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The Princess and the Frog: What it Meant For Me as a Young Autistic Kid

When I was little my favorite movie was The Princess and the Frog. I didn’t understand everything that was going on in the movie as a little kid, but the visuals and the music piqued my interest. I liked the atmosphere set up in the beginning of the movie with young Tiana and young Charlotte (Tiana’s best friend) listening to Tiana’s mom read princess stories in Charlotte’s pink princess themed bedroom with lots of dresses. I thought it was so funny when Charlotte dressed the cat up as a frog and threw him on the ceiling, and Tiana’s mother told them to stop tormenting the kitty. I was completely captivated watching Tiana and Prince Naveen row down the bayou as frogs with Louis the alligator playing the trumpet and the scene where Ray the firefly sings about the evening star he’s in love with, Evangeline. 

When I was little, I was diagnosed with autism because I had trouble communicating and socializing. I didn’t understand many social situations and I didn’t really communicate with others my age. So I processed everything in a visual way. I also didn’t understand many social situations and had to be told explicitly what was happening in a movie. If there was a villain on screen and there was even ominous music playing in the background, my mom would have to explain that they were evil. While I didn’t understand all of Tiana’s struggles or how evil Dr. Facilier was, I loved the music and animation so much. I can remember how much I loved watching Dr. Facilier dance around and practice voodoo in his song “Friends on the Other Side,” and the scene where Tiana twirls about and fantasizes about her new restaurant in the song “Almost There.” 

Because of my autism, I enjoyed repetition. I liked when things were predictable and familiar. In the summer of 2010 when I was four, going on five, I watched Princess and the Frog at least a dozen times (I’m not kidding). I loved going on the walk or drive to Blockbuster and renting the DVD for it along with and maybe buying a gumball with some money that I took from my dad’s change compartment in his pickup truck. Another thing that was part of my autism was that I often didn’t communicate what I was thinking or what I wanted. So, when I told my parents that I wanted a Princess and the Frog themed birthday party, they were so excited. I was excited as well, once I figured out when my birthday was and the fact that I got to look forward to it after the summer. I was asserting what I wanted, and it was the dawn of a new era. While watching The Princess and the Frog a zillion times wasn’t the only reason I learned to communicate my hopes and desires (I was also doing summer social thinking activities geared towards autistic youth), it played a huge role in my early childhood years and my mom was amazed when I told her about my birthday wishes. I think that the movie inspired me to put my newly acquired social skills to use. 

The dress I got for my fifth birthday!

I had a blast at my Tiana themed birthday party, and I got a cake with a Princess Tiana topper with her wearing a green dress and kissing the frog. My parents went all out with green decorations with Tiana on them and my classmates and my parents’ friends brought me gifts that went with the theme. I got a pink nightgown with Tiana on it and a stuffed animal that was Tiana in frog form. My favorite gift that I got was the iconic green dress Tiana wore in the movie when she changed back into a human. I wore my Tiana dress for Halloween that year when I went trick-or-treating with some of my classmates. 

My birthday cake with Tiana on it!

As I got older, there were some more things that I got to understand and appreciate about The Princess and the Frog. I got to appreciate the plot of the story more. I thought it was really beautiful how Tiana worked with what she had to achieve her dream in the face of adversity. Even though she grew up poor, she held onto her dream to open her own restaurant called Tiana’s Place. And when the building for her restaurant was bought out from under her, she still worked hard to manifest her dream even when it felt hopeless. I now appreciate that even after she married Prince Naveen, she established her restaurant. I learned that even princesses get to run restaurants if they want to. 

Me wearing my Tiana nightgown!

I also appreciated that the character of Tiana was left-handed, like the actress who did her voice, which I thought was really cool because I’m also left-handed. As I got to be a teenager, I also liked how supportive Charlotte was when Tiana married Prince Naveen instead of her. I liked how they portrayed a positive female friendship without pitting them against each other, even though they came from different backgrounds and had different values in life. 

