Lessons from the Ocean: Finding Nemo and Special Needs Parenting


Finding Nemo came out in 2003, when I was a 19 year old college freshman. Of course I was above the target age for the movie at that point, but because I’m a certified Disney fangirl, I went to see it anyway.

I loved it. But at the time, I had no idea what this movie would mean to me in the long run.

My son has cerebral palsy and right hemiplegia, mostly affecting his right hand and arm. He wears a brace to keep his palm open and wrist extended so the muscles do not permanently contract. He has minimal use of that hand.

Shortly after his diagnosis, I was watching Finding Nemo with my older son, and I found myself completely emotionally gutted. Yes, I thought. A movie that gets it. Not only does my son have a “lucky fin” like Nemo, but this movie has taught me just about everything I need to know about being the parent of a child with special needs.
1.  Focus on what you do have — not what you don’t.  Instead of mourning the loss of his other fish eggs, Nemo’s father Marlin threw all of his love and energy into raising Nemo. In my head, on dark days, while I watch my son get frustrated with things he cannot do, it’s easy to slip into the alternate reality where my pregnancy yielded a child without brain damage. But that’s not helpful, and I would miss out on so much if I let myself dwell there.
2.  Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.  When you are scared — keep going. The pursuit for answers is wide, deep, and dark. Forge ahead with your chin up. Don’t stop until you find what you’re looking for.
3.  Let your child “touch the butt.” All children will get hurt eventually. It’s a fact of life, no matter how hard we try to stop it. Kids with special needs may be particularly vulnerable in some ways, but we are doing them no favors by telling them “no” all the time and not letting them take risks.
4.  Find friends in unlikely places. Even if that friend doesn’t remember what you said five minutes later, they can still listen and be a fun distraction we all desperately need. Maybe that friend will teach you how to lighten up and have fun and enjoy the ride.
5.  Brave the wild oceans for your child. Sometime they looks like a pile of insurance paperwork, or a doctor who doesn’t listen or believe you. It will scare you and that’s OK. Keep the goal in sight: P. Sherman, 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney.
6.  We all have lucky fins. Some are just more visible than others. Nobody’s perfect.
So, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to purchase our advance tickets for Finding Dory and clear the shelves of merchandise.

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2 Responses to Lessons from the Ocean: Finding Nemo and Special Needs Parenting

  1. Stacy S May 21, 2016 at 10:54 pm #

    As a Mom to a daughter who is a RH as well this is my fav movie. Such a great article and perfectly stated. Thank you!

  2. Ro May 22, 2016 at 7:24 am #

    Nemo rocks! Disney did an awesome job making a movie where the main character has a physical disability, but the story and characters ( not the disability) take center stage. PS my daughter has a lucky fin too!