Inside View: Looking at how “Parenthood” portrays Asperger’s

I was thinking about a lot of different things to post about. Like the constant soundtracks going in my head. All the time. Right now, it’s “I was in the house when the house burned down” by Warren Zevon. But then I decided to let out another post that’s been smoldering  or perhaps festering, in my head for quite some time, about Parenthood, a TV show. This is apropos because a new season started recently. The other topic is only apropos because I listened to my Warren Zevon CD 2 weeks ago and it’s still rattling around inside.


My friend told me to watch Parenthood several months back because it was about a family with a kid who had Asperger’s. This is why she decided to watch it (online), to find out more about the condition (which I had told her about some time ago). Then she wanted me to watch it to see if I thought it was accurate, I guess, or what my take was. I was reluctant. I’d heard of the show before, on an Asperger’s forum I visit at times for a while, until I get all discouraged by people in general, so I knew (or remembered once I looked it up) that the writer of the show also had a kid with Asperger’s, therefore lending some credence (presumably) to the portrayal. At the same time, despite some uncanny similarities between people with Asperger’s, I rolled out the spiel about how people with Asperger’s are not all the same. Furthermore, it has seemed to me anecdotally that the whole “kids with Asperger’s” group (that is, the parents of said kids) has a very different take on Asperger’s than adults who actually have Asperger’s. As for the kids who have Asperger’s, their voice doesn’t actually get out much so I can only look back to my own childhood, when I didn’t know anything about Asperger’s anyway and neither did most other people. Perhaps because having Asperger’s can make it difficult (I’m told) to really see things from another’s perspective, my impression was people who actually have Asperger’s don’t seem to think it’s the cataclysmic event that parents do, though we would like to be able to deal with people better.  I thought that a show actually written by or at least influenced by an older person with Asperger’s might therefore be more “accurate.”

My other bias against the show was, I’d clicked onto it once by accident, and ended up on what seemed to be some chaotic scene where everybody was talking over the top of everyone else and I couldn’t tell what was going on. I’m not a real fan of that kind of show. I already have a hard enough time figuring out what is going on in movies, not the least because a lot of the characters look the same sometimes, as anyone who’s ever watched a movie with me can attest to. If you don’t like people who have to ask what’s going on while the movie is playing,  you’ll want to avoid watching a movie with me. Don’t worry, I don’t go to the theater very often.

Anyway, getting back to the earlier point, the reason I want to write about the show is it DID make me see a different perspective. One that somewhat troubled me, but might not be a bad one for those older people with Asperger’s to see, just to help get that perspective.

So, I set out to watch the show from the beginning online. There wasn’t any point in picking up in the middle of season 3, especially with the people-talking-over-each-other issue confusion issue. And if it was any good, I wanted to see it in order. To help with the people-talking-over-each-other issue, I watched it with the subtitles turned on. To be honest, this is my preferred method to watch a number of TV shows and movies. There seems to be this trend of movies where the background music is turned up so loud it interferes with the people talking. And then, there’s also this sort of modern type of scripting where people speak like “real” people, at varying volumes instead of one steady pace, and interrupt each other. This is the problem that plagues Parenthood, one which I still consider a problem and one of the most annoying aspects of the show. There is no way I could follow this show without the subtitles. I’d lose about 2/3rds of what was said, and hence, what was going on (I’ve had to occasionally watch episodes that way, and then when I rewatch them with subtitles it becomes a lot clearer). Yes, it’s more like “real life” but good grief, I have a hard time following what’s going on then too, I frequently miss what was said and have no idea what anybody’s talking about or why they’re laughing all of a sudden or why they’re all quiet now and staring at me in that funny way.  At least break it down for me on the screen. This is supposed to be entertainment. As I said though, this problem is not limited to Parenthood it’s just particularly pronounced in it. I turn subtitles on elsewhere too. Accents are another problem. I like listening to accents a lot, but wrap in those other two issues and even more material is lost. In most shows I don’t read the subtitles all the time but I can refer to them if I miss something. This is more of a problem with the up-to-date broadcasts of shows, which require me to use the over-the-air Closed Caption service. The quality of this feature varies. Sometimes, it’s not at all accurate, or it’s completely absent. If the show isn’t coming in well it can be garbled (as for what shows up on “live” broadcasts like the news, it’s a laugh, frequently sentences aren’t even finished). I imagine a person sitting there transcribing feverishly on a keyboard as some news producer talks for 5 seconds and then suddenly it switches to a commercial and there’s NO TIME, NO TIME to finish the tiny nugget of “news.” I don’t generally watch those types of shows though, and not because of the lack of transcription. However, online and on DVD releases where the dialogue is part of the program it’s much more reliable as a viewing aid.

Finding out about Asperger’s on “Parenthood”

So, aside from this issue, tackled with the help of technology, I got into the show easily enough watching the online episodes back-to-back. This show isn’t really about Asperger’s, it’s about the whole family. However, the kind of “main” character’s son, Max, has Asperger’s, and the parents just find out when the show begins. He’s maybe 8 or so at this time. Early on, the family coming to terms with this and eventually telling him about the condition is a big theme, though not quite so much as the show progresses.

When Max’s parents find out, they’re shocked and horrified. It’s evident that there has been some (prior to the actual show starting) trouble with Max getting along at school, he’s had a temper tantrum that caused some trouble (I’m not going to explain everything that happens, if you’re interested, you’ll watch the show). But basically, they’re totally shocked. And very upset. I was not sympathetic watching this. Maybe this is because I have Asperger’s. However, it may be accurate, I have heard (mostly online) parents talk about how floored they are, etc. One thing which surprised me was, it doesn’t seem that most people who don’t have some personal connection to Asperger’s have any idea what it is. Max’s parents in the show don’t react this way except to the most minimal degree. Now, maybe it wouldn’t work in a TV show to have some kind of explanation about it or have them be all confused, so that’s why they handled it this way. It might be boring, especially when the show was just getting started, so perhaps they decided to show rather than tell. However, the reaction I would more expect would be along the lines of 1) What’s Asperger’s? and then, 2) my son can’t possible have that, he doesn’t seem autistic. People seem to fall into either this category or the category of, they suspected for a long time that he was different in some way and now it all make sense. Max’s parents don’t appear to be in the latter group though.

Max’s Family Tiptoes Around

The next thing that I found surprising/very different from my own experience (and that which I’ve heard from several other adults regarding their own childhood, since I don’t as an adult know for sure of any kids with Asperger’s), is how once they’d got over the initial shock, the parents and indeed all the other family members started acting very protective of Max. Also, again they all seemed to know what Asperger’s was when the parents told them (though like I said, this could be to keep the plot moving).  They make a lot of exceptions to Max to not pressure him to try things he’s uncomfortable with (which is a lot of things) or to push himself too hard. They tiptoe around him. They go very easy on him. There’s a tiny bit of the Grandfather going with the concept that the kid will deal with things in a “normal” way if he has to, but that quickly irons out.

