Monday, January 19, 2015

Lilo: Dabrowski's Gifted Child in Reel Life

I've mentioned Gifted Overexcitabilites before, and linked before to the SENG page outlining them and the wonderfully-easy-to-understand-even-if-you're-new-to-this Jade Ann Rivera's posts about them. I was talking to my good friend Care from Homeschooling Hatters about our topic for this blog hop, and she pointed out that most media/books/movies/etc. paint either a positive, academically strong gifted ideal with none of the downsides, or make the smart kid the butt of jokes. As a result, very few people who aren't parenting a gifted child with overexcitabilites have never heard of them, and have a very incomplete picture of what being gifted really means.

Around the time I was researching about gifted overexcitabilites I watched the Disney movie Lilo and Stitch to see if it was something that would be a good movie for the kids. As I watched it I was struck by how much this little girl was acting like the things I had been reading about. And while Disney may not have intended it that way, they were clearly portraying a gifted child with several of Dabrowski's overexcitabilites, as well as other characteristics of a gifted child. (Spoilers ahead.)

If you haven't seen the movie, it's about a young girl (maybe 5? Her friends ride tricycles still) living in Hawaii with her older sister as her legal guardian. Her parents have died relatively recently, and her sister's custody of her is in question with social services. In to all of this a destructive alien escapes to Earth and gets adopted by Lilo as her pet dog as cover from other aliens attempting to capture him. She names him Stitch. The movie covers her attempts to rehabilitate this destructive creature, causing problems with the best of intentions while her sister is fighting to prove that she's a fit guardian. Happy endings for every one, but enough suggestion that it could happen that I'm not going to show this to my own emotionally sensitive boys. One of which often brings up our contingency plan should anything happen to both my husband and myself, and constantly wonders what it will be like, and can he have the computer passwords so he can still play his computer games when we're gone? I don't need him seeing that things could go wrong. But I digress.

The scene that introduces the character Lilo has her swimming in the ocean as a fish swims by with a sandwich in it's mouth. Then she runs to her hula class, obviously late. She runs in and finishes the dance and the other dancers slip on the puddles that followed her onto the stage. She explains that it's Sandwich Day and she has to give Pudge the Fish a peanut butter sandwich every Thursday. Only this day they were out of peanut butter and her sister suggested a tuna sandwich. Which would make her an abomination if she did, because that would be a type of cannibalism. So she had to go to the store to get peanut butter to make a sandwich to give the fish. Because he controls the weather. And that is why she was late. A classmate calls her crazy, and Lilo's emotions erupt and she ends up getting in a physical fight.

In just this scene I see Imaginational Overexcitabilites and Emotional ones as well. At a very young age she feels an intense moral obligation and responsibility, has a concept of the taboo of cannibalism, and has the vocabulary to use the word "abomination" correctly. She feels everything deeply, and reacts stronger than a lot of kids do. It's also interesting to note that her parents died in a car accident that was caused by the rain. It seems to me that she took responsibility for that accident; if she had been feeding Pudge then, maybe they wouldn't have died. So she could be trying to make sure that something like that doesn't happen again to someone else but appeasing the weather controlling fish.

Lilo also doesn't fit in with the classmates who she calls "friends." Her doll isn't pretty, and has a gross back story to explain her looks that makes her "friends" run away. The people in the end who are her family and friends are all adults or aliens. She displays periods of depression, and refers to one of her paintings as "that's from my blue period." The books on her bookshelf (she read her sisters diary, so clearly an early reader) include a variety of topics including "Oyster Farming," "Fire Eating," and "Road Maps of Iowa." Which relates to Intellectual Overexcitabilites and wanting to know about a large variety of subjects that are not commonly considered to be interesting. She finds beauty where others don't see it. She also has a strict sense of justice, and strict adherence to the principal of "ohana" or family and her definition of it.

From The Rhode Island State Advisory Committee on Gifted and Talented Education, Gifted children's behavior differs from that of their age-mates in the following ways:

