October 14, 2011

Parenthood Review

Posted in Fun Stuff tagged , , , , , , , , , at 9:02 am by autismmommytherapist

Yes, it’s time for that semi-annual review of Parenthood again. NBC is shaking in their shoes.

I’d like to state for the record that it’s pretty much a miracle I’ve stayed with this show, and it has nothing to do with its quality, or its accuracy in representing the trials and successes of a family raising a child on the autism spectrum. Frankly, I think the writers, actors, and director are doing a phenomenal job, and it’s only a miracle I continue to watch it because I am such a wimp when it comes to television with autism as one of the primary subjects. Honestly, it’s just that at a certain point in my day I prefer to put a moratorium on “all things autism” if possible, specifically while enjoying my approximately eighty-seven minutes of downtime before slumber comes to claim me. Hell, it took me a week to watch Claire Danes portray Temple Grandin, and she was wonderful. I never saw Autism the Musical, which I know is my loss. I only watch A Night of Too Many Stars every year because we merit the comedic A-listers now.

At times I am a bad, bad, autism mommy.

In my defense, part of my lack of desire in viewing programs about autism right before bedtime is that they get my brain going in a thousand different directions, which for me is generally not conducive to sleep. Fortunately, Parenthood has never robbed me of slumber, and has only stimulated my mind in positive ways. It has in fact been the catalyst for several conversations about autism with acquaintances, all of which I believe have been informative in some fashion for everyone involved.

I think Parenthood has served as that catalyst once again with one of their recent episodes, where Max, (played by actor Max Burkholder) is placed in the same private school as his cousins, one with a predominantly neurotypical student body. His parents, Christina (Monica Potter) and Adam (yummy Peter Krause), wanted their son to be educated in an environment where he would be more academically challenged, and made the decision to transfer him from a school specifically designed to serve the autism population. It was a daunting decision for them, and remains a profoundly tough choice for many parents outside the world of television. You can see the weight of it clearly on Christina’s face the day she and Adam drop Max off for the first time.

In other words, his mother was scared to death.

I have to admit, the Parenthood crew did such a great job portraying Max’s subsequent immersion in “neurotypical world” that it was gut-wrenching to watch, which means they got it right. In particular, there was a scene in the classroom where Max repeatedly blurts out answers and chastises his neighbor, all while his classmates are simultaneously rolling their eyes and regarding him with utter contempt. Watching Max meet rejection at lunchtime when employing all the social tools he’s been instructed to use (offer to shake hands, look people in the eyes, and smile), was also upsetting. What was more upsetting however was seeing his utter frustration at the children’s reactions, when technically he knows he’s used all the right social cues. Only the most heartless of viewers would not be moved as he makes his way to another table, and sits down alone. I admit, I felt palpable relief when in a later scene his cousin, with friends in tow, seeks him out for companionship and advice.

But the scene that really got me was the one with Christina and the teacher.

It’s always interesting for me to view scenes such as this, because I taught for a dozen years and I’m a parent of two special-needs children, so I’ve made myself comfortable on both sides of the “table”. I could literally feel Christina’s frustration that she’d had absolutely no reports on Max’s first week of school, despite multiple, and increasingly desperate, emails sent to his teacher. Truly, I wanted to give her a hug.

At the same time, I remembered how even with the best-laid plans, the first week of school can often resemble a circus, and that’s on a good day. Sometimes it can take a week or longer to take stock of a child, see his strengths and weaknesses, get a sense of how he’ll interact with his peers. Max’s teacher seems competent, and I believe she was doing just that, trying to get to know him before contacting his parents. I also believe she should have responded to at least one of those emails. Everyone has enough time for “he’s doing okay, we’ll talk”.

Yup. Everyone.

I anticipate I’ll be mirroring Christina’s experiences with my youngest someday, hoping he’ll get a handle on his sometime-impulsivity, keeping fingers crossed and double-crossed he’ll continue to make friends easily as he seems able to do now. Zach has a long road ahead of him, and it’s lovely to see his potential future journey described so well on the small screen. Parenthood is doing a stellar job in raising autism awareness, which will hopefully continue to spill over to educators, neighbors, and that person at the watercooler who has no connection to autism (if he or she still exists). I’m hoping that this awareness, and ultimately its preferred bi-product, compassion, will extend itself to my little one some day.

And in the meantime, Parenthood, I remain hooked.

May 11, 2010

The Good Life

Posted in AMT's Faves, If You Need a Good Cry, Life's Little Moments tagged , , , , at 9:01 am by autismmommytherapist

It’s my fourteenth wedding anniversary today, so being the phenomenal wife that I am I began searching exactly five days in advance for the perfect present for my spouse. Just for fun I had to investigate what the traditional gift would be (it’s ivory, now no longer recommended because of that whole “endangered elephant” thing, although ironically the proposed travel destination remains as Africa), which gave me absolutely no resolution whatsoever. I cheated and looked up the anniversaries before and after, and while completely at peace with missing out on textiles last year, I admit I am wistful at the proposed jaunts to France and Switzerland respectively (if there’s anything to that past lives theory, I most definitely spent a good portion of mine in Europe, drinking wassail and eating whatever chocolate I could get my preferably noble hands upon.)

