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Maggie’s favorite movies are the Disney Fantasia movies, both the original 1940 and the 2000 reboot. She struggles to watch a screen. I get that for most parents, limiting screen time is the goal, but for Maggie, we need her to watch screens for virtual therapies. She has little interest in television and anything else that could be portrayed on a screen, at least until Fantasia.

Fantasia, both editions, include a number of beautiful short segments of classical music paired with animation. Many have a discernible storyline, such as Mickey Mouse playing the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and many do not. It is the music paired with seemingly random animation that captures Maggie’s attention in a way that I have not seen with any other type of program. At the start of Fantasia 2000, for instance, abstract patterns resembling butterflies flutter and explore a world of light and darkness, a barrage of colors, delicately paired to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5. This one was her favorite, but she was equally enraptured by the other abstract sequences.

Hazel enjoys Fantasia as well, but she favors sequences that features characters and a discernible storyline. Her favorite is “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” starring Mickey Mouse, of course, but her second favorite is “The Steadfast Tin Soldier.” This sequence is accompanied by Piano Concerto No. 2, Allegro, Opus 102 by Dmitri Shostakovich, and follows the story of a one-legged tin soldier who tries to protect the toy ballerina he loves from the jealous jack-in-the-box. Unlike the original Hans Christian Anderson tale, the Fantasia version has a happy ending. Hazel will add dramatic effects, a loud “Oh no!” when the steadfast tin soldier falls into danger, a resounding cheer and applause when he prevails. She loves stories.

I find interesting how both children could love a movie like Fantasia but love completely different aspects to it. For Maggie, she is non-verbal. She doesn’t feel any sort of connection to a character on the screen, whether it is an animated character or a family member on a video call. Yet, the abstract paired with music strikes a chord in her psyche and for the first time, ever, she will sit and watch. As she watches the screen, I watch her and wonder what and why this reaches her. It does so, and it makes me wonder whether this experience would be shared by other nonverbal children with neurological conditions. Does the abstract somehow connect with something deep inside, does it reverberate in her psyche the way a complex storyline with compelling characters reach mine? I don’t know.

Hazel doesn’t know either. Hazel watches the abstract sequences with an air of disinterest. She doesn’t say so verbally, but her body language suggests “I don’t get it. Let’s get back to the music stories.” Yet, when the movie transitions to a sequence with a clear storyline and characters, Maggie watches, but does so with less interest. She can take it or leave it.

What Hazel is interested in makes sense to me. She is her mother’s daughter in so many ways, especially in personality and interests. I don’t understand Maggie and why she certain things, like the sound crinkling paper or the abstract sequences on Fantasia, grip her attention as intensely as they do. I guess I don’t need to know. I’m just happy to have found something that engages her on a deeper level.


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