The Island of Misfit Toys

In honor of the annual airing of Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer this coming Tuesday.


When I was in elementary school, I was fascinated by the Island of Misfit Toys.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, here’s an outtake from Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer. Rudolph and his friends have just found themselves on the Island of Misfit Toys and the toys are describing their problems:

The Island of Misfit Toys is like aspie heaven–a place where no one measures up to conventional expectations and you’re not even allowed to stay if you might be the least bit “normal.” A place where it’s okay to be a bird that swims or a cowboy who rides an ostrich.

Because that’s the real issue with living in a neurotypical world, isn’t it? Conventional expectations. If 99% of people had aspie brains instead of neurotypical brains, then aspies would be the baseline. Imagine a world where making small talk was considered dysfunctional and hugging someone you’ve just met was frowned upon.

But we aspies live in a world filled with norms and expectations that we often don’t understand or that we find ridiculous. A world that isn’t going to conform to our standards. So the question becomes: move to the island of misfit toys or give up swimming and learn to fly like the other birds?

Much of the self-help information out there for adults on the spectrum is focused on learning to fly in formation. Learning to assimilate, to pass, to appear less autistic.

To a certain degree, assimilating is beneficial. If you’re the train with square wheels or the boat that sinks, learning basic life skills is necessary. We live in an NT world and refusing to acknowledge that fact is going to result in frustration and bitterness. A certain amount of assimilation makes life easier. Given all of the challenges aspies face, that doesn’t seem like a bad thing.

But what if you’re the cowboy riding the ostrich?

Well, does the ostrich make you happy? Can you ignore the strange looks and snide comments from some of the other cowboys? If you’re like me, you’ve probably developed a certain capacity for ignoring what other people think about you. Maybe you even like defying conventional expectations.

As adaptive strategies go, flying your freak flag sounds like a pretty good one to me.

Let’s Be Independent Together

Early on in Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer, Rudolph and Hermey decide they’re going to fly their freak flags. They’ve had it with conventional expectations. Their efforts at assimilation have failed and they’re tired of being ridiculed for being different.

They come up with a solution that’s wonderfully Aspergerian: they decide to be “independent together.” It’s meant to be a silly play on words, but there’s a lot of wisdom in that phrase.

To be independent together is to accept our differences, to celebrate what makes us uniquely autistic, each in our own way.

To be independent together is to walk our paths, side-by-side, but not in lockstep.

To be independent together is something we can each do, right now, today.

Just look around until you find one of those unconventional cowboys. When you do, give ’em a smile and say, “Hey, that’s a cool ostrich you’ve got there.”

It’s that simple.

To be independent together is something we can each do, right now, today.
To be independent together is something we can each do, right now, today.

127 thoughts on “The Island of Misfit Toys”

  1. I always identified with the Island of Misfit Toys too. And Hermie, because he wanted to be dentist, and he got picked on because of it. On a few occasions I remember telling people that I was a “Charlie-in-the-Box”, in reference to being a misfit. I only remember two of them who ever got the reference.

    1. I never understood why Hermie couldn’t be the elf dentist. Didn’t the elves need dental care? It’s amazing that so many of us identified with the toys and the other unconventional characters, even as little kids.

    2. Love this writing and I hope you don’t mind I passed it forward and changed the wording to ARTISTIC instead… I am artistic and never measured up to my parents. This years Christmas cards I made were Rudolph on polka dotted paper and the pink dotted elephant inside. I’d love to send you one… We all need to be accepted no matter what our differences are!

  2. I, too, was fasinated with the Isle of Misfit Toys. I never could understand why Hermie was ridiculed for wanting to be a dentist and why Rudolph was hassled all the time and the adults did nothing. I have always felt apart from others. I was the one with the square wheels that couldn’t roll along with ones with the round wheels. I have to remember though, there have been times when other people are finding themselves fying, I am swimming just as fast. I just have a different way of doing and seeing things. I always found myself longingly watching the end of the show when Santa finds a home for each misfit toy. A place where you feel you belong, what a wonderful idea.

