So, my evenings are usually full of TV. I love watching TV, I have gone into the reasons why before but mostly it's just what relaxes me. Career, family, parenting, special needs, money, job, pressures, dirty house, laundry piling up, my family, Maya's IQ scores, etc., etc., etc. TV has always served as a way for me to unwind, to tune out of life when I want to, and to learn lessons when I want to by finding relevance in what I am watching. Sometimes those connections are remote and reaching and sometimes, they are -- (cue drum roll)
Right. Out. There.
Tonight I came home and watched the most recent episode of Parenthood. I really do love this show. First off it has a bunch of actors who I really love -- Lauren Graham, Peter Krause, Bonnie Bedelia and Craig T. Nelson and the plotlines are very real and believable. On the one hand it is your typical big family drama but for some reason it is more real and less whiny (actually not whiny at all) than other series of its ilk (think Brothers and Sisters).
And I must admit I am drawn to the show because they have a storyline about a kid with Aspergers and they portray that with a lot of realism, a lot of dignity and without putting the TV stamp on it, that after the 45 minutes, everything is wrapped up nicely with a bow. It definitely isn't. They show a lot of reality for us parents with autistic kids. The struggle to find help, how everyday things are affected, irrational fears, meltdowns, behavioral issues, the toll autism can take on a marriage and a family. I am often moved, not by the sentimentality of it but because it is portrayed in such a real manner.
Tonight's episode didn't really revolve around the boy with Aspergers (Max, who is portrayed beautifully by the wonder actor Max Burkholder, himself not on the spectrum, but from the way he portrays his character, you would swear he is) but around some external events which culminated in this boy's therapist resigning from working with the family. The way it was portrayed, from the therapist's turmoil and true sadness at resigning, to the boys' mother's initial reaction, apologizing for being the problem and then the real devastation at learning what really prompted the therapist's resignation -- she, in a serious lapse of judgment, slept with the boy's uncle and has feelings for him and just couldn't continue to put herself in that situation. It was so sad, tragic, especially for Max who now had to cope with losing her and for his parents who were blindsided by the whole chain of events and left with nothing but the reality that they have lost someone who was truly helping their son.
At the end of the episode was what I think are for parents of children on the autistic spectrum is at once a moment of truth and our greatest fear realized -- that moment when your child learns he/she is autistic. In this show, he overheard an argument between his parents and his uncle with his father shouting in anger that the foolishness of the situation cost their son his therapist and how serious it was. Max, standing on the stairs hears this and says, 'I have Aspergers, what is Aspergers?' and fade to black.
We will find out what happens next week.
In many ways, I think this is the moment that many of parents dread with our kids. How are we going to explain to them about their autism? What will they understand about it? How will it make them feel about themselves? I think realistically Maya is years away from that realization, although she senses differences between herself and other kids, I don't think she really understands that she is the one who is different and she certainly has no knowledge (that I can see) that she is behind where her peers are or that she goes to a special school.
I wouldn't say my biggest fear is about Maya finding out about her autism, my biggest fears are more surrounding about what she may or may not accomplish in her life and are Leo and I making the right choices for her in order to be able to help her accomplish as much as she can? But, this runs a pretty close second I think. When is the right time to tell her? Will she and how will she process that information? Will it explain things to her or will it make her feel like she is less than other people? I have no idea what the right answers to those questions are or if there are other questions I should be asking.
Somehow I think that next week's episode won't just give me the answers. Are there Cliff's Notes available on this topic?
Maybe Modern Family is more my speed.