Autism Watch: 2007

Loving Parenthood

Posted on: November 19, 2010

While I love being a parent, I’m talking about the show, the one on NBC on Tuesday nights.

Rarely does an autistic child get portrayed so convincingly, and when you do see autism in the media, it’s usually the most severe, and the most obvious, which doesn’t help further the awareness and understanding for the less severely affected children with Asperger’s, PDD or “high-functioning” forms of autism. The child on Parenthood was diagnosed with Asperger’s during one of the first episodes, and it was heart-wrenching. I felt the punch to my stomach all over again, and I felt for the parents. I remember that “there’s something wrong with my son” feeling like it was yesterday, and I think they’re doing a terrific job in every episode in conveying to the rest of the world what life with autism is like.

Last week, the dad reacted when a stranger called his son a retard. There’s been some ridiculous bashing since then, and to that I say, yeah, sure. So many people out there are trying to sound very righteous about how violence isn’t the way to react, how they’d never do it, and how wrong it was. Sure, violence is wrong. It isn’t the proper way to react, and it is wrong, but since when are humans perfect? It’s completely natural and totally normal to want to pop someone in the face for calling your child such a vile and inappropriate term, and I think people who want to put down those of us who can relate aren’t being entirely honest with themselves. Or, they’re just one of the lucky few who haven’t experienced such a disgusting encounter.

Having a very verbal child who doesn’t understand boundaries, is very literal, believes big-time in rules and speaks up when one is broken, and doesn’t communicate as effectively as we’d like, added to the fact that he’s extremely, painfully honest, means I’ve seen the dirty looks. I’ve heard the nasty comments, and I’ve dealt with those who want to parent, discipline or even, truly, yes, it happens, swat at him or push him away. Retard isn’t one I’ve heard yet, other than from another child (which is a different issue entirely) but if I heard it,  I can tell you straight up now, I’d have one very hard time not smacking him. If nothing else, words would swirl in my head and I’d have to restrain my tongue in a big way to filter the nastiest and let him have the comments that he deserves without saying words I don’t want my son to hear me saying.

I can tell you, the time the guy swatted my son, I reared back at him. My husband had to step in, and my husband was twice as tall as the little man who had a potty mouth. When those around us boo’d the loser, it gave us a minute to collect ourselves and not do something that we’d regret later. My husband’s not a fly off the handle kind of guy, but touch his kid and I expect him to react. Defending the person who did it is unbelievable, and making the parent who reacts seem like the bad guy is even worse.

So, Parenthood nailed it. I say every week “how do they do this? who are they talking to that relays to them what life with autism is really like?” because even the little things are the same. My son too wanted to wear a specific costume — a cape and gloves — everywhere he went, for weeks and weeks. He obsessed over Legos and building things all.day.long. for ages, much like Max before he was diagnosed. He’s left off of birthday party invitation lists and stared at for other odd behaviors that Max displays. Now I just wish I could afford the type of behaviorist they have on the show and I’d have it made! We watch and give a little “been there, done that” laugh and are thankful that these kids are also being discussed and portrayed on television, and the public is given a chance to understand. I can’t tell you how many people have said “Do you watch Parenthood? I watch it and I get it, I understand more now.”

Any time even one more person ‘gets it,’ I have a sigh of relief. That’s one less person to swat at my son, stare at him, or call him a name.

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