    1. I always felt sad for Rudolph that his parents made him hide his nose. I thought it was mean but couldn’t articulate why as a kid. I’d forgotten about the end of the cartoon until just now. It’s great that you remember Santa finding homes for the toys so clearly. It’s a hopeful ending to a kind of sad story.

      1. That “ending” was tacked on. Originally the toys were never seen again. Then the letters poured in and a “happy ending” was created for subsequent showings.

        Even Santa didn’t give a rats arse until pressure wad applied.

  3. I’m another one who identified with Hermie and Rudolph. I love the idea of being independent together and mutual support it describes. It’s hard to always be saying “…but I don’t work that way/think that way”. It’s awesome to find a place where people will take time to honestly say “That’s cool–so, how do you work/think?” and are open to hearing the answer.
    Nice Ostrich!

    1. I love how you took the analogy one step further, to not just acceptance but a mutual interest in how we’re different and what that means. Nice. And hey, nice ostrich back at ya. 🙂

  4. I am one of those neurotypicals who even before I knew what “identifying” was also identified with the island of misfit toys and always, since I can remember I have been a champion for the underdog. (Nod to yet another outstanding cartoon character) I guess this life long appreciation of the quirky and divergent made living and loving a child with Aspergers fit so easily.

    p.s. Come close because I should probably whisper this… when I watched Rudolph as an adult I thought Santa was a bit of a butt head at the beginning.

    1. Your natural affinity for the divergent folks among us really comes through in your writing. Your son is lucky to have you for a mom.

      And yes, Santa could have used a bit of diversity education. 🙂

      1. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed! Well deserved! And now today, I too am riding the Freshly Pressed wave. What fun! 🙂

        1. Congratulations to you, too! The funny thing is, the editor who selected this post for Freshly Pressed said she found me through the link from your blog (the stats post). I’ve been waiting for an appropriate time to tell you and here it is! So thank you for the rec on your blog – it turned into something wonderful and exciting!

          1. Oh that makes me SO happy! WOW!!!! I had so much fun with the stats post and a big reason why was because of your participation and to think it led to your very worthy post being recognized, well, that is icing on this very delicious cake! 🙂

  5. Your post made me cry, but in a good way 🙂 Rudolph has always been my favorite Christmas show and I’ve always identified with the Island of Misfit Toys (I’m the water gun that shoots grape jelly – I have a plush one on my desk on campus). My son has high-functioning autism and I suspect I have a light form of Asperger’s – so much of your site rings true for me! “Imagine a world where making small talk was considered dysfunctional and hugging someone you’ve just met was frowned upon” is priceless! Thank you for sharing 🙂

    1. Oh, I’m sorry I made you cry but it least it was good crying. Rudolph has always been my favorite as well. I watched an interview with the creator and he specifically mentioned wanting to get across a message to kids that everyone feels different at some point. I’d say he accomplished that and more. I’m glad you’re finding things you can relate to here. It’s always good to hear that others have had similar experiences.

  6. I belong to a UU Church, which doesn’t fit the mold of what a church is “supposed” to be here in the South. A friend of mine and I refer to our church family as the island of misfit toys because we don’t fit into what others expect us to be.

  7. I don’t know about the Island of Misfit Toys, but I have been encountered people who keep asking me why I act in strange ways, or why I hang out with strange people. I have also encountered and endured cruelty from people who want me to stick to the status quo. Going against the flow is tough, and I feel scared to do that most of the time.

    1. It is hard to go against the flow. It seems to make a lot of people very uncomfortable and then they feel a need to take that out on the person who is making them uncomfortable. I’m sorry you’ve been on the receiving end of people’s cruelty just for being who you are.

    2. Hey Ace! I agree with how you said that going against the flow is tough. It’s going to be tough, because everyone has their own belief on what is the proper way to act in different situations, but you may not feel the same way. That’s deviance, or acting out or against a groups social norms. That is why Hermey has such a hard time doing what he loves, which is being a dentist. Society tells him he’s an elf and he needs to build toys, but the fact that he wants to be a dentist causes deviant behaviors. And these deviant behaviors cause his peers to ridicule him.

