Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Parenthood

I write this latest, long overdue entry knowing that I'm going to really irritate some people.  It's time for me to address the NBC TV drama Parenthood.  If Twitter threads are any indication, this show has an incredibly loyal following.  Why wouldn't it?  It's well written, well acted, and approachable.  It features a family struggling to do the best they can for and with their "special child".  The problem is, when it comes to Asperger's Syndrome and the best way to raise an Asperger's child, it's DEAD WRONG.  I've started referring to Parenthood as "How to Screw Up Your Asperger's Child in Three Easy Steps".  Be warned.  After reading this blog, you might agree.

Step 1 --  Treat Asperger's as a Tragedy


Let me say this right up front.  Some Autism diagnoses are hard not to view as tragedies.  Even considering this position as an option should be reserved for only the most severe, "low functioning" cases.  Asperger's is no tragedy.  While it's true that no one wants a special child, we parents of Aspy kids are not martyrs.  Parenthood parents consider themselves martyrs.  They wallow in self pity.  The mom is perpetually "one good cry from the nut house" at any given moment in the show.  They demand martyrdom status from everyone they meet.  Sorry NBC.  That ain't me.  It ain't a lot of us.  We parents cry plenty, but we laugh plenty too.  We mourn their limitations, but we celebrate their successes with a level of joy that few will ever comprehend.  We stand in amazement when we see their "hidden gifts" come out.  Ours isn't an easy road, but go find a real tragedy.  We're fresh out here.

The real issue with treating Asperger's as a tragedy is that these kids are VERY perceptive.  I'm fortunate that I share a diagnosis that is close to my son's.  I understand his perceptive abilities in a way that neuro-normals never will.  If you believe Asperger's is a tragedy, so will your child.  They can read you like a book.  Don't fool yourself.  You can't hide it from them.  If you play the martyr, they'll play the martyr and never understand their true potential.

Step 2 --  Demand that the World Bend for Your Child


This part of Parenthood's writing makes me want to rip clothes and run through the streets screaming obscenities.  Asperger's children and nuclear weapons have much in common.  They can be volatile.  They make those who don't understand them uncomfortable.  They also have seemingly limitless potential trapped in a relatively small package.  Parenthood's handling of this single issue frightens me more than anything else portrayed in the show.  The parent characters move Heaven and Earth to make their child's life comfortable and to ensure that he doesn't "have a meltdown".  They handed out light sticks to all the neighbors to put in their jack-o-lanterns because their son gets wigged out when he sees fire.  I know of no better way to ensure that any Autistic Spectrum child will end up institutionalized than to avoid meltdowns at all costs. 

Meltdowns are a symptom.  They are not the problem.  Properly viewed, they show us the areas where our children need the most guidance in learning to build and utilize coping skills.  Helping our children develop and leverage the coping skills that the neuro-normal develop naturally is possibly our most important job.  When an Aspy child melts down, he/she is telling you "I'm overloaded by this situation".  It's a cry for help.  Treat it as such and help. 

Our son has always been afraid of "all things hot".  We had a choice.  Indulge it, or help him overcome it.  He now cooks his own grilled cheese sandwiches and quesadillas.  He put a baking sheet into a hot oven for the first time last week.  It's taken years of us challenging and prodding him, but he's getting there.  His sense of accomplishment is massive. 

None of us are going to live forever.  When I'm dead and gone, he can cook his own food.  One down, lots more to go.

Step 3 -- Give In

Asperger's isn't a tragedy, but it is the enemy.  One of my favorite stories is about a boy whose arm was bitten off by a shark.  This boy's uncle would not be denied when it came to the boy's well-being.  He jumped into the water, pulled the shark onto the beach, and retrieved the boys arm so that surgeons would have a chance at saving it.  This man kicked a sharks ass because it threatened his nephew's future.  The parent characters on Parenthood have "way too much quit in them" for my taste.  Asperger's brings some good things with it, but make no mistake.  It is an enemy that seeks to rob children of their futures.  There is no room for "it is what it is" thinking.  The one character on Parenthood who most embodies this is the boy's grandfather.  Unfortunately, the writers go to every effort to make him look like a neanderthal.  His character's approach is far more right than most will ever realize.

My grandfathers were, at times, the only people who treated me like there was nothing wrong with me.  It defined me.  When the rest of the world wrote me off, they would hear nothing of it.  Be this person to every child you know, "special" or not.  They all need it.

Still with me?  While I applaud the writers and producers of Parenthood for attempting to "pull back the curtain" on life with an Aspy child, I can not tolerate the misinformation they spread.  Parenthood has to go.

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