April 6, 2010


Posted in My Take on Autism tagged , , , at 9:33 am by autismmommytherapist

Have you seen Parenthood yet?  That’s the question I’ve been asked most frequently in the past few weeks, that is after “Are you really blowing off American Idol this year?” (yes, sorry Ellen), and “Have you mentally prepared for spring break with your two young autistic children?” (no, sorry kids). By the way, good luck over the next week to my stay-at-home mom brethren, and Godspeed.

When I’ve had a moment to respond to the first query, the answer has been in the affirmative. Frankly, even if the son’s portrayal of Asperger’s was as jarring as Mary McDonnell’s on Grey’s Anatomy (sorry Mary, but I almost depleted my entire wine stash, even the good bottles,  watching those episodes) I’d be forced to view it. My boy Peter Krause is in it, and while he’s not on my “list” (my husband and I in honoring Friends will only allow each other three fantasy people to potentially sleep with), we do have a long history together. I’m brave enough to announce I’ve loved his work as far back as Sports Night (why did you ditch them ABC, why?) and more recently adored him in Six Feet Under. He’s entertained me for many hours of my life, the least I can do is support him. I’m certain he’s deeply appreciative.

I’ve read complaints on the internet that the show is highlighting only the high-functioning side of the disorder, and I agree that Max, the child of Adam and Kristina Braverman, resides on the milder side of autismland. While it would be lovely to see a child depicted on the small screen who is resting solidly in the middle of the autism spectrum, I’m not really sure how any actor would pull that off. Frankly, it would be a Herculean feat for any director to instruct a child on how to accurately depict the stimming, impulsivity, and perseveration that often accompanies the disorder. To the best of my knowledge, none of the Fannings are in age range.

I thought they did a nice job showcasing a differing array of responses to the news that the couple’s son might have Asperger’s, with one parent already embracing the diagnosis and moving on to conquer, and the other still fumbling toward acceptance, needing the words to come from the mouth of a professional before truly incorporating it into the framework of the family. I also appreciated the way the writers revealed the other character’s responses to the news, particularly that of the old-school grandfather. I am also envious of how many family members live within a short radius of Adam and Kristina’s characters. No matter where your child falls on the spectrum, every family needs assistance. In a perfect universe, we would all hail from the Waltons.

My sole issue so far stems from the speed in which the Bravermans were able to secure an out-of-district placement for Max, and the manner in which acquiring it was conducted. This could have been a fabulous opportunity to showcase the myriad IEP meetings needed before such a placement would have been enacted, or the research that would have been conducted by both the family, and the school system. It would have been nice to convey to the public more of the panic that generally ensues for families realizing their child needs another facility, and what finding the appropriate program entails. After all, these days appropriate programs with openings are as rare as women who stay married after winning the best actress Oscar.

However, I will take this opportunity to remind the current naysayers of the show of one incontrovertible truth. This is TEL-EEE-VI-ZUN (I’ve capitalized it and spelled it phonetically for emphasis.)  It is impossible to get it completely “right”, to capture every nuance of what a family goes through upon learning their child is the bearer of a permanent neurological disorder. Besides, there are really four storylines being portrayed in this show, and between the number of characters and commercials, that leaves about eleven and a half minutes to address the issues and emotions surrounding post-diagnosis turmoil. I, for one, will be patient, as one of the producers himself has a son with Asperger’s, and I’m certain he’ll at least endeavor to do justice to the pain, exhaustion, and sheer irritation that comes with an ASD diagnosis, and hopefully further address such issues as the financial implications, and the effect on siblings.

Whether Parenthood is a completely accurate rendition or not, it has already raised awareness amongst the general public. Evidently, immediately following the end of the pilot, as well as the morning after, Asperger’s syndrome  was one of the top Google searches (the fact that this technologically illiterate writer understands what a ‘top Google search’ entails should be celebrated by a parade, by the way.)  If people are intrigued by the show they will do research, research will lead to a broader knowledge base, and knowledge leads to an improved and gentler understanding of autism spectrum disorders, and their effect on families as a whole.

Besides, I get to see Peter Krause again on a regular basis. I, for one, am rooting for the show.