Finding Out About Asperger’s in my case

At first, I pooh-poohed this whole reaction as horribly unrealistic. But then I thought about it some more. Here’s a little background. First of all, as I said I had no idea what Asperger’s was or anything about it when I was a kid. I first became “familiar” with it when I met someone with Asperger’s online as a young adult, and we became friends, so I looked it up and we talked about it a fair amount. I didn’t think about it as relating to myself at that point, all I knew was, this person was the only person (with the occasional exception of my father on some topics) who seemed to have any idea what I was talking about in terms of my horrible difficulties dealing with other people. He understood because he had dealt with similar issues himself, and offered practical advice that was actually useful. Stuff I could apply. He pointed out “rules” of communication that had completely gone over my head which made complete sense (as he had studied the subject obviously, knowing about his condition), which were things which I sometimes tried to talk to people about, but nobody had any idea what I was talking about or why such a discussion would be necessary. Because unless it’s somebody who studies social interaction and nonverbal communication ( a pet interest of mine, perhaps because these researchers, too, know intriguing things), these aren’t things that the “average” neurotypical (aka “NT” or somebody not on the Autism spectrum or with similar conditions) thinks that much about. They observe the unspoken rules of communication, and they learn from it, and they mimic it, without having to analyze why or how something would be that way in order to replicate it.  Sure, they bemoan the communication breakdowns that inevitably occur, but on a different level. Even the communication breakdowns amongst NT’s tend to follow a typical pattern that is recognized enough to be used for recurrent jokes. The kind of communication breakdowns that people with Asperger’s experience, on the other hand, just seem to disorient NT’s on the receiving end. Though jokes at the expense of the person with Asperger’s are possible of course, which they may not even realize are happening. Most of the time though (at least as adults), the failure to fulfill expectations in a social setting seems to just make people uncomfortable. At a certain age and in certain normal adult settings that we fall into, making fun of people all the time publicly seems to lose its appeal, and people react to “weirdness” differently, at least on the outside. They may draw a conclusion from the behavior based on their reasoning (unconscious, often) of “why” an NT person would CHOOSE to act that way, not realizing that the person with Asperger’s doesn’t have the same agenda. Or they may simply find it odd or bizarre. This may make them want to avoid being around that person since they don’t know what to make of them and their behavior is not “normal.” This is understandable. I think it’s an instinctual protection thing on some level, much as you might see an animal walking with an odd gait and behaving strangely and you immediately use caution… is it ill in some way? rabid? etc. Obviously this is not helpful with someone with Asperger’s, but at the same time I understand why people avoid that which makes them feel inexplicably uncomfortable.

It wasn’t until several years later, not even in touch with the friend with Asperger’s anymore, that I stumbled upon an article about Asperger’s. I had been going through yet another failing friendship and trying to figure out, as I often did, what in the world I was doing wrong. When I read about it this time, suddenly it all clicked. I researched it more, looked online, followed up on some resources the old online friend with Asperger’s had once provided. It was clear. It was like a revelation. Things suddenly started to make sense, along all my life. It was a lifeline to grab hold of to start getting more answers, which as I researched, I found. Ways to deal with life. I’d worked out some things on my own, by then; I’d come up with ways to struggle and cope and constructed them out of nothing. The more I learned, the more I realized my own void of what seemed to be human nature, and furthermore, seemed to be considerably less elusive to almost everyone else I interacted with, who didn’t really have to think about it.

At the same time, as this sunk in, it was also a blow. On the one hand, my entire life I’d had people telling me I was weird, asking what was wrong with me, constantly complaining about my behavior and that I didn’t “get” it, destroying one friendship or acquaintance or even potential friend after another with my (I now know) fairly bizarre behavior by most standards. I’d excelled hugely in certain areas of life and academics, and had people tell me how smart I was in certain areas, which was also evidenced by my actual performance, but yet seemed incapable of handling the “easier” things or simple activities that didn’t seem to phase those around me (and yes, I asked them, I questioned how they did things and what was easy and hard).  The people who liked me despite my oddities said I was eccentric, or “unique.” Who wants to be normal? normal is boring, they said. However even these people had a threshold–one I often crossed and sometimes blew completely away, and while they tried to appreciate the good parts of me they found it difficult to tolerate many other aspects.  And now, I was for the first time really looking at a world of other people, who were in fact like me. I wasn’t just eccentric or odd or unique. My “uniqueness” was actually a medical condition. It confirmed, something was WRONG with me. It’s one thing to hear this over and over and you can take it when you’re down or dismiss it when you’re up, it’s another thing to see it staring you in the face and see things that you thought were just your quirks itemized or demonstrated in other people, sometimes people who were clearly having serious problems getting through life or were even unable to function. The people whose parents despaired when they were children.

I got past this phase. But it was there. It was surprising. The thing I ended up taking from it was, it turns out I’m not the only one. But that means I’m not alone, it’s not hopeless. It also means, I have more of a starting point to figure out solutions. I wasn’t looking for an “explanation”–to me, this was my reality. I knew by then that other people had a serious problem with my reality, and by extension, I had a serious problem because I wanted to get along with them, but I didn’t even realize then the extent of the problems. I still continue to discover new “obvious” things and levels of communication that I’ve been completely oblivious to all my life. It’s like when you learn a new word. Then suddenly, you hear it everywhere. And you wonder how you didn’t hear it before all this time? The thing is, it was out there, you just didn’t know what it was and so it went over your head, you carried on with the basic context without knowing it. But you missed something not knowing it, and you had no idea you were missing anything. Eventually, of course depending on the word, you start to realize that you’re missing something in a conversation because you thought people were talking about one thing, and it turns out, it’s something else. When you nail down that word, now it’s clear. And you’re suddenly aware of something that didn’t EXIST for you before.

As for me, I’m pretty good with words. Especially if they’re written down. The subtext, on the other hand, the reading between the lines, the connotations–that was more the kind of thing I was missing (not necessarily literally about the words, though that happened too… but pertaining to life in general). I knew, by the time I found out about Asperger’s, that I was missing stuff.  What I didn’t know was what it was, and how to get it. And of course, there was also a lot of stuff that I had no clue at all that I was even missing or that it even existed. I set to work though. I’m a problem solver, and this was a problem I’d been already working on for some time. I’d made inroads of my own, without even knowing what I was trying to solve. The problem had kept seeming bigger and bigger… I’d think I was tackling one part and it turned out to be just the tip of the iceberg. But Asperger’s was something I could work with. And will continue to work with.

