How To Train Your Dragon: An Advocation for Asperger’s and a Celebration of Difference

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.

19 thoughts on “How To Train Your Dragon: An Advocation for Asperger’s and a Celebration of Difference

  1. When my son was first diagnosed with Aspergers in 7th grade, I called him a dragon. And then when he saw other children or characters with similar traits, he would say “they are definetly a dragon”. It was an affectionate term. When I was gathering information by Atwood and Grandin, he would say “awww, are you trying to understand your dragon?” Yes. The nickname came from his collecting, objects, ideas, game information, and his need to be alone “in his cave” to regroup.

  2. So true. Individuality is the key. When people are “pressed into a mold” their personal freedom is stifled and they become sullen and unsure of themselves. When they are allowed to use their talents and inner strengths, freedom and self-actualizing begins and they flouish. I love your insight.

  3. Very well written piece. And I appreciate your encouragement to all parents to encourage their children to soar. However, most of our mistakes as parents do not come from a desire to make our children be nero-typical. It is out of exhaustion. Most (not all) of our children on the spectrum rarely sleep, which means that the parents rarely sleeps. Our children force us to live in their world and we are expected to maintain all sanity and control while they do not in our world. We carry the heavy load of self regulation while waiting for our children to learn the self management skills needed to live fulfilling lives. I think most of us parents would be able to solve any problem concerning our children if we could consistantly get a good night’s sleep. When you see a parent trying to make their kid fit into a “normal” mold, they may not be intentionally. They may be trying to survive on no sleep. And sleep is the only way that the body and mind repair it’s self. Please don’t think that we do not appreciate you and our children as the special and unique individuals that all kids on the spectrum are….. We are, in most cases, just sleep deprived and not able to clearly understand how to navigate the spectrum. As an example, when my daughter was younger and more on the severe side of the spectrum, she rarely slept and both my husband and I fought long and hard to make her “normal”. Now that all of her biological problems have been solved, she sleeps long every night and on a consistantly basis. Which means that now we are getting sleep on a consistantly basis. We now find it considerably easy to let her be her own person and follow her own path.

  4. You guys provide more help and more tools the our education system ,and teachers provide…you guys are awesome….Thank you

  5. Wow, how profound!! I must say a true eye opening. Not only do you open my eyes to my granddaughter with Aspergers you also opened my eyes in regards to the children I adopted. My niece lost her children to Child Protection Services and my husband and. I adopted them. The older children was exposed to an environment that no child should of been and that has been a hard challenge for not only them but us. The babies were drug exposed which has has given them and us more challenges, which next month I am taking my 5 year old to be looked at for sensory. She reminds me so much of my granddaughter with Aspergers. Your words really hit home with me in all these areas of these children. We don’t want these kids to end up in a bad life, and want them to come out of all they have been through so much that, like you said we are not embracing who they are but who we so much want them to be. Thank you so much for your insight!! Not only does it help kids with Aspergers but also, kids who have been exposed to bad things in their lives that put them on sensory overload.
    Thank you,


  6. My Son with Aspergers (17 years old) love this movie and we had so much fun watching the second part all together. Thank you Thank you for the great Message the last paragraph made me change the way I think about him

  7. Thanks guys, what amazing timing I just recorded this movie on the weekend, I cannot wait to watch it now with my son. I was talking to my son’s psychologist about you and how amazing you are, your awesomeness has spread to Australia! Thanks for doing what you do…..:)

  8. It’s funny…my son with Aspergers (now 23) really wanted to see the original movie of this story, and I think its still one of his favorites!He must have “gotten” the message you explained. Thanks for your wisdom and helpful words…

  9. I love this.. Thank you, Hayden. My son is a huge fan, but I was not connecting the relevance to his own life experiences and the power in difference. Great message.


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