Bigger Kids

What Finding Dory can teach us about exceptional kids

Is it odd that a pair of cartoon fish are schooling me in the best ways to parent my kid?

Photo: Disney-Pixar Photo: Disney-Pixar

Finding Nemo is fine—I’ve watched it 27 or so times and have never felt especially moved. But Finding Dory, Pixar’s just-released Nemo sequel, had me misting up within the first 15 minutes.

The new movie is swimming with memorable characters. I’ll dive into those soon. The ones who really got to me though, are the ones we see the least: Dory’s parents. The story centers around Dory’s search for Jenny and Charlie, from whom she is separated as a tiny blue tang fish. They appear mostly in short bursts and murky flashbacks. But what came through so clearly to me was the way they were with their kid.

We see from the start that Dory is different, as mom and dad coach her on how to explain her “short-term remembery loss” to others. She forgets most everything, which makes conversations and friendships tricky. But ever so gently and extremely patiently, her parents reassure Dory when she forgets, nimbly suggest new and different ways to help her in the moment and encourage her always to move forward—keep swimming, they urge. Their love is complete, unconditional. They do despair, but only at night when they think Dory is sleeping—when parents do all of their best worrying—for the challenges that lie ahead for their daughter.

This resonates with me as I help my own kid understand her dyslexia—and wrap my head around it, too. Is it odd that a pair of cartoon fish are schooling me in the best ways to parent an exceptional kid? Jenny and Charlie are just so damn calm and patient. They never freak out—and they have plenty of reasons to freak out. They are supremely collected, cheering her on with heartfelt trust in her abilities.

As a result, Dory grows into this persistence, this confidence. It’s not always easy—during her search, lost and disoriented in a dark patch of the sea, Dory has a panic attack. She gasps and flits around. The intensity is palpable. I could imagine my daughter in her classroom, faced with a surprise test or being called on to read out loud, how she would try to keep it together, to push down her anxiety.


Being different can certainly feel isolating—the film acknowledges this in very real ways. But what it also does is celebrate all the wonderful quirks that set us apart: Dory finds good company in a near-sighted whale shark who’s always swimming into things, an anti-social octopus who actually has seven tentacles, a neurotic beluga with echolocation issues and her pal Nemo, with his unusually tiny fin.

Dory’s journey to find her parents—and herself—has a (spoiler alert) happy ending. And she gets there her own way. Her short-term memory loss may heighten her impulsivity and make it difficult to follow a logical, linear path, but it also makes her a joyful, creative, hopeful force. Case in point: “What would Dory do?” becomes the problem-solving mantra when others find themselves stuck.

As I continue to remind my daughter: Your brain is different, but it’s not wrong. It’s something I need to hear, too, because as her parent I only focus on the obstacles ahead. Her dyslexia means that some things will take more time and effort, but the flip side should not be forgotten. Like Dory, she has a magical way of seeing the world: she’s artistic, empathetic, determined. There is no normal, but rather a sea of colourful difference—we just have to keep on swimming. And that message is something any parent of any kid will appreciate. (And it may also make you cry. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.)

This article was originally published on Jun 24, 2016

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