For those of you who follow my Twitter feed, this story will sound slightly familiar, as I related an abridged version, in 140-character chunks, a few days ago (and if you're not following my Tweets, why aren't you?)...
Several months ago, I had ordered a copy of a Super Hero Squad comic (a tie-in/ promo for the SHS ONLINE video game) in the hopes that DOCTOR STRANGE would be in it. Unfortunately, since I pre-order my comics 3 months in advance of their publication, I have no idea if what I'm buying is what I hope it is to be, and in this case, in order to obtain the item in question, I had to order a CASE of 25!
Well, I figured, they were only 50cent cover price (and I usually get a decent discount - normally 40% off) so it was all good. If Doc WAS in it, I'd keep two and then give away or have a blog contest for the rest, or at the very least find some actual KIDS to whom I might give them.
Sadly, no Doctor Strange was to be had in the issue (bummer), and so I now had 25 copies of this issue and wasn't quite sure what to do with them - yet.
As some of my astute readers (and especially Twitter followers - seriously, I Tweet almost CONSTANTLY) will know that I have a new job wherein I work directly with children - and most especially, "Special Needs" children. As such, each child - like you or I, have their own unique perspective and areas of interest. Some kids' "needs" are on the surface while others lie hidden deep within. It's up to us to try to reach them on their plane of existence and slowly guide them over to - if not our own, then at least a middle-ground.
So, I always like to try to find what makes the kids "open up". You wouldn't believe how often it's SUPER HEROES. Honestly, it's a gold mine.
Normally, this subject is broached when the child either asks my name, or I offer it forth to inquire of theirs. When I say; "My name is Peter", they almost always say, "Like Peter Parker! Spider-Man!!!"
To which I reply with any number of appropriate responses to show my familiarity with the character, and allude with hints at my deeper understanding of comic book lore. I don't overtly blab about comics, but I cast out a few obvious references, that if the child has any interest, they will take the bait and I can then reel them in with more active conversation.
So, it came to pass when I was working with two such children, young boys of 9 years of age, each with their own differing "special needs". One of them needed to have constant interaction, lest he retreat into his own "head-space" which was when trouble would usually begin. The other child seemed almost always on-guard and didn't speak overmuch.
While working with the more outgoing child, working on his letters and numbers, in a coloring / activity book, the subject of super heroes came up. He initiated this line of conversation, ostensibly via the realms of video games and cartoons.
"So, who is your favorite super hero?" I asked.
"Nightcrawler!" was his unexpected reply.
"Really? He's MY favorite of the X-Men, too," said I, "I also really like Cyclops!"
I asked him how he knew of Nightcrawler, and he went on about some video game (I missed the name of it, as he spoke so fast) but then I heard the unmistakable words, "...and the Super Hero Squad!"
That cartoon seems to be seen by every little kid I come across. While I may not be a fan of the show, Marvel seems to have reached a new generation of kids via jokes of belching and flatulence in tights.
So, I promised him that I would bring him some Super Hero stuff later that day.
(I figured, I'd draw an original Nightcrawler pic - or photocopy an older one that I had drawn, for him to color, but wanted to wait to see if the other child may also have any interest, as it's not good to dote on one child and ignore the other. Unfortunately, my time with them ended before I got to ask the other boy.)
Still, as promised, I brought 2 of the aforementioned Super Hero Squad comics and just gambled that the other child would be interested.
When I saw them several hours later, I went up to the 2nd boy first.
"Do you like Super Heroes?" I asked.
"Sure!" he responded, eyes alight.
"Great! Here ya go!"
Perfect! I handed him one of the comics and gave one to the other child.
"SUPER HERO SQUAD!!!!" They both erupted with joyous howls of excitement!
In between irrepressible bouncing in their seats, and looks of eye-popping happiness, they both stopped for a second and looked at me...
"Yes, these are for YOU. You can KEEP them."
And thus the bouncing and rambunctious happiness continued.
I made sure to let them both know that they had the same issue of the same comic, so as to avoid any rivalries or complications. I'd find out their individual likes and cater to those later, but first, equality reigned.
The rest of my time was spent with the usually shut-off boy (the first boy was engrossed in the comic and his aide was helping him read it) and a usually guarded child became engaging and verbal - more-so than anyone present had seen before.
Excited, extended conversation, with references to his interests and knowledge of the characters via cartoons and many, many super-hero video games, and his declaration that he has been at work on HIS OWN COMIC BOOK story for a class project, were all non-stop topics.
I found that he had no one favorite character. He liked Marvel and DC heroes fairly evenly (although he did like the Marvel ones a little bit more), and he would learn about new characters and like them in turn, until he learned of others and so on and so on. Not bad... intelligence gathering on as many characters as he could, while retaining the information of what he already learned. Growing his knowledge and appreciation as he went along.
As the rest of our time went on, he brought up the MARVEL CIVIL WAR.
"How do you know about that?" I inquired, hoping to hear that he read the comics.
"I played the Ultimate Alliance II video game." was the 'What? You never heard of video games?' retort.
"Oh. I only played the first one." I said truthfully, trying to regain some cred.
He then discussed the "right / wrong", "good guy / bad guy" aspects of the battle between heroes.
He began by saying; "So... Iron Man is a good guy and Captain America became a bad-guy for a while..."
I let him finish his thoughts and asked him why he thought Cap was being a "bad-guy".
"He didn't register!" was the indignant reply.
So, I then went into all the variables of what registering would entail; giving your secret identity, what your powers were and agreeing to have Iron Man tell you whether you could use them, or where you would live.
Unsure, he inquired, "That's what registering means?"
"Yup. In this case. They wanted to know everything and would then tell you what you would be able to do."
Reasoning it out, he admitted, "Oh... in that case... maybe Iron Man isn't totally right."
"Well, they were BOTH right. And they were BOTH wrong." I tried to explain.
Each position had its merits and its problems, both heroes had valid points but they couldn't come to an agreement.
I then explained how Iron Man wanted heroes to act as official helpers for police and the army working with the government, while Cap wanted to continue fighting for the people as a free agent and not being told what problems were worth his efforts.
Making sure to let the boy know that the Police are there to HELP YOU and having heroes as official helpers would have been very good.
I then told that Police are registered, as are people who want to vote. It has very good applications and merits. Just not in all things.
I saw the wheels moving in the boys head and saw that he was now open to many differing angles of this discussion, where before he was adamantly in the belief that Cap was wrong.
"If I was a super hero, I wouldn't want to tell them who I was or how I got my powers." he asserted.
But through our discussions of comics and video games... cartoons and random ideas... he said to me, surprised at the concept and excited by its significance; "We have this stuff in common!"
Personally, I had no official stance on the Marvel Civil War story, for I, too, saw both sides, and like Doctor Strange, would rather have stood aside as a neutral party, helping everyone on either side, to make peace.
The whole point of my relating this tale is not to discuss the merits of the Civil War or even comic books in general.
My point is that be they "special needs" or not, every child has thoughts and interests and often times feel as if adults are these people who just tell them what to do and have little in common with them - unless it suits the adult.
All it might take is a little bit of inquiry, research and conversation into the child's deeply held interests and they will come alight - thrilled and amazed in the way that, even for a little while - child and adult - "have stuff in common".