      1. Thanks. I’ll read it. I don’t have Asperger’s but always have walked a different walk. Some of us are the “ugly duckling” in the story. We find our own beauty.

  8. Don’t hog the wisdom, Aspie! 🙂 That’s good guidance for all of us. I love appreciating people’s tats and metal by just publicly commenting, “Hey, nice art. Tell me about it.” I find appreciation of difference to automatically set me apart from most of the reactions they get. And I really do love it.

    1. You’re right, it is good advice for everyone! I’m enjoying how commenters from all walks of life are reminding me of that this morning. Your approach of asking others to tell you about their tats is a great one. I’m going to try practicing that more often.

  9. Where, oh, where is the LOVE button? What an amazing post!

    As someone who has bipolard disorder, I know a bit about being different, so your post is powerfully moving for me. Sadly, I’ve never watched “Rudolf, the Red Nosed, Reindeer.” I know, that alone puts me outside he bell curve, doesn’t it?

    At any rate, congrats on Freshly Pressed. And hang on for the ride. It’s happened to me 3 times, and it’s always a trip!


    1. Thank you – it is turning out to be a wild ride! “Rudolph” is on TV tonight (if you’re in the US) so if you want to check him out, this is your chance. 🙂

      So many of us are different in our own ways that it seems impossible to say that there is any sort of “normal.” It’s good to be reminded of that.

  10. I always loved this movie and this concept. It wasn’t lost on me as I think most people feel like they don’t fit in from time to time. Moving to different parts of the country can present problems. I am the opposite and am very friendly since I come from the Midwest, but sometimes get the eye roll and the turned back.
    Celebrate your uniqueness! It took me a while, but I am celebrating my own quirky personality too!
    Congrats on being Freshly Pressed.

    1. Thank you!

      I’ve lived in a few different regions of the US and I know what you mean about the varying levels of friendliness among strangers. If you naturally are more or less friendly than expected, you can get some unpleasant reactions. It’s great hear that your innate friendliness hasn’t been deterred by this. 🙂

  11. To be independent together is to accept our differences, to celebrate what makes us uniquely autistic, each in our own way.

    So true…wow. Thank you so much for sharing this post, it was very interesting and thought provoking. Also, congrats on being Freshly Pressed, keep it coming!

  12. Loved the post! It really made me stop and think for a second. Rudolph is such a classic movie. Being classified on the “island of misfit toys”, is to me a positive thing. You are the one that is unique and can aspire to step out of the box. The problem with our society is that so many people believe they have to follow a cookie cutter pattern. I don’t want a world filled with gingerbread men. I want a world filled with misfit toys!

  13. You know, for a TV movie that hasn’t really aged well (the “technology” may be a bit behind…), the messages still seem to resonate!

    I love the Island of Misfit Toys and what it represents. And I think every single one of us can relate to feeling like an outcast in some aspect of our lives. But yes, letting our freak flags proudly fly is often something that takes a lot of courage to do!

    Great post — thank you for the reminder about Hermey the aspiring dentist. Now I’m off to set up my DVR so the kids don’t miss this dated, timeless classic (an oxymoron? Nah…).

    1. It’s a classic (which automatically implies dated, right?) and one that does seem to have a timeless message. Though I wonder what the creators would think of Hermey and Rudolph having freak flags . . .

      I hope your kids enjoy it along with the rest of the holiday excitement. This is a great time year to be a kid. 🙂

  14. Love this…love this…love this! And I plan on sharing a link to this post with many friends, family members, and others passionate about education and AS. Thank you!

  15. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed – it’s how I found you and now intend to follow you. My daughter is awaiting her full evaluation but is probably an Aspie or somewhere on the autism spectrum in any case. I’m only just learning about it all but I sometimes think the ‘not fitting in’ is more of a problem for everybody else than for the Aspie person. I seem to get more upset than my daughter does if, say, somebody has been cruel to her at school. Anyway, I’m looking forward to reading more of your posts. Thank you!

    1. Thank you for the lovely comment and the follow. There are definitely times when I feel less self-conscious or bothered by not fitting in than those who care about me do. But there are also times when it’s difficult to be the odd one out. It’s a mixed bag, for sure. I hope that your daughter gets her evaluation soon – it can make a big difference to finally have a diagnosis.

