Disney-Pixar’s 2015 smash success Inside Out follows 11 year old Riley, and her family’s move from Minnesota to San Francisco, California. Riley’s five basic emotions personified in the film, Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness, help Riley through the tough process of moving to a completely new place, needing to make new friends at school and adjust quickly to a “new” life at a relatively young age.
Joy, the lead emotion, does not understand the purpose of Sadness, and attempts to keep Riley from ever feeling any Sadness. Throughout the movie, the emotions attempt to work together to help Riley become accustomed to her new surroundings and Joy slowly realizes the importance of Sadness and how Joy and Sadness must work together to create the best environment, feelings and memories for Riley. This movie was adored by audiences but for parents of autistic children Inside Out was more than just an hour and a half of entertainment.
The portrayal of emotions as the main characters of the film allowed parents to see the effects that, at times, conflicting emotions can have on a person. And autism, which affects the processing of emotions to be more or less sensitive, often makes knowing how your autistic child truly feels nearly impossible.
Inside Out’s message that “emotions are hard for everybody” is a universal message, and no group of people understands that message more clearly than the autism spectrum community.
For those on the autism spectrum, displaying “proper” or “socially expected” emotions may be difficult. One may overcompensate their actions as a result of a very acute emotional state of mind. Another may be very reserved and quiet, never truly showing how they feel in a situation. Both scenarios are reality for children on the autism spectrum and places of social interaction like schools may open the child and parents up to unnecessary questions about a lack of outward expression. Hurtful misconceptions about autistic children is that they have “fewer” emotions than a neurotypical (a person without autism) or that autistic children cannot comprehend the events of what is going on around them. Thoughts such as these are incredibly offensive and hinder the furthering of understanding we must have for those with autism.
Autistic children feel everything that neurotypicals do, even if they do not express identical outward actions. Inside Out’s personification of emotions allow children to recognize that these emotions that they might not understand yet, are the same for everybody. Riley feels the same emotions that you do, or that an autistic child does, and the effects are identical for all. If a child points at the screen while Anger is yelling, and relates that to a moment in their life when they were feeling the same thing, then the child has made a connection between the film and their own experiences. Inside Out helped children connect experiences to feelings, and parents took notice of this. Watching Inside Out as a family was not just a way to watch a great movie as a family but it was an opportunity to help child learn and understand more about themselves and the world around them. Emotions are very difficult for anybody to understand, but Inside Out helped both parents and children comprehend just a little bit more about what is going on inside their brains. Telling a neurotypical child and an autistic child that they are each going to see a movie may have different results on the outside, but in their heads, Joy has taken over for both children.
Inside Out is a movie that all demographics can learn from. Parents, neurotypicals and those on the autism spectrum can all analyze different parts of the movie but still leave the movie theatre with the same message. No matter who you are, dealing with your emotions is difficult, and one emotion cannot be left to shut out the others. Sometimes a little Sadness is not the worst thing in the world. In fact, the next time you feel Joy it may be a little more joyful because of that little bit of Sadness. Do not look down upon or question autistic children on their possible challenges with expressing emotions.