I probably would have watched NBC's new show Parenthood regardless, but my initial viewership became guaranteed when I read that Asperger's would come up. I definitely wanted to see how they would handle it.
Max (Max Burkholder) is the son of Adam (Peter Krause) and Christina (Monica Potter). It is clear from the very beginning of the first episode that he is a bit quirky. He's insisted on wearing the same pirate-inspired outfit to school for days. His dad is excited about their upcoming Little League game, but Max is reluctant to put on the uniform. At school (kindergarten or first grade, I'm guessing), he struggles to cut out a shape drawn on construction paper and to interact with the other students. When another kid calls him a freak, he leaps at him and bites.
The meeting at school includes phrases, like "We're not sure this is the right place for him," and a referral to an educational therapist. After that next meeting, Christina goes to find Adam and tells him that the educational therapist thinks they're looking at Asperger's. Adam responds by saying they'll get a tutor for Max and fixates on this even as Christina is trying to redirect him--it's not just the academics, there's the social component. Finally she says, through the tears, "There's something wrong with my baby."
This finally sinks in for Adam when he's standing outside of school with Max while the rest of the family is inside watching his niece's school performance. Max cannot go in because there are candles outside the auditorium, and he has a particularly strong fear of fire. When Zeek (Craig T. Nelson), Adam's father, comes out to suggest that Max just needs to get over it, it's Adam's turn to say, "There's something wrong with my son." Zeek, who is very much of the macho school of living, backs off a little, but I suspect he'll take more to come around fully.
My initial reaction was frustration over all the tears and agony. Our son is fine. He's mainstreamed, has friends, shows affection. I fully expect that he will be able to navigate life--he just needs a little extra support and explicit teaching up front. Move on, don't dwell and wallow.
But at the same time, I could feel my own tears welling up, and it didn't take long before I found myself thinking about the first time we were told the word "autism." Even more importantly, I was able to remember that we are dealing with a kid with 3 years of interventions now. We haven't had to deal with biting since it was vaguely age-appropriate. And then creeps in the memory of the note earlier this year that he had slapped a classmate. Or the fact that he wore a pirate hat this weekend (but backwards, signifying it was a "vacation hat" and don't call it anything else) when we went shoe shopping.
Our family's in a pretty good place now. He's improved and we've adapted. This is the gift of time and perspective.
You can be sure I will continue to watch Parenthood, if for nothing other than to root on Adam, Christina, and Max as they work towards a better place.