Tag 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.

The Pendulum Swings Hard

Rmedal

Sometimes the pendulum swings so hard in our household, I get emotional whiplash over the course of a week.

Both of our boys are on the spectrum, but their issues are wildly different. Theodore had significantly delayed speech but Radcliffe talked early, but their IQ’s are roughly equivalent, meaning that while they couldn’t be further apart on the spectrum, they are landing in a very similar spot. What works for one won’t work for the other, yet what won’t work for the general population, will work for both of them.

It’s exhausting.

We work hard in this house to focus on the magic, on their gifts that they alone have. But we have highs and lows, just like everyone else.

Radcliffe struggled with reading comprehension and has had to have intervention in school. While driving home from tutoring last year, he choked up and said, ‘I’m just not smart like my brother.’

I pulled over and sternly told him that wasn’t true and explained how everyone has special gifts. That seemed to suffice that day, but it has always lingered in the back of my thoughts. Until then, our biggest problem with both of the boys were their social skills, and I worried about adding one more damn thing to this poor child’s plate.

Radcliffe’s magical gift is that he’s basically lunacy at work. He is creative with no confines or structure to hold him back— a dream most artists would covet.

Last week, we went to the Young Author’s award ceremony for the region. We knew he placed in the region for poetry, but they don’t tell you if you’re first, second, or third. All first place winners automatically go on to the state competition.

We made a big deal about, and told Radcliffe we would take him to dinner before for whatever kind of food he wanted. He wanted to try ribs for the first time. Um, okay?

RribsCelebrating. Theodore is smiling, which means the apocalypse is coming.

When we got to the ceremony, they announced he was first place in poetry for the second grade — which meant he went on to state. And then they announced that he placed second in the state for poetry — the only kid in the region, kindergarten through twelfth to place in poetry. I was screaming like a maniac, jumping up and down. I almost felt sorry for the other people in the audience.

That high lasted all week. We’re making progress, I thought.

Then today happened.

He got off the bus crying and by the time he walked into the house, it was a full blown meltdown. I was able to get him to calm down and I took him to tutoring. On the way home, I had promised the boys fast food for dinner tonight, and I started driving that way, the opposite way of our normal route home.

During this drive, I started a phone conversation. It was wrapping up, and I pulled into the fast food parking lot and put the car in park. I started to hear dry heaving from the back seat and sobbing in between heaves.

The phone call lasted 3 minutes from the time I parked to the time I hung up.

He was dry heaving and sobbing because I stopped the car.

I had a flashback of my daily drives home from preschool with Theodore and how he would vomit all over the backseat if I took a different way home.

And then I had a flashback of the pediatrician giving me the best advice I’ve received since being a mom:

‘Make him as uncomfortable as you can stand it. It will exhaust you, but it will push him and desensitize him. It will be harder for you than it is for you.’

My job as their mother is not to make them comfortable, but to make them uncomfortable — to stretch them to their limits, so they know their limitations are only what they themselves set. It’s working, but dear God, is it so damn hard.

I refused to move the car until he got ahold of himself, which meant we sat in that parking space for a good fifteen minutes. My stubborn streak serves me well in these situations. He finally pulled it together, but didn’t speak to me for another hour.

When he finally came around, we had a pleasant bedtime. Exhausted, I came downstairs to start my nightly chores. While cleaning up, I found an extra copy of his poem on his desk. It was the reminder that I needed that this exhaustion is so very worth it.

Happy

Happy is flying in the air on Maw-me’s tire swing.
Happy is the song I sing.
Happy is time at Laser Tag
Or watching a movie that isn’t sad.
Happy is spending time with my nice little dog, Ruby.
Happy is fun and eating yummy eggs.