Jeff and I however will remain local, and most likely will celebrate the blessed event at Chevy’s. There the margaritas flow freely, and we will probably employ a coupon for the guacamole app I will pretend he’ll share with me, and that I will instead consume entirely on my own. Our wedding remembrance day will be the culmination of four events in one week, namely that of Teacher Appreciation, my son’s multiple birthday fetes, Mother’s Day (still a high holy day in my family, just not necessarily geared toward this particular mom), and of course, our fourteenth wedding anniversary. So much giving, and sadly, most of it to people other than myself. I will be exhausted.

With tremendous effort however I will rally, and engage in a tradition I always make time for annually, the once-a-year extraction of my wedding albums which are tightly sequestered between the three albums I have of my pre-child existence, and the thirty I’ve created since the birth of my first son. I enjoy remembering that day, as well as the engagement year leading up to it and the fabulous honeymoon that followed. Every time I crack those leather-bound and embarrassingly dusty tomes I search the face of that twenty-something girl, remembering how innocent she was, how completely unprepared she was for the rites and rituals of marriage, of parenthood. I harbor a deep tenderness toward her, and am glad she didn’t know what was coming down the road. Given who I was then, I’m not sure she would have left the dressing room and descended the long, windy staircase to her groom and the pre-wedding photo shoot that would enable her to partake more fully in the upcoming cocktail hour.

If I could travel back in time, hold her hand, and divulge to my younger self what was in store for her (if she’d let me), I’d tell her this. That her extremely ambitious goals of marrying a good man she could trust, one she liked to kiss and who made her laugh (which by the way were the same requirements I had for all of my boyfriends, which perhaps doesn’t say much about my expectations in general), would come to fruition. That this man (and at least with the first child, a posse of highly trained fertility specialists), would eventually give her the two children she so craved and longed to hold. I would tell her they’d be boys, that she’d get over the whole “I’ll never have a daughter” thing, and would eventually be grateful for the plethora of testosterone so rampant in her household. I would share with her that one of her worst fears would come true, that there would be something wrong with her babies, something that made them suffer, and that even with her indomitable will she wouldn’t be able to “fix it”. I would also inform her (when she took a pause in her hysterical sobbing) that she and that man she was marrying would work it all out. That eventually, after many long years of struggle, things would turn out okay.

I’d tell her that they’d bond during the infertility years, would take even most of the multiple miscarriages in stride, and would engage in an “us against our reproductive organs” mentality that would bring them even closer. I’d explain to her that long before the first signs of something gone awry would manifest in their baby that parenthood would temporarily rip them apart, that these “later in life parents” would have a difficult time learning what it means to relinquish all vestiges of personal time, but would eventually work through that too. I would instruct her that the awareness, the irrevocable knowledge that something is permanently disconnected in their firstborn son would initially cause a rift between them once again, but through their love for one another and their commitment to their child, that cleft would be healed as well. I would convey to her the first time would be good practice for the second, and that they’d cycle through the stages of grief faster with their last son, would be able to support one another sooner.

I’d forewarn her that there wouldn’t be a great deal of traditional romantic gestures, few surprises, fewer flowers, reduced tokens of affection. I’d console her with the information that her husband’s love for her would manifest in actions, from the way he cares for her sons in the middle of the night so she can sleep, to doing his own laundry, to conducting his weekly coupon-fueled grocery shopping which greatly increases her free time (I know, now I’m just showing off). I’d inform her that he’d one day read every word she’s ever written in regards to that book she’d one day pen about her experiences with her sons, and that their marriage would survive his instruction for her tenuous acquisition of the technological savvy required to operate her blog. I’d reassure her that she would find these activities far sexier than any flora or fauna he could bestow upon her.

I’d hug her, and when she stopped sniffling I’d look her in the eyes and tell her marriage was work. It would never be perfect. There would be fights, and no matter what they were superficially about, they would somehow always be about the same underlying issue. Every marriage has at least one.

But I’d also reassure her that her initial desires would come true. He would remain a good man. After knowing him for almost twenty years, she would still like to kiss him. And perhaps for her, most importantly, no matter what, he’d continue to make her laugh.

Then I’d wipe her raccoon eyes, reapply her mascara, and tell her to get downstairs so most of the wedding photos could be shot, and she could eventually partake wholeheartedly of the free bar and pigs in a blanket her soon-to-be groom fought so vociferously to include in the cocktail hour menu. If I knew her at all, she’d rise, take a deep breath, palm a couple of the Hershey’s kisses so conveniently available on her dressing table, and descend to her destiny.

And despite everything, from the aggravating minutiae of marriage to the soul-sucking events of parenthood, she’d find her older, but perhaps not wiser self, to be honest in her disclosures. Things really would work out. They would be happy. She would be happy.

There would be, for all of her loves, a good life.

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.