In reference to the “familiar reaction” of the people with Parenthood, my parents fell into the latter category. The one where they said, What? There’s nothing wrong with you, you’re just… different. That is, my mother said that. My father and I have not had an extensive discussion about it. I am not sure he “believes” in Asperger’s in general. There has been a general feeling all my life from his end that all such things can be conquered through willpower, including those of a medical nature. At least this is what he has held forth. This may be because he seems to have a lot of the tendencies I have, but would seem to have dealt with them better, and certainly isn’t lacking in willpower. He has found his solution through life. But, though he has had some level of understanding of what I face (as I mentioned before, being the only prior person that seemed to grasp the difficulties I was having), and has been able to offer the only suggestions which proved helpful as I was growing up, there was still a sizeable gap of understanding. Of course, when I was growing up, Asperger’s was not well-known as a condition. Autism was known (in fact, I have an early memory of my mother telling me to stop banging my head on the wall, that was what autistic kids do, she said, with a negative reaction. At that age for a long time, I thought “autistic” and “artistic” were the same word, so I recall some confusion about it. So I don’t remember what else was actually said about autism relating to me, if anything at all). Suffice to say though, the perception of Autism was of someone basically non-functional, with little concept of a spectrum. I’m afraid that perception continues today, despite the fact that even those people who may look “non-functional” do in fact often have quite a few functions going on.  I remember one person said to me (I had not told her I have Asperger’s at that point) that she had been insulted when someone compared her to some kids with Asperger’s… “Those people,” she said, “can’t feel emotions or express love, and he thinks I’m like that!” I did not choose this moment to educate her about how in fact people with Asperger’s in fact do have feelings and express love, instead I recall having a rather sick sinking feeling and making a mental note not to mention my condition.

The eternal debate… is finding out as a kid better or more disabling?

I’m not sure it would have made a lot of difference growing up if my parents had known about Asperger’s or not, I don’t know that they would have dealt with me differently. Maybe it would have given them some more coping skills when things became difficult between us. However, my parents were and remain against the whole “labeling” concept, and (perhaps due to familial traits, perhaps due to raising people like me), don’t fall into the group of either giving special treatment or allowing anyone to rely on a “crutch” or making allowances. I suspect their answer still would have been to force me to learn how to deal with those problems in order to get along and become an independent functioning person of my own. Because despite saying “oh, there’s nothing wrong with you” when I brought that up, my parents weren’t completely unaware of my problems, by no means. I don’t think they were aware of everything, or WHY I had difficulty with certain things, but they told me about a lot of issues and told me to correct them. I didn’t pay a lot of attention to it growing up. For one thing, the reasoning often simply didn’t make any sense to me why I should behave a certain way. For a lot of the other parts, I didn’t know HOW to behave the way they were telling me. Not to mention the mixed messages you get about how to be yourself, vs how not to be yourself (hint: “being yourself” if you have Asperger’s, without modifications, seems to make everyone else miserable. Eventually you pick up on this and then you’re miserable too, especially because when other people become miserable, they tend to just avoid you).  As I got older I realized that being myself and being tolerable to other people didn’t necessarily have to be an either/or deal, but it was certainly hard to balance.

Part of the problem, both with the feedback I received as a child (which is considerably more freely given) and as an adult (requires more extraction), is that NT people often aren’t able to frame what the “solution” is or even what the exact “problem” is. So I would get told that I was acting such and such way, when I knew I was not. I only appeared to be. Why anyone would think that, I didn’t know.  In their description, NT people jump right to what they assume is behind the behavior. For example, telling a kid that they were rude to someone. My reaction would be, that I was not rude. If the discussion was carried further, I would ask what I did that was rude, I would reiterate what I did, they would say that it was rude, but it was very hard to pinpoint exactly what it was that was “rude” about it. I understood what rude meant. But often times in this type of scenario, I did not understand why what I did was rude. Concrete directions I could follow. I could respond, “Fine.” when someone asked how I was, rather than listing my various complaints or what injury I had recently sustained. This, I had learned, was polite. If I was really trying to be polite, I could extend it into, “Fine, thank you. How are you?” Perfectly polite. Yet such interchanges were still criticized. I “glared.” I “looked like I wanted to be somewhere else.” Generally speaking the criticism wasn’t constructive enough to build on, and usually whoever was commenting on such an interchange was fed up enough that they didn’t really want to go into detail on how to do better because a) they assumed I already knew and b) the average person hadn’t devoted a lot of time to thinking about the finer details of what, exactly, makes the delivery of these (pointless, I thought) niceties “polite” instead of “rude.”

So as an adult, I revisited such issues with renewed weight. But now, I got less feedback. So I do think that knowing as a child might have helped me learn better skills earlier, rather than struggling on my own to figure out what was wrong and how to fix it, or even that it needed to be fixed. That is, if I’d had additional constructive help from somebody who actually knew how to explain such things, like my friend with Asperger’s. He grasped it because he’d lived it. And quite possibly someone had explained such things to him as well, since he knew about the condition.  But, I also don’t completely discount my parents’ method. Considering that most people still don’t understand it (I’m fairly hesitant to tell people I have Asperger’s, unless I know them well enough) it might have caused even further problems for me, or it may have made me more reluctant to do things on my own. As it was, I had little choice, I rose to meet expectations on paper, but on a personal level, I was drowning. I do not think one approach works for everybody. People, as I told my friend before I watched the show, are different. Even people with Asperger’s.

Getting back to the show, I thought about this whole situation as I observed how the family characters interacted with Max, the kid with Asperger’s, in terms of accommodating his needs. To me it seemed unnatural, unrealistic. Certainly unlike the sink or swim method of survival I’d grown up with, and from what I’ve heard from other adults with Asperger’s what many of us have grown up with. Did the real-life producer’s family actually deal with their kid this way, I’d wondered? Was it even possible for an entire family to be this… sensitive (overly sensitive, I thought) to his demands? After further considering I have less problem with this approach. For one thing, the fact that the family is in fact tiptoeing around Max a little too much becomes a plot point in several later episodes. Often, people hesitate and want to avoid taxing him when it turns out Max is strong and resilient and can, without pushing, actually deal with challenges successfully, in his own way. This tends to surprise the family members (who try to conceal it from him of course). This reaction from them is slightly irritating to me that they think he’s so incapable (if I put myself in Max’s place). But unrealistic? Maybe not. I realized that the show was in fact trying to demonstrate that Max didn’t need quite the amount of pampering he was given. By the same token, I understand why the show would give Max a loving family who doesn’t want to throw him in the deep end or tough it out. There are very few programs about Asperger’s. Perhaps in a way the show is trying to illustrate a better way of dealing with the condition than many of us have experienced, as an example of how it could be handled. Perhaps, a hope to other parents. Not a perfect way. But the show is not supposed to be about a perfect family by any means, so this is their imperfection in dealing with his condition.

