Generally, people consider Hollywood to be a superficial, mean-spirited, and morally questionable industry that corrupts, deceives, and degrades a large percent of the world populace. Unfortunately, Hollywood doesn’t do much to challenge our opinions. Every year, various studios pump out disposable, forgettable shlock with nothing to offer except flashy visuals and gratuitous sex and violence. As someone with Asperger’s Syndrome, I’ve often been annoyed at some of the ways certain differences have been portrayed in pop culture (Glee remains one of the worst offenders.)
Every once in a while, though, a film becomes exempt from these conceptions because of a beautiful, genuine, and eternally relevant lesson or message that lies behind the green screen and all of the distractions it presents. How to Train Your Dragon stands tall as one of the best examples of such a film. Heartfelt, funny, and brimming with intricately layered characters, this incredible achievement of modern cinema shows viewers old and young the beauty of being different. Sound like a familiar message? That’s because it’s exactly what we teach here at Asperger Experts.
How to Train Your Dragon follows Hiccup, the awkward, emaciated son of the mighty Viking Stoick the Vast who has had trouble fitting in and connecting with his Viking brethren for as long as he can remember. Stoick rules Berk, a war-torn land that serves as a battleground for Vikings and their most hated foes: dragons. Hiccup detests the widely-accepted notion that dragons are vicious, mindless beasts with a thirst for Viking. Because of his blatant refusal to listen and conform to this preposterous idea, Hiccup and his gruff father could not be further apart. So, when Hiccup finds, tames, and befriends an injured dragon (later christened as Toothless), bigger problems arise.
If you look closely at the nature of plot, you’ll see this has always been relevant to what Asperger Experts teaches. The film’s emotional core comes from its thorough exploration (and deconstruction) of the societal attitude toward people who think, act, or simply appear different. This may seem like a simple underdog-turned-hero story, but beneath that, it’s so much more than that.
At its core, How To Train Your Dragon teaches love, acceptance, and understanding towards those with the audacity to be different. Most of the film focuses on the strained relationship between Hiccup and his father and how, somewhere down the road, Hiccup branched off from what Stoick wanted him to be. The rigid Viking leader spends exhausting amounts of time trying to force Hiccup into certain ideas and behaviors, completely unaware of how special his son is without those things. Instead of reaching out and understanding Hiccup, he tries to deny him the gift, the privilege of being himself. Of course he means well, but his way of meaning well proves to be detrimental to Hiccup. In the end, though, it’s Hiccup’s ability to connect with dragons that wins the day and allows the Vikings to emerge triumphant from their most challenging obstacle yet.
All too often, I see parents discouraging and suppressing their Asperger’s children, unaware that their “help” isn’t doing squat. Like Stoick, you love your child with all that you are. You want your kid to reap all the rewards life has to offer, but certain “abnormal” qualities or behaviors scare you into believing that your kid will fail. You are afraid that what makes them different will leave them battered and broken for as long as they live.
So, what’s the solution? The solution, dear reader, is encouragement. Encourage your child on their own path instead of forcing them down yours. Love them, not your idea or your plan for them. And remember, I know you mean well. I know you just want what’s best for your Asperger’s child. That’s why I urge you to meet them in their world and welcome their differences instead of shunning them. Do that, and watch how high they soar.