On a larger scale, it was a historical moment and milestone in the history of Disney movies for Tiana to be the first Black Disney princess. I didn’t really think of Tiana’s race as a huge part of the movie when I was younger as a biracial girl with light skin, but as I got older, I understood the importance of positive Black representation and what it means for young kids. Black girls watching the movie could feel represented and know that they can be princesses too, and kids who aren’t Black can be exposed to different stories of people who come from different backgrounds from theirs. I think people can also enjoy and relate to characters no matter what race they are, and people of all races can enjoy watching Tiana’s story. Of course, maybe kids aren’t thinking with those exact words or on a large scale about representation, but I think we learn subliminal messages from movies as kids and as we get older, we have actual words for the lessons and values we gather from the films we watch. 

I haven’t decided what my favorite film is now, but Princess and the Frog is a movie that I will forever cherish. Overall, it’s a movie that has had a big impact on my early childhood, and I still appreciate it now that I’m older. 

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An Important Announcement…

For the past year, I have been writing blogs here about some of the lessons in my life that I have learned such as creating and enforcing my own boundaries, embracing my autism, and making friends (and realizing that they aren’t always forever). There is something very important about these pieces of writing, as they are previews to my next book that I am currently writing! 🎉

I started writing another book about my life as an autistic person. This one’s a bit different from my memoir, as I am giving advice through relevant stories and lessons I’ve learned from my life rather than a book that has memories going from oldest to most recent.

I’m looking forward to completing it, though it will be a while before it’s done (a very long while). Stay tuned for more updates!

Just a nice picture of me on a hike
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It’s been a while… and April is Autism Acceptance Month!

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged (I believe I said that last time). This is going to be a long post, so feel free to read it at your own pace or if you just need to skip to the suggestions for observing and celebrating Autism Acceptance Month this April, I won’t be offended.

Since I wrote last year, I got my driver’s license (cue “Driver’s License” by Olivia Rodrigo), traveled to Nova Scotia, and I’ve started the process of moving. I’m looking forward to moving, but it is a very time-consuming activity to prepare for moving day.

April is Autism Acceptance Month! Autism Acceptance month is an important month. Many people prefer Autism Acceptance over Autism Awareness, because awareness implies that autism is something that needs a cure. Meanwhile acceptance means that autism is a neurotype that needs understanding. It shows that autistic people are people who deserve understanding and acceptance just like everyone else. 

It’s easy to be aware, but it takes work and challenging your internal biases to be accepting towards other people. It means looking at autism through a nuanced lens, understanding that autism is what makes a person who they are, that it can’t just magically go away without erasing a core part of people. On the other hand, we need to acknowledge that autism can be a disability for many people and attempting to reframe it as a “different ability” is harmful in its own way. Autism is considered a disability because we live in a word that was not built for us. While there are different cultures in different places, in a capitalist society like the United States, how much you can work is placed above the quality of life and people believe that your success in the workplace determines your value. If someone cannot work because socializing and communicating with people all day is too exhausting or there is too much sensory stimuli for them, then people don’t see their value. A lot of the ideas of success for people are rooted in capitalism and “traditional values” like getting a house, getting married, and having kids which may not be attainable for some people.

April can be a hard month for some autistic people because many organizations that speak on behalf of autistic people use pathologizing language and imply that autism needs a cure. When people put up their blue puzzle piece decorations, “light it up blue,” and imply that autism needs a cure, it can be very disappointing and a bit of a downer, to be honest. While I don’t think that people have malicious intent when they talk about the “rates of autism” or the “epidemic,” it’s heartbreaking to know that people demonize a core part of my existence just because it’s not convenient enough for them. 

Autism Awareness Month feels performative to me because it’s all about the blue. There’s no shift in philosophy, and just telling someone to “be aware” doesn’t mean much. Adding blue decorations to your store for autism doesn’t mean much and it provides no benefit other than being aesthetically pleasing. It doesn’t directly benefit autistic people and it can alienate them at the same time. 