Max didn’t know he was “different”?

I did also suffer some skepticism about Max’s reaction to finding out he has Asperger’s. Not the way he portrayed the character, which I don’t really have any qualms about, but the fact that Max apparently had no idea he was different from the other kids. Now, again, all I really have to go off of is my own childhood experience (and the description of other’s childhood experiences from adults). However, at Max’s age (8, I think), I was already aware of being different, being shunned, being called weird and set apart from other kids. I remember asking, what is wrong with me? Why do they say I am different? Why do they say I’m weird? At that age, that was about how much my awareness of it was. I was very lonely. I interacted with other children, but I thought we had “deeper” connections than we did. I was made fun of a lot, and reacted over emotionally to this which did not tend to help matters when it came to other kids. At this time, I hadn’t begun to suffer from a blow to my ego about why things kept going bad (that is: that I was the cause), but I had still received feedback to this end. I had negative reactions from adults at that age too but those didn’t really phase me because I didn’t care about those connections as much, and as a kid, I received a lot of instruction about my behavior from adults anyway so it was all part and parcel. Kids, on the other hand, don’t tell you to behave a certain way at that age. They tell you you’re weird, and mock you, and refuse to play properly. My sense about Asperger’s is that even at an early age, we seem to be inwardly focused, and so think about such things and take note of them. However, another aspect of Asperger’s is a kind of cluelessness about whole vast areas, so maybe Max’s unawareness could be accurate for some people.

Perspectives: What’s the Issue?

The biggest revelation to me, as an adult, was about the external behavior aspect of Asperger’s. This, I think, was (and is) one of the most valuable takeaways for me from the show. And it’s precisely because it’s written “from the perspective” of the parents of someone with Asperger’s. I am not a parent of someone with Asperger’s. I’ve certainly come to appreciate some different things about being a parent (and how hard it must have been to parent me) since having my own little son, but nothing to the extent which I realized on watching the show.

You see, the parts of Asperger’s which have been forefront in my life are the social aspects from the perspective of: I need people, for some reason. And yet, I’m not good at connecting with them. I’m good at other things, but if you aren’t good at connecting with people, those things somehow become less important, at least for me. And people don’t care about them as much. They may appreciate your skills, but without appreciating YOU, it’s the same as appreciating the skills of a good coffee machine.  I have often thought, if I could be happy living alone, on a mountaintop somewhere, surrounded by peaceful nature, I would. I would in a heartbeat. But for some reason, some aspect of my nature, I need people, and I feel like I need to have deep, meaningful connections. I have been envious of those who seem to be able to operate completely in their own world and are satisfied by that. I  have really wished I could be satisfied with that, because that world makes sense and runs pretty smoothly without outside involvement, most of the time. But something keeps making me venture out.

Common Traits

As a reference point, here are some “traits” that tend to be common with Asperger’s. This isn’t an exclusive list, you can find lots of other info online, but just to give a general idea: List of Female Asperger’s Syndrome TraitsSome main Male/Female differences. Obviously (well, maybe not), I’m female. I didn’t make this chart, but it mostly applies. I think as adults there are more behavioral differences than as children, especially because naturally men and women with Asperger’s experience different social expectations, just as those without Asperger’s do, and that will tend to “suppress” or “allow” some behaviors more than others. But I don’t really think we’re all that different in terms of Asperger’s between male and female, on the inside.  I find that the “logical thinking” aspect of Asperger’s tends to be more in line with classic male responses and less so with women, at least from what NT people say, but I’m not sure how much of that is social construction. I have noticed that, as children, at least in modern US society, I think girls have more freedom as to which kinds of activities they pursue, how they dress, etc. It’s permissible in many circles for girls to do things which are “boy activities” but the reverse is less often true. For example if a girl is a “tomboy” and wears jeans and plays with trucks and guns, it may be noticeable but not strongly disliked and suppressed. The same reaction is not so much true if a little boy wants to wear sparkly pink clothes and play with dolls, despite the fact this may have been perfectly acceptable a few centuries ago. Meaning: it’s a merely a social construction which defines this.  Thus I think it’s possible that girls with Asperger’s get to have somewhat less control imposed over their activities and personal preferences, which may be strong. However, once you grow up, that changes some. As adults, it seems to me that men *in general* are not “expected” to be as polished socially, paying as close attention to dress/personal habits, going along with different friend activities as opposing to focusing on what he is interested in, etc. The nerd/geek “type” has been overly associated with Asperger’s, but, it remains true I think that an adult man who is “set” in his ways and not as invested in social protocol (as may be perceived with Asperger’s) is considered more within the normal realm than an adult woman who operates this way. Obviously, the type of environment one grows up in as a child and young adult, and the type of work one does as an adult has a huge impact on what these expectations are.

Anyway, as I was saying, the type of things which tended to occupy my interest when it came to working on self-improvements, both as a child and growing up, in different ways, tended to be about making operations with other people go  more smoothly.  People basically fell into two groups for me: I cared about them a lot, or I didn’t care about them and had little use or energy for facilitating affairs with them. I also had limited energy to invest because it took so much effort to try to make things work with the people I did like (especially as I grew older and actually learned some techniques instead of floundering) so I tended to work very hard at some relationships and interact as little as possible in others. When I cared, I cared a lot. Otherwise, it wasn’t very important. Also, being a perfectionist, and constantly screwing up in the area of other humans, was devastating. Not to say I comported myself with ease in every other situation. I frequently had what is generally described by parents nowadays as “meltdowns.” I fell apart easily when things didn’t go right, be it an attempt at a friendship, or some plan being changed or promised treat being withheld. I insisted on fairness, and lack of justice drove me mad (it still does, what can I say. I’m just … less likely to pitch a screaming fit about it nowadays or dissolve into tears on the spot).

