“We are all stories in the end. Just make it a good one.” – Doctor Who, BBC Network
One evening, all snuggled up and ready for bed, my daughter Daphne and I were channel-surfing and landed on the BBC network. The “Blink” episode of Doctor Who, starring David Tennant as the Doctor, was showing. We were immediately sucked in. At that time, I had no idea what Doctor Who was going to mean to Daphne and our family, but we were in for one incredible autism ride.
Daphne is a six-year-old girl on the autism spectrum. She has a way about her that could bring a smile to anyone’s face, but with her autism came speech, language, and social skills delays. Daphne would get easily frustrated because she wanted to succeed so badly. The struggle in her expression and reactions were heartbreaking. As her mom, I just wanted to make things better and easier for her. At the beginning of kindergarten, Daphne could speak in simple sentences, but still babbled a lot. Her word sounds were unclear at times, and I would have to translate her meaning to those who interacted with her. She would try to talk with friends, but would struggle at times. Also, there were only certain friends she would play with and talk with on a limited basis. Friendships were so important to her, but we were worried that due to the lack of language and rigid play skills, kids wouldn’t want to play with her. Then, Doctor Who entered our lives.
Who would have thought something like Doctor Who would have such an impact on our lives? But, it has. As we watched more and more episodes, something inside Daphne opened up. She had something important now to talk about, and the world was going to listen. The “W” sound has been very difficult for her, and since her favorite villain became the Weeping Angels, she was determined to say it just right. For a while, it sounded like “sleeping angels,” which would cause her massive frustration, because she knew that was the wrong sound. Every night, I would hear her practice in her room until the one day she got it. Loudly, she ran out of her room screaming, “Weeping Angels!” and then broke out into the most incredible laughter.
At school, they also noticed an increase in her speech, language, and social skills. For a while they didn’t know what Daphne was talking about, because they did not watch Doctor Who. I mean, come on, what’s a Dalek, Cyberman, Weeping Angel, or Tardis? Daphne had a student teacher, Lottie, who started working in her autism classroom. Thank goodness for Lottie, because she knew exactly what Daphne was talking about! They began having conversations–real, back-and-forth conversations. Lottie understood everything Daphne said, and couldn’t believe this six-year-old grasped all of the plot twists and understood the show as well as she did. On Valentine’s Day, Daphne wore two hearts to represent the two hearts of the Time Lord. She would also walk around to “exterminate” people, a common phrase of Dr. Who’s Daleks, or call them an “adipose.” Thankfully, not a lot of people know what an adipose is! I would crack up, because as soon as Daphne would call me an adipose she would immediately say, “I’m just kidding. You’re pretty like Amy Pond and Rose.”
At home, we completely immersed ourselves in the world of Doctor Who. Her room was completely re-done in a Doctor Who theme. Her birthday party was Doctor Who-themed. The more we immersed ourselves in her interest, the more she blossomed. She even developed adorable crushes on David Tennant, Matt Smith, and Peter Capaldi. When we finally watched the episode “Day of the Doctor,” Daphne was running around the house screaming like a mad woman because all her boyfriends were all in one episode, and she couldn’t contain herself! Luckily, our neighbors know us, so they were not alarmed at her very high-pitched scream of excitement when Peter Capaldi’s eyes got flashed on the TV screen.
In the spring of 2016, Comic Con was coming to St. Louis, and I had to get her there and meet at least one of her “boyfriends.” We ended up getting two photo ops with the eleventh Doctor, Matt Smith. The night before, we made cards for him and David Tennant, complete with two hearts and very sweet notes. Writing is difficult for her, but she was determined to get these cards perfect. We prepared her Tardis dress and bows for the big day, and went to bed. The next morning, Daphne could hardly contain her excitement! Her self-stimming behaviors were through the roof! Self-stimming is a way for Daphne to regulate her system when she becomes over stimulated or has extra sensory she needs to release. She was doing a lot of pacing, finger-wiggling, and crazy-fast mouth noises, which I have no idea how she produces. As we walked into Comic Con, Daphne was immediately at ease. She posed, very nervously at first, with a life-size Dalek. She had to make sure it wasn’t going to exterminate her first. We bought her souvenirs and, finally, it was time to meet Matt Smith and give him her cards. She did great waiting in line. When we got in the tent with him, her eyes lit up. I quickly told Matt Smith her story and he gave her a big hug and talked with her about her cards.
It meant more than the world to us and to Daphne that he took the time to care. He didn’t have to go above and beyond our expectations, but he more than exceeded them, and this experience will stay with us forever. It may have been a small act of kindness from him, but this small act, and the show he was a part of, has done more for Daphne and our family than anyone could have ever imagined. She talked our ears off for days about how she met her ‘boyfriend.’ Thank you Matt Smith, and the Doctor Who franchise, for helping my Daphne blossom. She shows an extraordinary passion for life and individuality. She is my inspiration. We will never forget the day Daphne met the Doctor.
Jackie Nelson is a mom of a child with autism who worked with special school district for almost 10 years working with children and teenagers on the autism spectrum. She recently resigned from her job to focus 100% on her family and their autism journey. Recently, Jackie has started writing a book to share the struggles and victories of their family and our wonderful daughter, Daphne. You can follow Jackie on Twitter @jackinelson4.
This article was featured in Issue 57 – Conquering A New Year