If something is performative, it means that it’s ingenuine, inauthentic, and the motive behind doing something is to get the attention and approval of other people. The reason why I don’t like the “light it up blue movement” is because it is often associated with the notion that autism is a disease that needs to be cured, and it evokes a similar vibe to the notion that an autistic person needs to conform to neurotypical standards, even if it is emotionally or physically damaging. Some people say that blue for autism was also coined by a certain organization (I‘m not naming names here) because of the idea that autism is more prevalent in boys. Really, the issue is that autistic women and people assigned female at birth are diagnosed less because of the stereotypes created on how boys and girls are supposed to act and present their gender. 

While this whole blog post could be me airing my grievances, I want to offer some advice. Some advice I have for autistic people struggling during April is to take breaks from social media or the news. It is important to be knowledgeable about current events, but not at the cost of your mental health. If you do want to be on social media, but you don’t want “autism awareness” ads or posts recommended to you, you can click “show less posts like this” or “not interested,” and you’ll get less posts like that recommended to you. 

Avoid visiting websites that promote “cure culture” or demonize autism. I’ve come across some websites that have promoted negative views on autism and have left me feeling discouraged and dehumanized. While resilience is important, it is important to know when to leave situations where you feel uncomfortable or threatened. 

Some advice that I have for people who want to observe and celebrate Autism Acceptance Month is:

  •  Ask autistic people what accommodations they need in order for your store or school to be accessible to them. If you are an educator and you have a student who has a hard time focusing with the bright classroom lights, create a solution so they can learn and thrive just like everyone else in their classroom. Don’t belittle them because they’re autistic and have more challenges than their non-autistic and neurotypical peers. 
  • It’s also important that you do your research on autism. Good resources on autism to find information about autism include The Autistic Women and Nonbinary Network and The Autistic Self Advocacy Network. 
  • Expand your library. Read and/or listen to books written by and about autistic people. When I was twelve, I wrote a book about my life growing up as an autistic person. It’s called Autism Over the Years: A Twelve Year-Old’s Memoir and you can order it from Amazon or from my website directly. In the book I use person-first language but since then, my way of referring to and understanding my autism has changed. However, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t any validity to my stories that I share in my book, they still matter. I am currently reading Different Not Less: A neurodivergent’s guide to embracing your true self and finding your happily ever after, by Chloe Hayden, who is an autistic actress and activist.
  • If you want to host any events, use red to symbolize autism acceptance and use the rainbow infinity symbol to represent neurodiversity, and refrain from using the color blue and the puzzle piece. The puzzle piece was created because it symbolized that there was a “missing piece” to autistic children and that it was a “puzzling” condition. The logo was paired with a weeping child in front of the puzzle piece. The puzzle piece also feels patronizing because it implies that autism is just a children’s thing. I’m seventeen, and I’m still autistic, and I’m going to be autistic for the rest of my life. There are many autistic adults in the world and they need to be addressed as well. 
  • Understand that you learn as you go in life and some of the things you learned before don’t apply to everyone or just don’t apply nowadays. Some people get offended when you tell them that many people prefer the word “autistic” over “person with autism.” Some people think that “autistic” is a bad word and many people prefer person-first language, but I prefer to say that I am autistic over saying that I am a “person with autism,” because my autism is a part of me – I was born autistic and I will live the rest of my life as autistic. Autism colors every experience that I have. If my autism was removed from me, I would not be the same person, and I am completely happy with who I am. Many other autistic people have a similar viewpoint and it irks some non-autistic people. I can imagine that it’s frustrating to learn that what you learned in higher education settings doesn’t apply nowadays or it isn’t applicable to everyone. However, language has to change over time and it’s important that it reflects everyone. 

I hope this information and these suggestions help. I didn’t want this blog to be a downer, but I want to express my opinions and suggest ways to be more inclusive to autistic people of all ages.  

Stay tuned for more blog posts!

If you live in or you are close to Ventura County, consider stopping by to listen to me present about autism! 

  • Saturday, April 8th 2023, 11:00 AM, E.P. Foster Library| Ventura, CA
  • Saturday, April 15th 2023, 11:00 AM, Oxnard Public Library | Oxnard, CA
  • Saturday, April 22nd 2023, 11:00 AM, Oak View Library | Oak View, CA