However, my difficulties in “dealing” with day-to-day things and difficulties, while I operated on something of an emotional rollercoaster and encountered dozens of unacceptable occurrences in my environment constantly, was not the type of thing I was really focused on. Perhaps it is because I realized that the interactions with other people were at least 50% dependent on what I put into it, and I figured if I put something else into it, it had to go better, if I could figure out what. As a young adult, I spent a lot of time thinking about what that was and how to do it. I spent less time thinking about how I reacted to things, because, in my perception, that was everything else intruding. When the wind whipping around my face drove me mad, someone teased me, the tag on my clothes made me itch, I fidgeted and ate loudly, I couldn’t stand the whine or flicker of a light, I was not given a food I wanted, plans were disrupted, etc and I reacted poorly, I didn’t really think about what I contributed to this dynamic. I liked to have things a certain way. The way they should be. I made other people agree to these ways in an attempt to keep them stable; then I found that other people didn’t put the same weight on such an agreement as I did. These types of behaviors are an aspect of Asperger’s as well, as was my inability to “cope” in what was considered an acceptable way when things did not go “right.” However, I was pretty much focused on the whole communication/interaction part of things to the exclusion of that. The intellectual end of things. Well before I learned about Asperger’s, I started to become interested in non-verbal communication, and it seemed to me that this was the answer to my troubles. I had no problem getting along with animals. They made sense. We understood each other, even though, or perhaps because there was no talking going on (I thought).  So I observed this. Later, I studied people’s non-verbal reactions, documented them, experimented with copying them. Copying them was a lot harder than being aware of them, but once I began to try this consciously, I was astounded by the different reaction I got from people. This was a way to control the communication issue, I thought. I explored the ways which I could use it to my advantage, often without the other person realizing what I was doing, because most people in fact don’t think about non-verbal communication and don’t have to study it in order to put in action. Of course, I was only brushing the surface of what I was doing “wrong” and I had an enhanced idea about the types of problems it would solve. It did nothing, for instance, to deal with the fact that I was unwittingly broadcasting other “nonverbal communication” unconsciously, except it was sending a message that was inaccurate, simply because I wasn’t doing the normal acts (which I believe are learned as well, but not for the most part learned the way I studied them, but through more of a natural mimicry).

This aspect of things (non-verbal, and later, verbal as well) had been the main focus. Along the way, I also realized that the “overreaction” business (as other people tended to term it once you get past a certain age) was a problem. As for appropriate vs. inappropriate social behaviors I was entering a whole new world of that in which I was completely lost.  It was no longer about being rude or polite, it was about sending a signal to other people, and now especially the signals between the opposite sex had a whole other set of rules.  This, again, took the forefront over things like coping with my emotional outbursts or difficulty coping with things that were not right (for sensory reasons, unnecessary change, or simply because I felt that way strongly). I would return to that topic repeatedly, of self-control, and better than that, acceptance. I had methods, some better, some terrible.  Generally I returned to that topic when I was forced to by circumstance. It didn’t tell the story, for me.


Now, fast forward to watching Parenthood and Max’s family dealing with Asperger’s. Max represented a wide array of Asperger’s traits in a way that seemed accurate. I was pleasantly surprised by his portrayal. But the most recurrent thing which I kept wondering about was his so-called “meltdowns.” First, in the classroom, an altercation with another student and throwing an object gets him referred to somebody which eventually results in the diagnosis (episode one). However, over and over again it comes up in the series where he gets upset about something and ostensibly has a “tantrum.” The other characters are alarmed, shocked in some cases if they haven’t seen his behavior before. My reaction was, essentially, so what? This is a big deal? You see, Max’s “tantrums” were nothing compared to the sorts of things I went into as a kid. Similar, yes. But I was way more out of control than that. I even remember it. I have fairly clear memories of childhood, at least in terms of my own experiences (not so much other people’s reactions). Now, keeping in mind that Max is 8, he might be past the flinging himself on the floor stage (though I wasn’t, depending on the circumstance… for that matter do we ever really outgrow a good flingdown, albeit choosing a softer surface like a bed in concern for aging bones?).

However, I also didn’t consider that my behavior growing up in terms of having “fits” about everything was that out of the ordinary. It wasn’t something I’d added to the “Asperger’s” side of things in my head, though I’ve known now since I was 24. It’s funny that way, because although I knew by that time that certain things were considered odd based on repeated feedback from others, I’m still adding to that list to this day. When you are a certain way, and you can’t see yourself, the only way you know is if somebody tells you (and you take them seriously) or you see yourself compared. Even when people told me things sometimes I didn’t really believe it or see what they meant. For example, I’ve been told I walk in a peculiar way. Descriptions range from “too fast” (most common) to loping, swinging my shoulders too much, stomping my feet, etc. I’m also quite clumsy, which I figured factored in, and while I will make moderate attempts to slow down to accommodate pokey people (I don’t like to be left behind, so I don’t leave people behind), I must admit I kind of took it as an overreaction, surely my “walk” wasn’t that unusual. Then, not long ago, I saw a video of myself when I was in college. I rarely see video of myself… there was I suppose some footage when I was  kid but camcorders were enormous and bulky at the time. However, since I see “ordinary” people of all sorts walking around me every day (I often have to dodge them, in fact, since I’m moving much faster), and I don’t normally see myself walking, I was in fact taken aback at how I walked in this video. It definitely looked different from everybody else in the video in the way I moved. In a peculiar way, I have to admit. Did I go out next day and try to  change my walk? No. I have to set priorities, and frankly that’s not high on the list when you consider all the other things to ‘work on.’ But I was surprised, even after all this time, and after having received plenty of comments.

So, the first thing I did about the meltdowns question was to ask my friend if these in fact seemed out-of-the-ordinary reactions for a kid, as portrayed on the show. She confirmed that they did. I was reminded of some recent cases in the news (which alarmed and angered me) about even younger children receiving ridiculous reactions in the classroom, in my opinion, for “tantrums,” items knocked or thrown, etc. Obviously, by the time I was in college I was not throwing things around a classroom in anger, my meltdowns had channeled into different forms (in fact even when I was younger I didn’t generally like to throw things, if there was any chance of damage, because I really disliked things being broken. The impulse was there and I occasionally threw other things in anger–a stick outside, for instance–but I knew that breaking an object of value would be even more distressing). When I’d read and heard others reactions to these children having tantrums I was greatly surprised as I considered this fairly normal behavior, as of course I had to hold it up to my own behavior as a kid. And I’d seen other kids besides myself have tantrums and fights of course, though it did seem like other kids would deliberately throw a fit in order to manipulate their parents, I was aware of this as a kid, and that this was not my particular intent, I just became overwhelmed and stubborn.

As I watched more, again realizing that Max’s behavior in this area was considerably milder than my own, I began to feel rather badly about it. I had not really thought about how this aspect of Asperger’s might stand out so much to everyone around him. Indeed, it was perhaps the biggest characteristic to the rest of the family, or so it seemed, and caused them a lot of grief. I guess it dawned on me then, in a different way, how difficult it was for other people to deal with this aspect of my behavior, not only when I was growing up, but of course in the manifestations that continued as an adult. Perhaps, it was as mystifying to them as it seemed to be to those portrayed on the show, and to my friend when I asked her if this wasn’t “normal,” and to the other people reacting to children doing this at school.