  16. A long time ago, I wrote a short story about The Isle of Misfits–my always nickname for New York City. To me, a place where the nation shakes out it’s pockets and all those loose bits of change and lint and rubber bands and other miscellany falls out and finds a home. I’ve never looked at it from the perspective of someone who didn’t choose to be different. Thank you for bringing a different point of view to the table.

  17. Isn’t Christmas, the most wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, wonderful day of the year? I know if I was on the Island of Unwanted Toys, I would not want to miss all the fun with the girls and the boys when Christmas Day is here. How about you?

  18. Nice post. I don’t like the concept of neurotypical brains. I don’t have autism, but I am a synesthete with major depressive disorder. If that’s neorotypical, we’re all in trouble. Cheers to the misfits!

      1. You are indeed neuro-atypical. Synesthesia fascinates me. When I first heard about it, I was jealous of synesthetes. 🙂

        I often use Asperger’s and autism interchangeably because in my case both apply, so no worries!

  19. The whole conformity thing is really difficult. I am creative and that tends to put me in a box right on my own. I see the world quite differently. I also read a lot, think and research things instead of chasing celebrities etc which also makes me a bit of a misfit. I can’t really change any of that but I am careful how much I let out of the bag these days and have some great friends who love me as I am these days and are even somewhat similar. My son can be quite different and gets teassed. We try to point out the annoying stuff that isn’t integral to who he is as a person and just help to smooth some of the rough edges a little. I believe he is right on the cusp of the spectrum and when under stress, can show some strong traits and I go into “emergency mode”. That usually means getting out of a shop as fast as possible. Thank you for your post. I really enjoyed it!!!

    1. Thank you for sharing. I’ve never been much for following popular trends either because I live so much inside my head. I can really relate to your preference for reading/thinking/research. It’s great that you are understanding and sensitive when it comes to your son’s needs. Growing up different is so tough, but a supportive family goes a long way.

  20. We’re all different. Some more obviously so but as I get older I meet more and more people who can NOT be labeled as normal. So, I think, if that’s the case then there is no normal.

    1. Normal is truly impossible to define. I also think that as we age, we give ourselves permission to conform less so perhaps that’s why you find yourself among so many who don’t fit the normal label as you’re getting older.

      1. Hmmm..that could be, I didn’t think of it like that. Thanks for the other side. I just assumed that life has taken it;s toll on so many and by my age most are damaged, cause it sure seems like that.

  21. Seriously you hit the nail on the head.. Being an Aspie myself i have always saw myself as the Misfit toy but there is nothing wrong with that if people can’t accept who i am then i really don’t care i’m just gonna keep riding my unicorn in my rainbow bright costume

  22. You know, it’s funny; I have Aspberger’s too, and I never even thought about looking up a blog like this. But hey, I’ve liked the idea of ‘The island of Misfit Toys’ ever since I heard them singing about it on Glee.

    And I think you make great points about it too.

  23. Rudolph is one of my favorite heroes, and Xmas stories. He was special, and oh, how different. He guided Santa’s sleigh, and saved Xmas day!

    In a world where “uniqueness” is not easily accepted, I think children as well as adults should watch or read this magnificent story because it is a reminder to us to “embrace” our differences, as well as the differences of others.

    Thank you Rudolph, Santa, and the Island of Misfit Toys!

  24. I love how you compared society to this Rudolf movie.

    In today’s society being unique isn’t always accepted but I feel as the years go on people are becoming more and more acceptive of people expressing themselves in different ways.

  25. Thanks for posting this! I’ve loved the story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer every since I was a child. The first time I saw it on television I was fascinated by the claymation (animation) and the music. The Island of Misfit Toys was a fantasy refuge for me, because I too felt like I did not fit in. Even now as an adult, I watch it every year with the other Christmas programs, and it never fails to comfort me.

  26. That’s a very well written piece and I’m sure many can relate to it given that great analogy you’ve made. For those of us who feel like we’re not fitting in with social norms, your post is inspirational 🙂

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