Why 'The King's Speech' Speaks to Me as a Mother of a Son with Autism
One of my favorite movies is “The King’s Speech.” It is an Academy-award winning (Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director, Best Screenplay) historical drama based on King George VI’s battle with stuttering and the speech therapist who helped him. Following the abdication of Edward VIII, he was crowned King George VI and saw Great Britain through the Battle of Britain and World War II.
When it was released, some critics and historians pointed out that the movie was not a true story, but a “true-ish” story, with some facts changed, eliminated, or Hollywood-ified — the difference between a drama and a documentary. Regardless of whether it is actually, wholly true, I love its story of quiet bravery, both that of the Duke and Lionel Logue, his speech therapist. I am moved by the respect they developed for each other, and the friendship they developed while navigating around significant cultural, social and economic differences. It is a beautiful movie with gentle humor and dignity.
As a parent of a child on the autism spectrum, “The King’s Speech” has many layers for me. Like some iterations of autism, stuttering was perceived for many generations to be the result of some kind of personal “failing” — failing to control nervousness, fear, or a lack of self-discipline. Like autism, researchers now realize that the causes of stuttering have measurable neurological and physiological origins. Like autism, the causes of stuttering are complicated and not yet wholly understood.
I believe that my son enjoys watching “The King’s Speech” in part because on some level, he can recognize the similarities between the king’s experiences and his own. He sees a man who was born into wealth and power, who has a life many people wish for, but who, like my son, must learn to live with and adapt to challenges that simply came with being who he was, royal title notwithstanding. He may find comfort in the realization that if a king had to adapt, maybe it isn’t so bad that he has to adapt to achieve his goals, too.
In King George VII my son can see a man who had to face his fears on a daily basis — whether it was public speaking, dealing with his overbearing father, or shouldering the burden of leadership — and doing so with dignity and perseverance. My son deals with his fears on a daily basis when he walks out the door to go to school, sits in a classroom being the only child on the spectrum, and adapts his behavior and needs to his neurotypical peers. He sees how friendships can be made in unexpected circumstances, the value of someone who sees a person not a disability, and how challenges can be turned into strengths.
“The King’s Speech” is a movie I have watched many times. It is meaningful to me not only as a great Academy-award winning film, but because it speaks to me as an Autism Mom.
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