I imagine that different parents might see such behavior in varying lights: if all one’s children tended towards this type of behavior, or if their discipline methods were different or effective with their kids (I’ll just say, in light of all the comments I’ve read about how a good spanking–or worse–ought to set things right, it didn’t do one iota of good for my behavior, just made me more angry and resentful).  In the case of my own family, I was the middle child, and I don’t recall my older or younger siblings having the types of “meltdowns” I did, but then, we each dealt with things in our own way. However, to gain some additional perspective (since my mother seems to have a somewhat rosy and faded view of the past, now that we’re on better terms), I have occasionally asked my older sister about these episodes as a kid. It’s clear they were a huge source of irritation to her as a kid (and perhaps worry, since she was supposed to be the responsible one). She described non-stop screaming from a young age when I was upset (for example, on doctor’s visits, which I actually don’t remember in any particularly negative light, but since she was forced to accompany me it apparently made an impression). I do remember, however, screaming, crying, and flinging myself down on numerous occasions. I don’t often remember them in connection with what particular thing set me off. Becoming overly upset at situations where people expressed shock that I was getting upset or couldn’t handle things was a common occurrence, though I learned to handle it in ways other than screaming. However, as one grows up, any type of emotional outburst starts to become problematic if one does not remain “calm,” and people do not react well. It may not come out in screaming and physical altercations anymore, but it has to come out somehow.  I realized that those people who have had to live with me at close quarters, especially my family, must have seen my behavior from a rather different viewpoint (whether or not knowing or even “believing” in Asperger’s), perhaps a very troubling viewpoint for them, for to me on the inside these things make sense. I wasn’t happy about my outbursts, but with my internal viewpoint I not only focused primarily on “correcting” other behaviors, but didn’t realize how strange and confusing the behavior might be since it made sense to me on the inside as a way of coping.  The show did make me see things a little differently and more sympathetically, especially in this area, both in regards to the past and the present things I need to work on. Anyway, I’ll be looking forward to the next episode. Maybe you’ll want to check it out as well.


About qatheworld

I review various and sundry items of life, thereby helping you to seek out positive new experiences and escape the less savory. I also perform a quality review of the other issues encountered in my general life.
This entry was posted in All Reviews, Good, Musings and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to Inside View: Looking at how “Parenthood” portrays Asperger’s

  1. imaanii says:

    I found an abaya I thought you might like since we talked about wrap abayaat:

    • qatheworld says:

      Oh thank you for thinking of me! Do you like Aab? I have not ordered from them before but have considered it. I’m not sure this particular one would work well for my body type especially in the jersey fabric as I find it tends to cling a bit on me. It does look like a great option for nursing mothers though, both with the style and because of the flexibility of jersey (I had an awful time finding an abaya suitable for nursing back when I was looking, but luckily it seems there are a lot more options now!).

      • imaanii says:

        You’re welcome 🙂 I have ordered from them a few times, it’s decent and if you don’t receive your package within 10 days they ship a new one with DHL. I’m not sure about the jersey fabric either. It’s pretty thin, so it looks shabby after a short while, at least it did so for me. It would have helped if the fabric was thicker. The fabric of the grey polo abaya is much thicker, and it’s more durable too. It won’t cling to the body either. The fabric they normally use does cling, but I have wear something underneath, either a night dress in the summer (cotton) or something warmer now. Hihi yeah, I like the nursing abayaat they have at saifmodesty so much. 🙂

  2. Although it took me quite some time to read this post, I’m glad I did. Although I don’t really watch Parenthood, my mom’s a huge fan so I know some about it. I really liked reading your perspective.

    • qatheworld says:

      Lol.. yeah I got a bit carried away on the length, I think it’s a new record 😉 It barely scratched the surface too! But I’m glad you liked it, thanks so much for commenting! 😀

  3. Nancy says:

    My 19 year old son has aspergers and ADHD. I withdrew my son from public high school in January of his sophomore year and he went to work for his dad. He is gifted musically and artistically. The school thought he was lazy. He was physically unable to sit in 2-hour blocks of boring classes. He either went to sleep on his desk or skipped school, or went to a friend’s house and got high. He had an IEP that no teacher ever followed. Fairfax County Schools failed my son.

    • qatheworld says:

      I am sorry to hear that your son didn’t get the resources he needed in school. I was fortunate enough to be able to be homeschooled until college. In retrospect, I strongly suspect that if I’d been in the available public school I wouldn’t have wanted to continue to college or have been successful there.

  4. Brenda says:

    I too have a son with aspergers and ADHD. 17 senior in High School. He went to Catholic schhol but the bullying seemed condoned. Put in a school for childred with learning differences. Bored but progressing. Dual credit college classes have helped. Temper Tanturms, he has had many, didn’t know that was part of the package. For me Aspergers is the Black Labryth on the specturm. Not quite like Austism, kids look normal, super smart, but off putting, annoying, self centered, no empathy. My son is about three to four years behind in maturiaty. (I have misspelled a lot of words here) I believe since living with him, I have realize that I am on the spectrum. I don’t know how many times I have been told that I was awkward. Thought I had it right. Told I was funny or punny when I was really being trying to very serious. Speech therapy for years. My husband hates him, know he has aspergers, but because of our son’s intelligents, thinks he should be better at life skills. His hormones are raging and doesn’t understand that girls are actual people. Don’t want to complain. I just find Max and Hank very useful and hopeful. If anybody knows the name of the book that Max’s parents show people about Aspergers, let me know.

    • qatheworld says:

      I was also curious about the book they loaned Hank on the show, and asked about it on Facebook but it probably got buried under their other comments. Maybe they’ll post the name of it later or we’ll see it again. I did recently read some interesting old papers by Hans Asperger (linked on my Facebook page). They were originally shared on FB by John Elder Robinson… you might be interested in reading his books. Like you he (John Elder Robinson) realized he had Asperger’s as an adult, when his already diagnosed son was a teenager, and he has a few books out about his life experience and tips along the way which I personally found very helpful and very readable (both you and your son might find them enjoyable). I think it’s important to realize that people with Asperger’s don’t actually lack empathy… they just don’t express it in the way people expect, and they don’t always understand what another person is feeling if it’s not explained. I first had difficulty reading other people’s emotions however I could easily feel empathetic towards animals at a much earlier age (I now have a much easier time feeling empathetic to people… I do think some of it is hormonal. However other people may not realize that I’m feeling empathetic because it’s difficult to express or sometimes I react in a way that’s offputting instead of coming off as sympathetic).

