Girl, 6, with autism spectrum disorder, uses superheroes to help her communicate

Dressing up like Buzz Lightyear and channelling her favourite character has helped six-year-old Kate, who was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder in 2012, better communicate with those around her.

Kate's mother, Shanell Mouland, told Essential Kids, "It was easier for her to communicate via him because she knew what his phrases were … there is no confusion when you are a character.

"Being herself seems to be a little bit harder, in a sense," says Mouland.

After discovering Buzz, Kate came across the Ninja Turtles, often using one of their personas to communicate. "She is quite expressive with language but struggles with back and forth communication like most on the spectrum," Mouland says.

But it didn't stop there, Mouland says Kate then went on to discover superheroes "of all kinds". The mother-of-two says she believes her daughter relates to superheros for a few reasons and not just because "they rock".

"Their alter egos and individual existences appealed to her, (if I can guess)" she says.

"[Kate] is also a powerful, confident little girl with no natural fear of anything," explains Mouland, admitting that this is a "huge problem, actually".

The connection between autism and superheroes is a topic Mouland explores in a post to her blog: Go Team Kate. Explaining why she believes, "autism seems to be synonymous with superhero," Mouland notes that dressing up appeals to her daughter's sense of fantasy. Kate, she says, also very much relates to the characters she likes to impersonate.

Mouland believes this is – in part –because superheroes have an alter ego. "Just like a child on the spectrum," she writes, "superheroes live two distinct existences – the one inside their complex brain and the one for the outside world."

Advertisement

Superheroes, Mouland continues, have a tendency to live solitary lives – something, "kiddos on the spectrum" can also relate to. While friends are great, Mouland explains, "They can't possibly understand the logistics involved in organising your toys just right while the seam of your sock just isn't right. How could they possible comprehend the herculean effort a day at school can be with its people and their incessant and unrealistic demands?"

Like children on the autism spectrum, Mouland describes that superheros often have different or special abilities.

"Superheroes have super-sensitive hearing, sight or strength, among other powers. Children on the spectrum also report many of the same abilities, only the real world application of such powers can result in some painful sensory-overload," she writes.

Mouland also believes that the fact that "superhero language" is often scripted, ("To infinity and beyond", "Go Ninja, Go Ninja, Go Ninja Go") helps her daughter when other words fail.  "These phrases will often encourage a positive response from others (until they become a tad overused) and they are safe and reliable forms of communication," she writes.

As Mouland sees it, her daughter is a superhero – and it's not surprising Kate identifies with them.

"As cheesy as it may sound to some, there are superheroes among us, and they live on a spectrum of which we can barely conceive."

We first met Kate In 2014 when Mouland penned an open letter to the businessman who sat next to her daughter on a flight from Philadelphia to Maine. Her letter, "Dear 'Daddy' in Seat 16C," went viral, even reaching the man himself. 

"I had a vision of Kate pouring her water all over your multi-million dollar contracts, or house deeds, or whatever it was you held," Mouland wrote at the time.

"The moment you sat down, Kate started to rub your arm. Your jacket was soft and she liked the feel of it."

To Mouland's surprise, the kind man was unfazed - engaging her daughter in conversation, letting her call him "Daddy" (Kate's actual father was seated in another row with Kate's sister, Grace,) and showing her his ipad.

Two years later, the post still resonates – shared once again on Love What Matters on Wednesday.

Take a look at some of Kate's alter egos in the gallery above.

To read more about Kate visit: Go Team Kate