Disney+ Short Film 'Float' Teaches Us About Raising A Child With Special Needs

by Rachel Garlinghouse
Originally Published: 
Pixar Animation

Just when you thought Disney+ can’t get any more enjoyable, their newly released animated short Float will captivate your family. Float is only seven minutes long, but the message of parent-child love and acceptance of a child’s special needs resonates for long after.

If you don’t yet have a Disney+ account, get in now while the deals are still hot to watch Float and other original content. You can sign up for a 7-day free trial now, or if you’re a Verizon subscriber, you get a year free.

Float opens with a Filipino father and his baby enjoying the outdoors. As neighbors stroll by, something unexpected happens. The baby boy begins to float–literally–into the air. The father panics, grabs his son, and runs into the darkened house to hide. He doesn’t know what to do with this new reality that his son is atypical.

As the years pass, the child keeps floating, and the dad keeps worrying. We watch him attempt to weigh down his son by piling objects in the boy’s backpack and tethering the boy with a string. The father’s desperation is painstakingly evident. He loves his son, but he’s also dealing with personal pride, shame, and fear. All parents want to protect their children from physical and emotional harm — and for parents of children with special needs, it’s even more of a reality.

Meanwhile, the child remains happy-go-lucky, readily wanting to explore the world around him. As tension builds, we watch the father and son attempt to visit the park where many other families are enjoying a sunny day. The father hopes that by staying right by his son, nothing out of the ordinary will happen.

Of course, the boy does what he does, because special needs do not cease to exist based on environment. As the boy begins to float and laugh, clearly enjoying the freedom of being outside among other children, once again the father is forced to quickly decide what to do. Does he pull the boy down, or does he let him enjoy the park as he is?

I don’t want to spoil the ending for you. Let’s just say the last two minutes will leave you searching for tissues.

Float is clearly a metaphor for parenting a child with special needs. In fact, director Bobby Rubio based the short on his own son’s autism diagnosis. He admitted that at first he wasn’t ready to tell his family’s story — but as the years passed, his urgency grew. He felt he had to find an outlet to express the emotions and experience of parenting a child with special needs. Float did this — beautifully.


As a mom of a child with multiple diagnoses, I know exactly how the father in Float feels. Parenting a child with special needs means often feeling caught in a cycle of denial, grief, and confusion. We come to a point where we have to make a decision. Will we embrace our children for who they are, or will we live in a perpetual — and unhealthy — state of anger and fear?

Accepting that our child is different from others has been both challenging and joyful. We have learned that difference isn’t a bad thing. In fact, there are many people with special needs who have had incredible success in their lives. Dav Pilkey, author of the bestselling children’s book series Dog Man and Captain Underpants, has proudly proclaimed that having ADHD and dyslexia are his superpowers. My kids love his books, because Pilkey understands children, especially their questions and imaginations.

This short powerfully reminds us that the problem isn’t the child’s special needs. The real problem lies in those who fail to accept and embrace the beauty of difference.

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