Eli is pretty obsessed with Doctor Who, in autistic terms it’s his special interest. Rather than fighting his desire to live in the Doctor’s universe I’ve chosen to dive in with him, it doesn’t hurt that the show is all shades of awesome.
I like that he has a special interest as groovy as the doctor and so I’ve invited him to a lot of our lessons. Being a naturally inquisitive time traveling alien means the Doctor has fitted in quite nicely with most of our history topics. A natural consequence of a series where the main character is constantly popping back in time is that it’s absolutely oozing with historical content. For example last term we were looking into the Roman empire so to keep Eli interested we watched the Fires of Pompeii. It’s almost like giving him a handle to hold onto as he learns, without a connection to Doctor Who he struggles to stay afloat in a sea of useless information that has nothing to do with him. If I can show him a link, no matter how tenuous, he’s on board sailing confidently across a sea of knowledge.
The Doctor has travelled with us into the art world as well, embedding his presence into our creations and introducing us to the soul that wields the paint brush encouraging us to emulate their talent. Even though Eli is sensory defensive and has a panic attack at the mere mention of paint lest he has to…urgh..feel in on his skin…he had to join his sisters and paint his own version of sunflowers after watching Vincent and the Doctor.
An Ood has even shown up to help with spelling when Eli noticed he could hear it in the word food. This term we are focusing on England and the Olympic games so of course we had to watch Fear Her and, well, all the episodes we own just to see how many times we could yell out “There’s Big Ben!!”
Then there’s the extracurricular lessons that need to be taught to any kid on the spectrum. These being social interaction; body language, reading faces, boundaries, personal space and self regulation lessons; Identifying personal emotions and implementing self help techniques to either lower or raise your own emotional state. Doctor Who is absolutely brilliant for this kind of stuff. Donna in particular is so loud and in your face that she has many times served as an example of both the right and the wrong way to interact with others. Eli actually introduced her value to me, and this is why it is so important that you immerse yourself in your child’s special interest, when he said:
“Mum why does Donna travel with the doctor when she hates him?”
“Why do you think she hates him?’ I asked a little confused, it was quite close to the beginning of her run and I would have forgiven him for thinking that the Doctor didn’t want Donna around some of the time but not the reverse.
“Because she’s always angry with him, she always shouts at him.”
He was right, she does, she gets right up close to his face and shouts “Oi Space Man!” she looks with glaring eyes and stabs the air with her finger as she speaks yet there is so much affection for the Doctor in all her interactions, how could I explain this to him? I suddenly realised she was a tough one for a kid who has trouble perceiving other’s emotions but also she was a brilliant lesson. We talked about how volume doesn’t necessarily indicate negative emotion, how often he himself is very loud and yet is not feeling angry. We brainstormed reasons other than anger that may cause a person to be loud. We thought about Donna and wondered if maybe she was being loud to get attention or maybe she was feeling a little intimidated by this crazy alien dude who has the power to whisk her off to new worlds or if the excitement of it all had a lot to do with her manic behaviour. Eli realised that his own behaviour at times may mislead other people into thinking he is angry with them and I’m pleased to say he is working very hard at trying to match the volume and hype level of those around him…most of the time.
Then there’s the long drawn out moments at the end of the Tenth Doctors life where most of the story is carried along by a roller-coaster of emotions portrayed only by subtle changes to Ten’s face. I’m happy to admit the first few times Ten went through the realisation that the harbinger of four knocking doom was the beloved Wilf I simply bawled along with the rest of the gentle hearted Whovians not giving a second thought to the educational value of such a moment. But after we had watched that scene oh say a gazillion times Eli asked:
“What’s happening to his face?’
“How Do you mean Honey?”
“What’s wrong with it?”
Now the poor guy had just smashed through a glass roof after exiting a space ship in flight over the top of a building containing his arch nemesis to land, with nothing to brake his fall, onto solid ground. I was thinking his face looked pretty decent.
“What do you mean, What’s wrong with his face, it’s a bit scratched up from the fall” Gee give the poor guy a break.
“No why is it twitching like that and why is he crying now, he doesn’t know Wilf’s stuck yet?’
OK I take it back kid, fair question “Oh that’s relief, he’s overcome by emotion because he was sure he was going to die but now he believes he’s going to live.” Having to spell it out like this makes me realise how sucky the writers were to poor old Ten.
“Relief” He swirls the word around in his mind while watching the effects of it on a face he knows so well. “And!” he adds excitedly “That’s happy crying isn’t it” Happy crying’s come up before, he used to think it was stupid but now I think he’s mostly fascinated, I’ve explained it by saying sometimes we feel so gloriously happy inside that our bodies don’t know what to do with the excess emotion and in the confusion of everything bubbling up inside tears spill out. Ok so it may not be scientifically perfect and he can have a go at me in the future if I’m totally wrong but really all he needs to know now is that humans sometimes cry when they are happy and how to recognise that.
Knock, knock, knock, knock.
“Now he knows, look his eyes changed” said Eli still engrossed in Tens face.
“Yup that was shock and fear, his eyes widened a bit because he wasn’t expecting the knock, he thought he was safe but now he knows he’s not.” mean writers.
“Then he’s going to do proper sad crying isn’t he?”
but he doesn’t, his jaw sets, his eyes stare of into the distance and his shoulders drop.
“That’s not crying” Said Eli almost angrily, because his prediction is wrong.
“No” I say sadly, it’s just too hard not to be sad looking at those eyes. “That’s resignation, he knows now that he is going to die, hope is gone and he understands the worst is going to happen”
Then Wilf tried the whole I’m not worth saving spiel and Ten’s lips turn down, he swallows and his chin quivers “there, look now he’s sad!” calls out Eli proudly with maybe a little to much joy for my liking. We’ll work on being mirrors, reflecting other’s emotions later once we’ve got the recognising them down pat.
Eli relaxes back into the lounge, visibly relived that the hard stuff is over and his Doctor is now showing the appropriate amount of sadness over his imminent doom. But if you’ve watched this scene before you’ll know that sadness doesn’t last. Ten breaks into a fully fledged fist shaking rant at the universe. Again Eli has a stab at it.
“Mum, I know why he’s yelling, he’s really angry with Wilf because he got stuck in the glass box, isn’t he.”
I’ve got to give him points for that one because he recognised true all consuming anger and to be honest some of it was directed a Wilf. But I explained that even though he was angry he knew it wasn’t Wilf’s fault and that he was mostly angry with the circumstance. It became an interesting little back and forth about how strong anger emotions can be felt but don’t necessarily have to be directed at anyone in particular and that sometimes things go wrong and no one is to blame.
I was quite thrilled by our whole conversation, I know how important it is for Eli to practice reading faces. The more he sees emotions and learns what they mean the better equipped he will be to navigate the world and what better teacher could he have than the Doctor with all his complexities and exquisitely performed range of emotions. I was still glowing with the joy of connecting with Eli’s inner thoughts when all hope of continuing our analysis of Ten’s face was blown away in a gale of laughter at the appearance of All of a Sudden Ood singing his we will sing you to your death opera. It’s the kids’ pet name for him, it happened when they first watched this episode and the two girls and I were drowning in our own tears when the Ood appeared and Eli asked “Why is there suddenly an Ood?” in his dead pan sort of way. I don’t know why but it cracked us up and now we can’t help but laugh at All of a Sudden Ood’s entrance and we barely manage to pull it together in time for the desperately sad “I don’t want to go” but we just manage it each time because we’re good little Whovians.