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Groundhog Day. Typically a third-tier holiday – if you can even call it that. A great Bill Murray movie from 1993. And also, somewhat ironically, Mr. Diggy’s birthday.
That our non-verbal autistic child shares a birthday with a furry weather-predicting animal (and an endearing, repetitive film) is not lost on us. In fact, when the routine of our autism world hits a crescendo, one or both of us will often sing out a line of “I’ve Got You Babe,” the Sonny and Cher song that is heard dozens of times in the movie.
While the movie itself does not have anything to do with autism, the day – and by extension the song – have become an extension of how we understand and celebrate Mr. Diggy.
Lesson #1: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
The repetitive nature of the film mirrors the entrenched routines common in many autism families. Bill Murray’s character, Phil Connors, lacks many (most?) social graces at the beginning of the film. So he has many, many opportunities to try these interactions again. Groundhog Day is the only day the world sanctions what is a reality for many autistic individuals.
Lesson #2: It can take practice to learn what others like.
Perspective-taking is notoriously challenging for many autistic individuals. If it’s not happening to them, it’s not really happening. So Phil may be on the spectrum after all. Through the course of the movie, he learns what will bring others joy and fulfillment, not just him.
Lesson #3: Foster healthy habits.
As the movie progresses, Phil eventually drinks less, helps more, and overall grows into a nicer person. He improves his self-care. If you are going to do something over and over again, then the healthier those things are, the better.
Lesson #4: Tomorrow is another day.
And it may be very similar to today. Autism families learn to deal with repetition. You learn to value the patterns, and appreciate the small differences for what they are. It’s very much what Emily Kingsley reflects on in her now-famous poem “Welcome to Holland.” She ends with, “…if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things … about Holland.”
Lesson #5: Anything can happen, if given enough time.
In 2014, the website WhatCulture estimated that Phil spent a total of 12,395 days—just under 34 years—reliving Groundhog Day. Autistic individuals do hit milestones- just often on timelines that are entirely unrelated to those published in parenting guides and psychology textbooks. The capacity for growth and change is there, it’s just progressing at a rate that is entirely tied to the individual.
No amount of prodding made Mr. Diggy walk (at the “early” age of 11 months) nor did it influence him learning to swim (just over age 2) or toilet training (at the ripe old age of 8). His capacity to communicate with his talker and practice ukulele are now present, but were not available to him for many years.
So watch the movie. Again. It makes a great date night at home for autism families. And enjoy the individual who wakes up in your home on Groundhog Day – and every other day as well.
Self-Care Survival Guide via Refresh