Subtitle: That Time I Dissed the Show You Love
I know. I’m behind. I’m always behind. Everyone has already seen multiple seasons of some fantastic television show and I jump on the bandwagon after it’s over and done with and put on Netflix in its entirety. Either way, after probably 10 recommendations from people in different walks of life, I decided to give Parenthood a shot.
It’s heartwarming. Truly, it is. It’s interesting. I am invested in the characters and I want to know what happens next. Sometimes, it’s even funny. But here’s the thing. Most people suggested this particular show to me because of one character: Max. Max is on the autism spectrum. At the time this show was originally scripted and recorded, Asperger’s syndrome was still being diagnosed, so that’s the diagnosis of a boy on the show who is played by a child actor named Max who was actually diagnosed with Asperger’s. That part I like.
The other parts? I’m frustrated. While the show does reveal some of the nuances of parenting, teaching, befriending, or even BEING someone different—for example, Max has trouble deviating from routine, he acts out when he doesn’t understand what’s expected of him, he has certain sensory needs and aversions (i.e. the bubbles in the fish tank early on in Season 1 are incredibly loud for him, though most students fail to even notice them), his sister’s needs and interests often go by the wayside because his parents focus on him, his parents worry constantly—it fails to reveal the logistical and financial difficulties of this type of diagnosis. Which are vast. So let’s compare.
Hollywood: Max’s parents are so good that when they feel something is “off,” they’re able to sneak in to see a very well-known, well-respected doctor and get a diagnosis within days.
Reality: I had to book an appointment in May and wait until December to see a developmental pediatrician. This was after multiple evaluations inside and outside my home during which I began to understand that my son would be diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Many people told me that seven months was actually a good timeframe. Most people wait 9 months to a year.
Hollywood: Max’s parents hear of an amazing school where students with special needs are given individualized education, so they visit the school, beg for the principal to meet with Max, and even though the principal says they couldn’t possibly accept him, what do you know? They do. During this time, Max’s doctor tells the parents to be aware of the cost, “Think of a regular private school’s tuition—then double it.” But of course, it’s no matter. Hollywood television characters have unlimited funds! Let him start Monday!
Reality: There aren’t a lot of safe, educational places for students with autism. When my son had a horrible experience at a preschool, we had to wait to set up a meeting with his current school. He had to stay at my mother-in-law’s house while we filled out paperwork and scheduled meetings. In our county, there are four possible public schools my son could attend this coming school year with his current abilities and behavioral needs, two of which are quite a far drive and not feasible for our family. That leaves 2 more. Staff members at the remaining two options currently believe that my son may not be strong enough communicatively and behaviorally to handle the program. So my kid is in limbo. The only charter school in our county for students with autism starts in 4th grade. Many private schools don’t employ full-time speech therapists, occupational therapists, and behavior specialists, and often times, they don’t welcome students with IEPs because it’s challenging. The ones that do? Well, they’re either 45 minutes away in another county, or they close after people learn that they’re raking in the dough when they jack up their tuition prices parents have to pay on top of the McKay scholarship. But now I just sound a little disgruntled, don’t I? Moving on…
Hollywood: Max’s behavioral aid starts immediately! She claims she’s $30/hour and Adam laments that it’s expensive but it’s worth it! She sees instant results from Max with no meltdowns or behavior issues at all. She even gets him to talk to and play with a girl at the park for the first time.
Reality: My son has been on the waiting list for every occupational therapist in a 30-mile vicinity for about 2 and a half years. For probably a straight year, I spent my life on google and on the telephone attempting to find him help. Some of these places are ineffective. Some proudly take no insurance. When we visited private places for behavioral and floortime therapy that we loved and believed in, we were quoted $100/hour and recommended to come twice weekly—I’m sorry, that’s a mortgage payment each month. Last summer, when we were able to get a therapist to come to the house—she left after summer was over because obviously her schedule couldn’t possibly accommodate two working parents and a child in school form 9:30-3:50—William resisted working with her. I don’t know? Because she’s a stranger coming into his house touching him and asking him to do things? How come it just can’t go as well as it did on TV?
But wait—it’s not all bad! I will say one thing Parenthood illustrates beautifully is the ignorance surrounding a diagnosis like autism or Asperger’s. The baseball coach who all of a sudden speaks sweetly to Max and tells the other kids to let him back on the team to “just stand there” during games. The friend who offers a Tibetan prayer stone. People who call it a “situation” over and over again. Pity. Disdain. Confusion. Those? The show got those right on.
So go you, Parenthood. I’m sure somewhere, there’s a suburban stay-at-home mom living just outside some beautiful city where autism services roll down like water and her husband’s salary flows like a mighty stream. She relates to this show fully. But that just ain’t me. No, I’m over here with limited funds, limited resources, insurance issues, waiting lists, and a lot of unanswered questions.
But who would watch a show like that? Am I right?