Academy Award Nominations of Interest to Special Needs Families and Therapists

Kelle Wood Rich

February 28, 2018

It’s Oscar season 2018! I know that most of us don't have much time to even make it to the theaters and I am by no means qualified to be a film critic. I did recently get to see two films that I wanted to share with you. I feel they have a special connection with our special needs families and ABA professionals that work with our families.

The Shape of Water: In theaters now and up for a record 14 Academy Awards, this beautifully made film would not be my typical pick for my own rare adult night out. It could be classified as sci- fi and does have some violent, bloody scenes, which I typically shy away from. However, the message of love and acceptance overshadows the violence. Sally Hawkins plays Elisa, a custodian who is mute and uses sign language to communicate. She works in a top-secret military research lab in the 1960’s. There is an incredible scene between Elisa and the “sea creature” where she teaches him to communicate with sign language through what is basically a manding session! I wonder if they had a BCBA as a consultant? She pairs herself with reinforcement by offering his favorite thing to eat (eggs) and playing music. She models the signs for him and delivers the items when he makes the signs. Perfect teaching procedures! I won’t spoil the rest of the movie but this film addresses many timely issues such as inclusion, discrimination, basic human rights and even poses the philosophical question, what is it to be human? In the end, love and acceptance of differences conquers all.

Wonder: a novel by R.J. Palacio that was adapted into a film starring Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson. It’s available on DVD now and up for 1 Academy Award. It is the story of Auggie, a 5th grade boy who is attending “regular school” for the first time after being home schooled all of his life. He was born with a genetic disorder causing severe facial deformities. This movie conquers the topics of inclusion, acceptance, discrimination, bullying, friendship and courage. It has a unique format were the author retells the same story from different characters’ perspectives. Of particular interest to our families with special needs is the vignette of Auggie’s big sister, Via. The filmmakers do a great job portraying all the mixed emotions we know our siblings in special needs families experience from isolation, to feeling the weight of the responsibility of taking care of their sibling, to jealousy, embarrassment to guilt about feeling embarrassed or jealous and then, of course, true love and compassion. I would highly recommend this film for siblings to watch with their families or for therapists to use in their sibling groups. It could prompt some important conversations.