Can The Movie “Frozen” Teach Parents How To Raise Children With Special Needs?

One mother believes that it was this movie that taught her how to interact with her 6-year-old son, Sam, who requires hearing aids. Even without the ability to hear on his own, he’s still quite fond of singing. His mother, Tina, said that the situation was much different when he was a toddler. He was out of control. She described his willful nature as comparable to Elsa, the protagonist of the movie Frozen.

Susan Henderson, executive director of Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund’s parent training center, said that “Elsa’s ability to make snow and ice makes her different from her parents, her sister Anna and everyone else around her.”

For Tina and her son, that’s where the relatability can be discerned. That’s where the learning comes into play.

“As a result, others treat her differently,” Henderson continued. “Like Elsa, children with disabilities are often the only ones in their family who are disabled, and they may be similarly misunderstood, treated differently or segregated. This is, in part, why so many disabled kids identify with her. They know what it is like to feel isolated and alone, even at home.”

Sam didn’t pick up Frozen when it came out in 2013, primarily because he had only just been born. But the movie has continued to find new viewers ever since, and Sam was one of them.

Tina wrote, “When I eventually saw it, one of my first thoughts was, Elsa’s parents handled her supernatural penchant for turning everything to ice terribly, even if it was well-intentioned. Obviously they don’t want her to be a danger to herself or others, particularly her sister. But making her hide away? …Instead of giving Elsa the tools she needed to manage her ability — or disability, as they treated it — they tried to force her into something she wasn’t. No wonder why she was so messed up.”

And that so perfectly describes similar situations that real-world parents find themselves placed in when trying to learn about, and interact with, their own special needs children.

Assistant Professor of Media Studies at the University of Virginia, Elizabeth Ellcessor says, “I can see how Elsa’s experiences with her powers in Frozen may be interpreted as similar to experiences of disabled children. She has a notable difference in her capacities, and that difference affects her ability to interact with people and society around her.”

And that’s the important takeaway from the movie, she describes. “Because others aren’t prepared for her differences, she is isolated and takes on significant shame around her powers; this recalls what we call the ‘social model’ of disability, in which experiences of disability are caused not by individual bodies, but by a society that is based around a small range of ‘normal’ bodies and abilities, and thus excludes people who don’t fit within that range.”

And that’s why education is so fundamentally important.