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Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Parenting a Child with Special Needs

by Michelle K. Wolf

August 11, 2011 | 11:25 pm

I have always liked monkeys. As a child, my “lovey” wasn’t a bear or a doll – it was a sock monkey I named “Judy” after the chimpanzee in my favorite TV show, “Daktari”, which was a short-lived television series in the late 1960s about a veterinarian who ran an animal study center in Africa and tried to protect the wild animals from nasty poachers and other bad guys. When we go to the zoo, I always insist on a visit to the chimpanzee enclosure, and love to watch them play and swing around.

So with that said, it isn’t too surprising that I wanted to see the latest Planet of the Apes movie, even if the performance capture special effects were supposedly more complex than the plot. Movieweb.com sums up the plot as” …an origin story in the truest sense of the term. Set in present day San Francisco, the film is a reality-based cautionary tale, a science fiction/science fact blend, where man’s own experiments with genetic engineering lead to the development of intelligence in apes and the onset of a war for supremacy.”

But from my perspective, the movie had a lot to say about the challenges of raising a child (okay, in this case a chimp) with special needs as well as caregiving for an elderly parent. The main character played by James Franco is a biomedical researcher raising an orphaned chimp from infancy and is also taking care of his aging Dad while at the same time trying to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease (talk about your sandwich generation).

There are a few key scenes that really resonated for me as a parent of a teen with developmental disabilities. One was when young Caesar, the super smart alpha chimp, is looking out of his attic window at the neighborhood kids riding their bikes and having fun, and he stares out at them with such a look of longing and desire. Caesar sneaks out to have some fun too, and is nearly clubbed to death by a nasty neighborhood dad. At another point in the plot, Caesar is trying to figure out his identity with his adopted human family—is he an animal, a pet or a human? Caesar poignantly signs, “ What is Caesar?”

People often ask me what Danny thinks about having disabilities, but due to his limited speech abilities, plus his obsessing on certain subjects, which is currently the “SuperFriends” cartoon boxed set with the “Legion of Doom”, I don’t really know what he thinks about it. Every now and again, however, I do see that same sense of longing and desire to be part of something that he can’t join in. Sure hope he doesn’t start a revolution about it.

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