A New York Times bestseller and now a well-reviewed film, Wonder tells the inspiring story of August Pullman, a boy with facial differences who enters fifth grade, attending a mainstream school for the first time.
As the associated hashtag #ChooseKind suggests, the film is an opportunity for families to discuss how children can respond when they meet someone with facial differences or craniofacial anomolies such as Treacher Collins Syndrome.
We spoke with Scott P. Bartlett, MD, Chief of the Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, about the film. He specializes in congenital and acquired deformities of the skull, face, jaws, and ears.
What are some common misconceptions about understanding craniofacial anomolies such as Treacher Collins Syndrome? How did the film address this?
The biggest misconception is that persons with a facial difference, including both appearance and functional issues, are challenged when it comes to intellect. As the movie portrays, this is certainly not the case, and may be the opposite.
The film addresses this by showing that Auggie is in fact just like other kids when it comes to intellect, and even above the mean. The film also addresses the broad subject of prejudice, be it based on appearance or race or creed or whatever. It does a nice job of showing how it is best to just approach every situation with kindness and respect. You may be surprised at what you find.
How is Auggie’s experience typical with 27 surgeries by the age of 10 for a child with Treacher Collins Syndrome?
Yes, it’s not unusual for a child to have this many surgeries, as it effects many systems such as vision, hearing, speech, and chewing.
How can parents talk to their children about how to respond when they meet someone with a craniofacial anomaly?
I think the message for parents is similar to what I mentioned above. Approach with kindness and respect, get to know the person…you will likely be surprised.
We also asked Peggy Featherstone, a Yardley mother of four adopted children from China with cleft lip and palates who are treated at Children’s, about the film. Featherstone and her husband Mark have four biological children and five adopted children from China (including the four treated at Children’s) ranging from ages 11 to 22.
What can you tell us about your experience?
My children are very supportive of one another and I anticipate they will give back to the cleft lip/palate community as they get older. People often ask me about the burden of taking care of a child with clefts and the anomalies that go with it. If I can convey one thing by sharing my family’s story, it’s that their burden was lifted because of the incredible care they’ve received at CHOP.
How could you relate August Pullman’s experience? How has your experience been different?
Our experiences were different with our children since they have cleft palates and cleft lips. Our experience started with the CHOP International Adoption Program and the staff directed us to the cleft lip and palate team who are simply amazing. The team has cared for our children since they have come home from China at various ages and will take care of them through adulthood. It’s really until they stop growing.
What do you hope people who have watched the film or read the book take away from it?
The movie really showed how craniofacial differences can affect the child, but also how it affects their family and extended family as well. I feel the CHOP team helps deal with the child as well as the families, too.