I bet that “Thank Heavens for Hannah Montana” isn’t a sentence you expected a parent to utter, but believe me when I say that for our daughter with autism, Hannah Montana has been a positive influence. No, it isn’t the dubious clothes, the even more dubious pop star antics or the canned laughter, but the simple fact that Hannah Montana is teaching our daughter about friendships. It may be a bit crass, it may be a bit technicolor and frenetic, but to a wee girl who is baffled by social rules and friendships, Hannah Montana is a lifeline in this complex world.
Our daughter does not like loud things. She finds conversations and plot lines difficult to follow but she loves the fact that Hannah has a best friend, they have ups and downs, fall out, make up, keep secrets, break secrets but at the end of the day, they have each other. She is learning that people can be annoying and mean sometimes but an apology can make things better. She is learning that, like Hannah Montana, you do not need to be the most popular girl in school, the prettiest, the cleverest, or the sportiest. You just need a few friends who make you feel good about yourself.
Hannah is not the role model I would have chosen (nor her alter ego Miley Cyrus!) for my daughter. Her family is dysfunctional, her reactions are over the top, everything seems bright and loud and busy, but at the centre of this crazy program is a girl with a good heart. A girl who is different (because she is an international pop star in disguise), who struggles keeping friends and with knowing who to trust. She wonders whether people truly like her for who she is. The plots may be far-fetched but what our daughter takes from the show is that it’s ok to be different, and actually quite fun.
I thought that our daughter was re-watching them just as an obsession but I realize she is re-watching them to try and further understand the plots (who knew there was so much to them!). I thought she got the gist of it first time around, but nope. I discovered this the other day when she was watching one of her favorite films, The Parent Trap (starring another dubious role model Lindsay Lohan) with a little friend. Even though she’s seen it four times, she doesn’t actually understand the story.
She is an academic little girl who does very well at school, so what was she getting from this film if it wasn’t the plot? Again, it was the interaction of girls, how they talk to each other, plot, chat, plan and generally communicate. She is using these films and shows as a manual for how to behave when dealing with other girls.
Now, this doesn’t mean she is getting blue streaks in her hair, feels a compulsion to throw custard pies or become a secret pop sensation, but she feels a little more informed about the weirdness of social situations. She knows a falling out doesn’t mean severing a friendship, and that not everyone has hundreds of pals. Most of all, she knows that being different can be cool.
So, let’s hear it for Hannah Montana, iCarly, True Jackson and the like. Who knew American drivel would be such help to a little girl with autism?