story of a dolphin and those who saved her life. Winter, the dolphin is caught in a crab trap where she severely damages her tail. She is rescued with a dire prognosis but a dedicated marine biologist, a prosthetics doctor, and a young boy bring about a miracle – one that gives hope to not only Winter, but thousands of children and adults who have to learn to adapt and live with a prosthetic limb. A reminder that a good support group can bring about the most beautiful miracles and help us survive. Age Recommendation: 7+
Whether watching Dory overcome her memory loss or McKenna find a way to believe in herself again, your children will hopefully be able to relate to the characters and garner a much better perspective on what it’s like to live with a disability, overcome obstacles, and embrace differences.
Movies are an excellent way to introduce important concepts and lessons, but learning can extend beyond the screen. For curious children, there are a number of online resources and books that address disability awareness. For parents with disabled children, there are also a number of disability support groups and resources to connect you with learning materials, knowledge, and support for your parenting journey.