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How A Gaggle of Pages Helped Our Daughter's 'Frozen' Obsession

This is a post by Katy Tanghe, a PR consultant, family cab driver and aficionado of all things Frozen, thanks to her daughter, Mary. She lives in Southern California with her husband and three children. Katy talks about how the challenging behaviors associated with her daughter's obsession with all things Frozen-related were calmed with a simple teaching story. And then she discovered Twigtale.

It began with stick figures drawn onto 3x5 laminated notecards placed on a key ring. One card read, “Mary’s dog” and had a rudimentary picture of a dog on it. Another card read, “Mary’s family” and included a simple drawing of two parents, a brother, and a sister. What followed included more basic pictures of this stick figure family eating dinner, riding in the car, playing a game…you get the point.

These notecards were a cheat sheet of sorts that were read to our daughter, Mary, who had been recently diagnosed with autism. Each night and throughout the day we’d page through these cards to reinforce with whom she shared her space and time. It was our youngest child’s first experience with a teaching story created by a speech therapist who was working with her on a weekly basis. She was 22-months old.

Let’s fast-forward two years. Our eldest daughter, Lily, asked if we could see this new movie about two sisters that had all her friends in school abuzz.  When Frozen finally made its debut in our house, it sparked an interest/obsession with Mary the scale of which we had not yet encountered. This fascination created some real challenges for Mary and our family.

I have yet to find a safe haven for grocery shopping or running errands where there is no sign of the commercialization of Elsa or Anna. In the beginning, this meant abandoning full carts of sundries from Target and a multitude of grocery stores as I carried my screaming child out to the car after refusing her demands of wanting everything stamped with Frozen. This challenge moved beyond shopping and into her school, playdates, the park, and the beach.  If she saw anyone wearing or carrying anything with Frozen on it, she would approach them aggressively and yell “That is MINE!” followed by a lengthy tantrum complete with sobs and frustration.

My husband and I felt helpless in trying to manage these outbursts. I all but stopped taking her shopping with me. When I mentioned this to her ABA therapist, whom she spends two hours a day with after school, she said she’d return with a possible solution. What she brought us was a six-page story, written on 8x11 laminated paper, and placed on a key ring.

This new teaching story includes pictures of Elsa and Anna but with Mary as the narrator.  The messages emphasize the importance of respecting other people’s belongings (especially Frozen-related items) and how she can feel empowered by using a calm voice and nice words to express her feelings when she sees other children with Frozen-related toys or clothes. Her therapist read this story to Mary repeatedly and eventually they began to have conversations about the themes and suggestions inferred from the story. 

We have read this teaching story so much with Mary that she knows the words by heart. In many ways, this gaggle of pages has felt like a breakthrough. It’s on her nightstand and one of her favorite go-to bedtime stories that she now reads to us. We have seen a big shift in Mary’s behavior regarding all things Frozen. Now, when we come across another child wearing or holding something with Frozen on it, we can see the deliberate choice she makes when she says, “I really like your t-shirt” instead of “Give that to me, that’s mine!” When we go to Target, she can now (okay, maybe 75 percent of the time) point to a Frozen toy and say, “I sure would like that someday.” Mary is also proud of her newfound coping abilities and will reflect afterwards on the good choices she makes. It’s nothing short of amazing.

As a result of the positive impact this teaching story has had on Mary, her team has created additional ones to help with other challenges she has faced. We are so grateful for these tools and refer to them often when we anticipate a situation where Mary may feel anxiety or frustration.  And now I recently discovered Twigtale, making it even easier to make these teaching stories.  A far cry from 3x5 cards with drawn stick figures, Twigtale utilizes technology so that I can make teaching stories with Mary’s personal photographs and narrative.

In my experience, teaching stories are a very powerful resource for some very real issues facing children on the spectrum.  And I am smiling as I wrap up this piece because I can overhear Mary in her room singing “Let it Go.”

Just for the fun of being cliché – yes, Mary.  You most certainly can.

Create your own personalized teaching stories on a wide variety of topics on Twigtale.com! Check out their wide array of existing templates here!

The Autism Speaks blog features opinions from people throughout the autism community. Each blog represents the point of view of the author and does not necessarily reflect Autism Speaks' beliefs or point of view.