  5. Heidi says:

    Wow, I really loved this piece. It’s long but the whole thing is absorbing. I began reading it because I am interested in Asperger’s, but I think this this piece goes way beyond Asperger’s and is relevant if a far larger context. This is a powerful example of the capacity of the human mind to negotiate a deeper view of the world through insight, self-reflection and attention to detail. I don’t have Asperger’s, but I think I have the same goal of trying to sort out what’s real in the world. I often don’t know how to proceed, but I think this piece gives a lot of constructive ideas about how to identify assumptions that we have that may be false, misleading or incomplete. Perhaps people who’s thinking diverge more from the norm of shared reality have more incentive to question the discrepancies. I’m certainly more likely to question my perspective when most people seem to disagree with me. However, there is plenty of historical precedent for the reality of the norm being in error. Shared reality isn’t guaranteed to correct. So it has to be a negotiation with yourself. How do we decide what is real. I think most of us aren’t as sophisticated at this process as this writer.

    • qatheworld says:

      Thank you for your kind comments! I am very glad you found this piece useful. I think you are quite right that people with Asperger’s or others of us who don’t quite fit in may tend to spend more time reflecting on, at least, how things have broken down or why they happened as they did…what is “different” or didn’t fit. I often ask other people for feedback about social situations that went wrong or proved difficult for me, or even for confirmation of positive behaviors that I have observed, types of body language, etc that I want to try to incorporate.

      It’s been my experience that *most* though not all don’t analyze these things in their own or others actions, so they can tell me I did something wrong, but they can’t tell me specifically why or what I would need to change to make it right, it’s so obvious to them that they’ve never needed to devote energy to figuring it out. They have learned unconsciously, while others of us have to learn things and apply them consciously.

      I was just reading about this in an old description by Hans Asperger himself which I found intriguing (he has some other antiquated assumptions he makes, but some of his observations were quite eye opening to me). He described that for his patients, learning was “intellectual” instead of spontaneous. “Normal children acquire the necessary social habits without being consciously aware of them, they learn instinctively. It is these instinctive relations that are disturbed in autistic children…. Social adaptation has to proceed via the intellect. In fact, they have to learn everything via the intellect.” He used this intellectual action to describe the somewhat clumsy movements of another of his patients as well… that he had to think about the movement instead of it occurring “naturally.” While this is perhaps an oversimplification, I think it is broadly true in my own experience, and this is why all the analysis is in fact necessary. It is also satisfying to think about and analyze something and have it finally make sense, even though the theory may be easier to figure out than putting it into action. Finding individuals who have the ability and interest in analyzing this way while still understanding the natural behavior is actually very helpful. For example, I had a special interest of studying human gestures because not only did it not come naturally to me, but the people who wrote about human gestures and behaviors had keenly analyzed these thing and broken them down for me in their writing, unlike most people I knew who did not think about the gestures at all despite being fluent in their use.

  6. anonymous says:

    Thank you for this post. About five months ago a therapist suggested to me that perhaps my husband has aspergers. He turned 60 this year and we have been married nearly 25 years. I’ve seen therapists at various times, but the issue has never been my relationship with my husband, whom I love. Once my therapist made the suggestion various things clicked into place for me and I think she’s probably right. Many of the things that you discussed in this post are familiar to me. At this point I haven’t figured out how to bring this up with my husband. My assumption is that he’ll be hurt and defensive. I rarely criticize his behavior, but when I suggested a couple months ago that he over-reacted to something my brother said and made him and our daughter feel bad, he reacted as if he’d been punched and left the house for an hour or two. When he came back it was all over and nothing was said. If he does have aspergers, will finding out at this point make him feel better or worse, and any suggestions for how to bring it up without sounding accusatory and superior?

  7. Nomi freed says:

    I was very interested in your posts about parenthood – I have no connection to aspergers but I often discuss max’s portrayal with others. In the most recent episode, he breaks down asking “why does everyone hate me? And if I’m supposed to be so smart, how come I don’t understand why they’re laughing at me?” Something like that. It was a powerful tv moment and probably every pArent cried a bit. But I thought that max wouldn’t be hurt as a typical kid would. He would be confused by their reactions but wouldn’t be upset as he was. Maybe I’m conflating aspergers with having no emotions – is that a mistake? And I do think that his parents wrongly enable him to inconvenience everyone else and I can tell if the show is condoning that or offering a more nuanced portrayal. The kid is an Excellent actor. And show creator, Jason katims does have a son
    With aspergers. Thanks for your insights.

    • qatheworld says:

      I thought that moment was pretty powerful too, both as parent and as someone who struggled with the same thing when I was a kid (well, nobody peed in my canteen at least, but I could certainly relate). I think it was pretty realistic that Max would react this way; actually I think that Max’s reactions are often quite accurate. Of course, everyone with Asperger’s is different just as everybody without Asperger’s is different, and some of us have more desire than others for a connection with people, but for most people I think it is hurtful to experience rejection, even from people you don’t particularly like. Personally, I was very hurt and upset when I was aware of other people disliking me or making fun of me for being different. I think I was more upset about it as a kid than as an adult, because yes, it was more confusing, and also in time you sort of get used to it happening over and over, though it still hurts.

      People with Asperger’s definitely have strong emotions, (as you can probably extrapolate from his meltdowns when he gets upset, for instance), however they don’t always express them in ways that other people expect or understand. My difficulty in connecting with others is probably one of the most difficult aspects of Asperger’s for me, from my perspective. I don’t know that people observing me from the outside would say this, because I don’t necessarily express it to most people, and they would probably zero in on traits that they see or that impact them instead. I’ve had observers speculate that I don’t seem to care about people or I act aloof, when in fact, I care very strongly in some cases. When I do express myself, I tend to seem far more upset than other people consider is appropriate, so I often try to hold it in until I’m not in a public area (as an adult). When I was younger, I didn’t hold it in as much because I wasn’t aware how disturbing others found these “outbursts,” and because they are hard to control. That middle ground (showing just enough emotion as considered normal, without showing extreme upset like the yelling and crying), is very difficult. If it’s not an “extreme” emotion, it might not appear on the outside to be any reaction which sometimes leads people to think that people with Asperger’s are not emotional or don’t care about what is going on, but that doesn’t mean the person isn’t feeling something inside. The difference is in the communication of the feelings.

      I think that once Max sort of caught on to the fact that kids are not wanting to be his friend or are tormenting him or hate him, it was very upsetting, and this was realistic. It’s also true that it might take those of us with Asperger’s a little longer to figure that out. Frequently, for instance, I only realize someone is making fun of me or speaking in jest after everybody else present already figured that out, and I’m already answering seriously.

      I think I came to the realization that I was different and many people didn’t like that somewhat earlier than Max did (even though I didn’t know anything about Asperger’s). But when you’re a kid, unlike as an adult, you don’t really have to wonder as much about if other people dislike you or find you annoying, because kids are more direct. They will flat out say, you’re weird, I hate you, you’re so annoying, nobody likes you, etc. even if they barely know you. They will also gang up and go with whatever the group of kids is doing because even the kids that don’t mind you so much are afraid to dissent and be the one that is different themselves, they can see what happens to the one who is different :P.

