Category Archives: Autism

Autism and the Fall Lineup on Television

The fall lineup of television has three shows depicting a character with Autism as a central theme: The Good Doctor on ABC, Young Sheldon on CBS, and Atypical on Netflix. (Yes, I know they never mention if Sheldon has Asperger’s, but I think we can all agree he does).

In the last 48 hours, I’ve watched all three, and two of them as a family. Our youngest is now Young Sheldon’s biggest fan. He was already a fan of the Big Bang Theory, but he was sucked into watching a child who loves bow-ties as much as he does navigate his life at the same age he is. There is a scene in the pilot episode where Sheldon points out a woman’s mustache to her and I cringed. I’ve lived through several of those scenarios with our youngest, scenarios that no matter how many times you live through it, they are still mortifying.

Atypical does a fantastic job reflecting navigating the teenage years. Because it does deal with the subject of dating and sex, my husband and I decided our youngest is not ready to watch it, but we will watch it with our oldest.

We sat down to watch The Good Doctor last night, and it turned out that our oldest had already watched the show without us but gushed about how much he loved it. Then, he sat down and watched it for the second time with us, eyes glued to the television the entire time. When I tucked our youngest in for bed last night, he said, “Dr. Murphy’s Autism is what saved that little boy’s life.” He was referencing the main character, Dr. Shaun Murphy, a pediatric cardiology resident who is Autistic, saving a young boy’s life by recognizing signs that the other surgeons couldn’t see. “One day you will wake up and realize that your ability to think differently is a gift,” I said, as I kissed his forehead.

I had to fight tears as I watched The Good Doctor. There are several scenes where the hospital administration is arguing whether or not someone with autism has a place on their surgical team. It was heartbreaking, infuriating, and a real concern of mothers of children on the spectrum who wonder if others will hold their children’s diagnosis against them. We know they have exceptional abilities, but do others? When all you focus on is what makes them different, how can you see what makes them exceptional?

What all three of these shows get right is showing the nuanced family reactions. The struggles of the siblings, the parents trying to do what’s right by their kids or by trying to ignore their child’s behavior, the people that shun them, and the people in their life that can see their potential and keep pushing them forward. All three also show that these children/young men have a level of perseverance that most adults lack. The ability to keep showing up and pursuing their obsessions serve these characters well in the long run, even when it seems everyone around them is actively working against them.

I never thought about representation on television in regards to my children as they are both white, middle-class boys. When I thought about representation on television, I thought about female superheroes, African-American families with positive stories, shows with minority storylines. My children could watch any television show and see themselves reflected on what they were watching.

Or so I thought.

They might be able to see people who look like them, but no one who acts like them. In retrospect, I wonder if watching other kids who look like them, but are neuro-typical made them feel even more like an outsider than they already did. My kids don’t play sports like the kids on sitcoms or gravitate towards typical young male interests. The only shows they’ve seen with characters who have similar behaviors to them are adult characters, such as Sheldon in the Big Bang Theory.

Most of us have childhood heroes that can be traced back to television. But even superheroes aren’t reality, and superheroes are a creative escape (which are also needed, don’t get me wrong). When kids on the spectrum feel as though they are the only ones navigating a neuro-typical world, it’s comforting to know that there are options of television shows who are including characters with Autism. Not only does this help them feel less excluded, these shows are also breaking down preconceived notions about Autism, opening doors for future inclusivity.

 

 

Leaf Piles and Imposter Syndrome

A few months ago, Radcliffe came to me with tears in his eyes.

Me: What’s wrong?

Radcliffe: I don’t want to tell you. I need you to take me to the doctor because something’s wrong with me.

After some coaxing, he said this:

Radcliffe: I hear voices and I know it’s weird and I’m embarrassed and people are going to judge me.

I internally start to panic, but I remained calm.

Me:  Are the voices telling you to do things?

Radcliffe: (looking at me quizzically) What? No! These people live in my mind like a movie and they have adventures and fight bad people. But they keep having adventures, even when I try to ignore it.

