I work with an adolescent with autism (F) who tends to like a lot of Disney type music, with his favorite being The Lion King. He also likes anything animated, and even some live action stuff like Sesame Street. I was kind of surprised the first time I pulled out something Muppet Show related with him that he was less than enthused. His problem, he said, is Miss Piggy. He hates how she’s always bossing people around, and he really was not happy about how she and Kermit were an item. “It ain’t natural,” he said. I find it strange that he has no problem with a joke telling bear, or a singing and dancing frog, or even that Miss Piggy is a talking pig, but he can’t deal with Kermit and Piggy’s marriage. He’s called her a “stupid sow”, and this issue has come up at times when we’ve done anything vaguely Muppet related, even without a mention of Miss Piggy. The comments have subsided in recent months, however, and we were even able to talk about “The Rainbow Connection” last week without a Miss Piggy reference.
We had a meeting for F today, and we talked about a couple of different things that gave me a little bit of insight into his problem with Miss Piggy. One of these items was how F will frequently relate things that are happening in his life to fictional events. His mom was talking about how he will go on YouTube and find a video that relates to what happened to him during the and show that, and how she will have to redirect him so he’s talking about himself instead of Sponge Bob.
The other was how he is being bullied at school. There’s one particular evil kid that has been tormenting F since fifth grade (F is currently 16). It’s mostly name calling and threats, and F gets very frustrated with him. His behavior therapist was relating how “ignoring it doesn’t work.” F had a physical altercation with the bully earlier this year, where F knocked him down. It was an accident, but F didn’t apologize. He’s a pretty big kid, and I guess this bully is just mean, not hulking. I can relate – I had a few bullies that were smaller than me when I was in school.
Now, I knew about the bullying. We’ve talked about it in music, and tried to explore it some. The projecting his own experiences on other things was something I hadn’t noticed, but in the context of our Miss Piggy experience, I guess it has come up. We’ve had conversations about how Miss Piggy is violent and picks on other Muppets, particularly with her karate chops that send them flying across the stage. My guess is that he’s projecting his bully problem onto Miss Piggy, a character he’s inclined not to like anyway because of her unnatural relationship with a frog. This kind of gives a whole new level to the Muppet situation, and I am definitely going to be bringing it up again in a future session.
I was thinking about how I’m working with another client on understanding subtext, and here I am missing the underlying metaphors completely. One of the things I always need to remind myself about is that I really need to listen to what a client is trying to say. People can be maddeningly literal sometimes, but you can also get some important insights if you pay attention.