I reluctantly tuned into ABC's Parenthood this evening after hearing assorted oooooh's and aaaaaah's over a particular character in the show which happens to be a little boy being diagnosed with Asperger's.
I'm interested, of course, because whenever I hear someone say “autism” on TV, I'll at least raise an eyebrow but to hear the term “Asperger's Syndrome” used is a totally different story. No one knows what the hell it is.
Me: My daughter has Asperger's.
Them: Ass Burgers?
Me: No, Asperger's. It's a form of Autism
I must be honest, I wasn't expecting much. I'm really quite defensive when the whole Autism thing comes up in the media. I don't want anyone's sympathy, I don't want anyone's advice, I don't care if you know someone who knows someone whose neighbor has a kid who has it, I don't want anyone to act all surprised when they realize my daughter speaks and does well in school, etc. Over the years, I've moved further away from books, blogs, social networks, studies, news, documentaries, etc., preferring to deal with the one and only kid with Asperger's that matters to me.
People often talk about being overwhelmed by their child's diagnosis then rising above it. But the more I think about it, the clearer it becomes that it was different for me. If I were to explain my experience with Octobergirl's diagnosis visually, it would look more like me falling into quicksand and rather than reaching for a branch that I could pull myself out with (rising above the diagnosis), I decided to swim deeper into it - totally changing my career path and my life - and ultimately finding an alternate way out. I've never found a book that has helped me understand my daughter any better. The husband and I stood back and watched and let her teach us how to deal with it all. It has worked out beautifully.
So I'm sitting here watching this show today with all of this running through my head and I find that I'm cringing each time there's a scene with this character and his parents. I want to dislike it. I want it to offend me. It's comfortable that way, I'm used to it being like that. But that's not what happened. They didn't portray the child like some sweet, misunderstood angel in need of comfort and help. They didn't have him sitting on the other side of the room looking all distracted and alone. They didn't have him struggling to communicate, nor did they give him some savant-like ability to make up for any number of assorted missing normal-kid qualities. No. They made him look just like my kid. A bright, verbal child who enjoys the company of his parents while being so set in his routine and restricted interests that he presents more like a moody brat than a child with a disability. I was blown away, to be totally honest.
The episode I watched was also the one where the parents get “The News” from the psychiatrist. It was way too familiar and more than a little uncomfortable. There was the part where the parents shift uncomfortably as the psychiatrist tries to convince them to stay positive. There was the part where he tells them it never goes away. There was even the soft-eyed, gentle expression on the psychiatrist's face as he attempts to comfort the parents knowing very well that he's just broken their hearts. The whole scene was a little too real for me.
Throughout the show, the parents struggle to get their child out of this pirate costume he insists on wearing constantly. When they bring it up to the psychiatrist, the advice he gives them is that they should focus more on joining their son where he is rather than try to force him out of his comfort zone. The parents continue to shift uncomfortably and roll their eyes and I don't know where this is going. But then in the closing scene, the child is running around the back yard in his pirate suit and his father is running around after him with his own eye patch and striped shirt and now I'm thinking ABC may have won me over. For one more episode at least.