Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Long Awaited Parenthood Episode Disappoints

Warning: Spoiler Alert: If you have not watched Tuesday night's episode of Parenthood and still want to see it without my review wait to read this post.


I had been waiting for last night’s episode of Parenthood, not since last week, but basically since the show began and the character of Max was officially diagnosed with aspergers syndrome. The teaser from the week before set me on an emotional rollercoaster for the week. Honestly, I so wanted the follow-up to be wonderful. Perhaps I thought about it too much, but quite frankly I thought last night’s episode was awful.

I have to say there was that poignant moment when Max is trying to understand his aspergers and how he is different; telling his parents that his brain has capillaries and blood vessels just like everyone else. It brought to mind the scene from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, where Shylock extorts the court, “Does a Jew not bleed red blood.” But other than that I actually was very disappointed in how the writers portrayed Adam and Christina.

I understand that it is a wrenching experience for people to try to explain to their child what aspergers syndrome is. To try to help your child understand that even though he is different he is still the same as everyone else. What does that mean and what does that entail? To try to let them know that you love them beyond reason and that you always will. That this is not their fault.

I just wish that Christina would get a hold of herself and stop crying and looking like a deer caught in headlights. Yes, I do cry about issues and I do get frustrated, but never in front of the children and I never let it interfere in my life. And yes, I usually do cry during episodes of Parenthood because it brings back painful memories that I have locked away in my mind’s vault. But this Christina character is something entirely different. Is it so beyond the concept in Hollywood that women-mothers can be momma-grizzlies and deal with their child’s issue without becoming damsels in distress? Is a woman who can handle issues with out having to rely on men for the ultimate decision so unheard of? Is a woman who kicks butt and takes names so beyond the pale and too frightening to the male power structure in Hollywood?

I also wish Adam would stop wanting Max to be a “normal” kid and accept him for who he is. I get the idea about the theme park in this episode. I get the idea that Adam wanted to connect with his child. Hubby just told me that if we ever get to take a vacation again he wants to go to the Nemacolin Resort in Pennsylvania where its all sports all the time, so he can connect with his boys. I get it. I understand it. But I just wish Adam handled the little idiosyncrasies better.  The idea that Adam got turned around because Max needed to wear a particular color sneaker is annoying. Max’s likes, needs, issues are not new to them by now. There comes a time when you have to deal with the reality and not let it overwhelm you.

I also really really wish that they would have had a plan in place to talk to Max and not have to wing it at the last minute. This is a topic that parents think about all the time, when to tell their children and how to tell their children. This is not something that should come as a surprise to any parent of a special needs child. You need to plan for that day as you plan for everything in your child’ life.

I wish that they were able to make decisions without constantly needing to ask a therapist, too. We didn’t ask a therapist for advice on what to say to collegeman. Our argument was actually even more basic: hubby thought it would make collegeman feel bad to know why he had all this help in school and need all the therapies, while I thought it was better to tell him. OK, it turned out I was right and the therapist backed me up, but no one told us neither how to approach collegeman nor how to present it. Honestly we didn’t even bother to ask.

We knew what we had to do. Not only did it turn out fine, but also it was a godsend to our son.  He was relieved to know that all his issues and the reason he needed an aide when others in school had none, was not that he was bad or did something wrong. That aspergers was not his fault. We saw his self-esteem rise tenfold after that conversation. It would have been nice for the show’s writers to have made Max a little more aware that he behaved differently and that he realized that not everyone had a behavioral therapist or went to OT, etc. Max does have a neurotypical sister and cousins. Our children are not that unaware of the world around them.

Really, did the characters not know that they were supposed to point out the fact that there are positive aspects of aspergers without the doctor telling them to? Did they not know to make it a positive conversation? Did they not know to not refer to aspergers in such a way as to make Max feel that to have a disability was to have no future in life? Why did the therapist even imply that to tell Max that aspergers was a disability was a bad thing? Do the writers and producers not know that people with disabilities live normal and happy lives as well? Luckily the characters were made to realized that they needed to emphasize that they love Max no matter what…Glad they were given that much intelligence.

Granted Parenthood is written for a general audience who doesn’t know very much about aspergers, what it is and how to deal with the issues involved. Perhaps they were trying to also explain autism to the international audience. I don’t know. But I think it would behoove those of us who deal with aspergers on a daily basis to give us some credit and not write how we are all incapable of dealing with our children, knowing how to talk to them, and being able to create a future for them without getting a thumbs up from the psychiatric community.

I have news for everyone I know more about autism at this moment and knew more about how to help my children back in the day even when collegeman was first diagnosed than any of the doctors we talked with. When the home health support came from collegeman’s self-contained classroom when he was 5 years old to check out the home and offer advice, she had nothing to add, saying we had done everything he needed on our own. It was all instinctive. It is called parenting. While I rely on therapists and support for the boys, they take my direction on what the boys need and they always did. You as the parent need to take the lead, and not be led. If I had listened to the so-called experts years ago collegeman would not be a collegeman today.

So anyway, my rant is over. Of course I will continue to watch Parenthood. It is after all one of my favorite shows on television. Maybe I expected too much. Or maybe this episode was just too personal. I’ll think about it and let everyone know.

Until next time,