  • Gifted children often read widely, quickly, and intensely and have large vocabularies. 
  • Gifted children commonly learn basic skills better, more quickly, and with less practice. 
  • They are better able to construct and handle abstractions. 
  • They often pick up and interpret nonverbal cues and can draw inferences that other children need to have spelled out for them. 
  • They take less for granted, seeking the "hows" and "whys." 
  • They can work independently at an earlier age and can concentrate for longer periods. 
  • Their interests are both wildly eclectic and intensely focused. 
  • They often have seemingly boundless energy, which sometimes leads to a misdiagnosis of hyperactivity. 
  • They usually respond and relate well to parents, teachers, and other adults. They may prefer the company of older children and adults to that of their peers. 
  • They like to learn new things, are willing to examine the unusual, and are highly inquisitive. 
  • They tackle tasks and problems in a well-organized, goal-directed, and efficient manner. 
  • They exhibit an intrinsic motivation to learn, find out, or explore and are often very persistent. "I'd rather do it myself" is a common attitude.
  • Many kids have some or similar characteristics. It's like the diagnosing of OCD or depression. Sure, lots of people like things to be near and orderly or have bouts of extra sadness. It's the degree of how much it interferes with the person's life. The most obvious sign on the muchness to me is the frustration level of her mother surrogate. That's not just because she's an inexperienced, thrown into motherhood young lady. That level of frustration is a common experience with every parent of a gifted child with overexcitabilites that I've talked with. That experience is echoed in a recent blog post I saw on facebook titled "How to Recognize a Parent of a Gifted Child." I did find one problem with this list, and it was echoed in the comments: not all gifted kids hate sports! This is another topic I want to write about, using another media source, but that's going to have to be different post.

    I love the character of Lilo, and I empathize so much with her and her sister. I think she's a great example of what it can be like to parent a gifted child (with the character of Stitch being a manifestation of Psychomotor and Sensual/Sensory Overexcitabilites.) But I don't think most people even realize that she is a gifted character because she isn't labeled as such, and she seems to be in one of the more forgotten movies in the Disney line up. Could this be because the majority of people don't relate to her? I think, that if your kid won't share her preoccupation with death, Lilo and Stitch can be a great conversation starter with your kid who exhibits these characteristics and traits. And maybe we can use Lilo and Stitch as a way to explain to others that gifted children aren't all what the media has made them out to be.

    This blog post has been a part of the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum Gifted in Reel Life blog hop. 

    Click here for more posts on this topic.

    Edited later to add: Hey, it looks like I'm not the only one who thinks this about Lilo! Michelle at Mommy Misadventures wrote about her, too! Check it out!

    Picture of Lilo used according to the terms of


    1. I'm excited to see this movie. I love it when cool kids have cool books on their shelves.

    2. I'd never thought about Lilo and OEs in this way before. I don't even think I've seen the entire movie start to finish, but I'm going to have to check it out and watch for the "signs."

      1. I don't think I ever saw more than just a few clips here or there on a waiting room tv or the like until I sat down to pre-screen for my kids. I'll warn you; if you've got the high empathy or emotional OE, you will probably tear up and/or cry. Especially as a mother.

    3. Yay! I'm not the only one who sees Lilo as a gifted child. When I first watched I was like, "Yay, she's quirky" but when I had my daughter I was like, "OMG I am raising Lilo." :) And of course my daughter would love an alien "dog" but who wouldn't?

      It's interesting that you mention that she's forgotten in the Disney line up. Among the mainstream, she certainly is. Stitch is the one everyone remembers from the movie. Lilo is just kind of... there. You don't see her on Disney merchandise because she's not a princess. She doesn't have magical powers. And let's face it, most kids think she's WEIRD. She's the representation in Disney of not belonging, never fitting in, and what happens when you march to the beat of your own drummer. And that's why for the subset of kids who do relate to her, she's incredibly important.

      1. I totally agree! I think Lilo just became our unofficial mascot. :)

    4. I've never seen this movie, but I'm looking forward to watching it! Thanks for the recommendation!

    5. My daughters love Lilo and Stitch and acted it out for about a week...that was a fun week. ;) "The most obvious sign on the muchness to me is the frustration level of her mother surrogate."<<- Exactly. Loved this post.

    6. Ooh wow - another film to add to the *must-see* list. Thankyou!! I wasn't sure whether to get this for my kids. But I think in a few years ( when they won't be traumatized by the contents), I'm going to sit them down and watch this with them.

    7. Yeah, now I need to watch this. A lot. Maybe library tomorrow... if they're open. ^_^

      It's so exciting to know there really is a portrayal of a child with OEs out there who isn't inherently a "bad" kid, and a gifted kid who is more than just smart and quiet.

      Great post, by the by, I rather like the inclusion of The List in with the descriptions. <3

    8. Great post! It is so good to see giftedness and OEs shown in a non-stereotype way.

    9. Great post! It is so good to see giftedness and OEs shown in a non-stereotype way.

    10. Thank you for your insights and for linking to me! Great post. :)

    11. Very insightful, great post :)

    12. I must have missed this one along the way. Now, I'll have to check out that movie!


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