themighty logo

What Pixar's 'Loop' Teaches Us About Autism and Communication

Have you seen Pixar’s new short film, “Loop?” If you want to watch it, you can view it on Disney+.  At its core, this film is about how two characters connect while experiencing and reacting to the world very differently. As a parent of a child with a disability, I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to try our hardest to understand how others experience the world.

In the film, a nonverbal girl on the autism spectrum plays a tone on her phone repeatedly, makes humming noises, shows frustration through rocking their canoe, and some other things that could be taken as bothersome to her canoeing partner. Throughout the video, though, her partner comes to realize that her actions are purposeful and they are a response to how she is experiencing their canoe trip. When he dips into her reality, he is able to make a connection and their partnership strengthens — benefiting both children!

Recently I was asked if my daughter “easily annoyed others.” I had to smirk reading that because, honestly, all 5-year-olds can be a little annoying. However, I quickly came down from that fleeting moment of levity to remember this was not a lighthearted question. My answer, along with her teachers’ answers to this question, would be turned into data, that would then be turned into a report, that would then be turned into a discussion, that would then be turned into a legal document. You see, when you have a child with a disability, rarely do discussions about them revolve around lighthearted grievances.

If I looked at my daughter’s behavior in isolation, yes I am sure many would consider some things she does annoying. She flaps her arms, she squeals loudly, her body freezes at the most inconvenient times. She often repeats herself or doesn’t respond to other people’s questions. We have gotten looks, murmurs and even the occasional comment when she does some of these things in public. It can be annoying when you’re trying to get somewhere and there is a little girl in front of you who won’t move. It can be aggravating when you’re out to eat and you hear high-pitched squeals. It can be frustrating when you’re asking someone a question and they do not answer you.

However, if you are asking me on an assessment if she “easily annoys others” for the sake of putting a plan in place for her, the answer will be no from me every single time. Why? Because although some of her behaviors may appear to be outside of our societal norms and force people outside of their comfort zones, she is doing these things to express herself or more importantly, protect herself.

I think that we, me included, need to expand our understanding of other people’s behaviors so our judgment is less reliant on how their behavior impacts us. Instead, place more emphasis on first understanding how the behavior is serving that person before we respond. This is especially important as our world is becoming more inclusive and we are sharing experiences with people from all walks of life and all different types of disabilities.

My daughter flapping her arms is one of my favorite sights because that means she is brimming with excitement and simply cannot contain it. When she freezes in place, I am swiftly reminded to slow down and think about what she is seeing, hearing and feeling in that moment. When she asks another child their name for the fifth time, my heart clenches because I know she wants to make a connection, but can’t verbalize anything further. When she doesn’t respond to a question, I get quieter instead of louder, and I try my hardest to see her. I see her body in space, I see her thinking, processing, wanting to communicate, but for one reason or another she is unable to. Her unresponsiveness is not a reflection of disrespect and her outward appearance does not give the whole picture.

I have not always had this outlook, and even today I have to work at seeing the world through her eyes. But wow, does it make a difference. It is difficult to step out of our own brains to try and see the world through someone else’s eyes, but for my daughter and so many like her, it makes a world of difference.

Image via Disney+