He inherited my brain, I realized. I hugged him and told him I needed to show him something. I brought him into my office and pointed to a piece of white butcher paper taped to the wall with black sharpie notes written on it.

Me: These are the people that live in my brain that I can’t turn off. This is the book I’ve been working on.

I could see the lightbulb go off and a wave of relief wash over him. This child, who with Asperger’s sees the world in black and white but is the most creative child, does not understand his own creativity. It must be so confusing, to be nine years old and not understand that this is how a creative mind works when you generally see things in stark contrast.

We’ve talked a lot since then about stories, how they’re made, keeping a notebook of thoughts, storyboards, and how to turn thoughts into a story. Since then, he’s come up with two comprehensive storylines that, dare I say, exceeds anything I could ever imagine.

Last year, he won first place in the region for poetry and placed second in the state. This year, we received another invitation to an award ceremony, telling us that he had won first place in poetry for the region and the state winners would be announced that night.

Tuesday night, he seemed nervous. When I asked him what was wrong, he told me he was nervous he wouldn’t place in state like he did last year.

Jesus. He has imposter syndrome already and he’s only nine.

After lots of hugs and encouragement, we went to the ceremony where they announced he also placed first in the state for poetry. The look on his face when they announced it brought tears to my eyes.

He sat down and said, ‘Wow, this is really exciting.’

It really is. It really, really is. It seemed fitting that this happened the beginning of Autism Awareness Month. We all worry about our children, and autism mothers worry about their children finding a place in this world. While I will always have this worry, I love seeing our children find a spot where they feel good about themselves and seeing them light up when they are in that place. Every day is Autism Day in our house, not just the month of April. But these days? I’ll take every single one of them.

His poem:

Leaf Piles
Leaves falling like rain in a pile.
There are so many they make me smile.
A wind will make my pile gone in awhile.
But that’s okay, it’s just my style.

Polite At All Costs

Politeatallcosts

Southern women are taught to be polite at all costs. Southern mommas are expected to raise polite offspring.

One blistering day, I was driving with my two and a half year old son in the backseat, and I was feeling quite smug that I was going to be early for an appointment. So smug that I thought to myself, ‘You know, I have just enough time to run into the dollar store and pick up a few items.’

I pulled into the concrete strip mall and hustled my son into the store. I was still on schedule, until I got into the checkout line.

I waited. And then waited some more. And even though I was wearing a dress like a good Southern girl does, the sweat from the muggy day started to cause my thighs to stick together. My mostly silent child up until this point started to whimper.

I tried to ignore the noises. I tried to ignore my sticky thighs and the impatient sighs from the patrons behind me.

The line would not move. My smugness turned into panic as I realized that I not only might no longer be early, nor on time, but late.

As it finally became my turn to put my items onto the belt, my son started to cross his legs and cry.

‘Ma’am, can we use your bathroom? We’re potty training and he doesn’t have on a diaper.’

Disdainfully, she looked at me. ‘No. All of outside is a bathroom for boys.’

I stood there, both dumbfounded and livid, as I slowly reached up and clutched my pearls. I felt my fingernails cutting into the palm of my hand as my fingers wrapped around my necklace.

‘Of course. You’re right.’

Crimson shame spread across my cheeks as the long line behind us began to whisper.

I shuffled my son out of the store and looked around frantically. There was nowhere for him to go to the bathroom. I directed him to the nearest corner.

Instead, he walked straight over to the window of the store, pulled his smocked shorts down, and began to urinate on the window, in full view of the register and line we just walked away from. Everyone, including the cashier, stopped in their tracks as this child made the window his personal bathroom. I just stood there and did nothing, with my own jaw hanging open in surprise.

He pulled his shorts up and started leading me to the car as if nothing happened and I followed, speechless.

I waited a year to shop there again. When I finally had the nerve to go back, there was now a posted sign: ‘Bathrooms for pregnant women and potty-training children ONLY.’