      I agree with you that Max’s parents are overprotective of him, but I have come to think this is intentional (as I’ve touched on in the review a bit, though that was written earlier in the show). The parents’ reaction also offers a different (though obviously flawed to the other extreme) approach than I think most people with Asperger’s have grown up with, and after thinking it over I think that the creator was right to go with this perspective. On the one hand, he’s not trying to portray the perfect parental response to Max’s issues (everybody in the family has some issues in how they relate to family members, which creates conflict or “interest” in the storylines, this is theirs :P). But on the other hand, he’s also choosing not to portray a more common response of the parents wanting him to just tough it out or force him to try to conform to the non-Asperger’s norm, which would be painful to watch especially for those who have gone through it.

      An example of the parental reaction being flawed in this case (intentionally) is that his mother tries to insist that he’s not weird, they’re just idiots. Although they may be idiots, he knows he is “weird,” and that they dislike him for this, and it isn’t really that helpful to deny it. His father appears to feel sorry but can’t think of anything to say. I remember complaining to my own mother that other kids said I was weird when I was about 8, for the first time. Her reaction was, “Why would you want to be normal? Normal is boring.” I didn’t find that particularly helpful at the time either 😛 but in retrospect it was probably a more helpful attitude in the long run, because yes, by now, I don’t really care about being normal and I’m happier for it. Plus, being considered weird is less hurtful than the later realization of being specifically disliked, and not being able to sort out either the appropriate reaction to teasing by other kids at the time, or how to cultivate fulfilling relationships with those people who might not dislike you so much while avoiding the unpleasant ones. It’s a tough world. I’d rather watch parents who don’t think it’s their personal responsibility to “toughen” their kids against the world, when in fact the world is going to do plenty of that and it probably helps more than hurts to have someone on your own side. I remember reading another comment right after the show by someone saying she would feel awful if her kids ever came home saying other kids hate them, and I thought, wow… so this doesn’t happen to everyone? (including those without Asperger’s too, of course… there are different kinds of struggles).

      • Nomi freed says:

        What a thoughtful, intelligent, and beautifully written reply. Thank you so much for taking the time. I also appreciate that the internet enables me to connect with you. What a difference it has made for parents and kids with Aspergers, etc, to be able to share with others like them. Some of the loneliness and feelings of isolation abated. Would you mind if I forwarded your reply to some of the tv critics who write about Parrenthood?
        Many thanks.

      • qatheworld says:

        I don’t mind at all if you share my reply 🙂 I’m glad you found it helpful. Yes, the internet has opened up a whole new way to connect with other people that I am very grateful for… I know it has drawbacks and negatives and it doesn’t (nor should it) replace in-person interaction, even when that is difficult, but it is another avenue that can be hugely helpful; it is a path that is always open to reach another human being when all the other ways seem closed.

  8. Dawn says:

    I just can’t watch the show.
    While it’s wonderful there is an Aspie on the show….I nor my daughter as (as Aspies ourselves) just can’t take it.

    At first, I thought it was cool to see a character my daughter (a teen) could possibly relate to. I thought of the possibilities for her to embrace her AS and not be frustrated with it. I was let down, though. My daughter can’t find anything to relate to in Max Braverman….nor can I. It seems Max is the extreme of every possible situation an Aspie could ever be in. To me, it’s just not reality.

    All I hear my daughters say is, “I can’t stand this show! I am not like that!” As a mother, it makes me sad that the show failed at such a great opportunity. Don’t get me wrong, the meltdowns are real….I’ve witnessed them. Hell, I’ve had them. It just seems there’s not grey area…down time…. Trust me….I get the walking on egg shells, but it’s just not realistic to us.

    Then there’s all the talking that goes on in front of Max…discouraging talk…scared talk. About him or his AS. In front of him. He’s not an infant….we know he can hear. That, again, is not realistic. If he freaks out over something, the parents seem scared to ever allow him to do or try again. The anxiety of a parent is almost paralyzing anxiety stress to a kid….even more so for an AS kid. We can feel the stress like vibrations going through us.

    In tonight’s episode, Max had a meltdown over extra questions for homework that would cut into his time at Hank’s studio. Hank seemed to be the only one to help him move through the meltdown….yet no praise seems to be given to Max for moving through them….ever, it seems. He seems to be rewarded when he acts normal, but not rewarded for being Autistic and learning to move through meltdowns.

    It just doesn’t make sense to me.When I tell someone I or my daughter has AS, the first response usually is, “OH! Like on Parenthood?!” And I have to hold my breath before I say (but shout in my head),”NO!” I understand that every Aspie is different….but this portrayal of AS to such a broad people is just irresponsible. To give people who never have heard of Aspergers THIS view, THIS mediahyped definition just kills me. And I know I’m not alone. And, yes, I understand it’s a ‘show’, I understand it’s about a family, not just Aspegers. But, come on. The reality is, people suck this up as gospel.

    It’s not something that is so detrimental to a parent. I’m that parent. I’m that Aspie. And there is SOOOO much more to it than this show allows. There are the moments that I’ve watched my child BLOSSOM into an artist, a critic, a photographer, a chef and more. More, every day. When I found out she and I were Aspies…it wasn’t SHOCK. Shock was how the show portrayed it… For me is was “FINALLY!” It was almost a rejoice! I didn’t ‘break the news’ to family like I found out we just had cancer. I told everyone with a smile in my face…and if there were tears, they were tears of joy because it was an answer. It was an answer as to why I seemed to be the only one on the planet that spoke the same language as my child. Since then, it’s been learning and teaching and growing. Not tippie toe-ing around like she’s a bomb. Not trying to ‘fix’ us. Not like these parents at all.

    Oh yes, I did say I can’t watch it..and I did say ‘In tonight’s episode…’, I tried to give it another chance. I can’t make it through an entire episode because the dialog, while I understand it’s trying to sound unscripted and conversational-istic…’s too much. Too much noise…too much back and forth and no one takes a breath and gives our ears (and nerves) a break. I’m a nervous wreck watching it.

    So…I have to be done. From one mama Aspie…and a teen Aspie….we’re done. We just can’t.

    • qatheworld says:

      I am still in agreement with you on the dialogue issue where everybody talks over everybody else. This initially discouraged me from the show and it still annoys me. Actually, I got into the show by catching up on past episodes on hulu with the closed captioning on and I do prefer to watch it that way :P. I can block out the noise level to some extent then and pick up more on what the characters were saying. I do think though that I find it less annoying now than I did when I first started watching because I’m more into the show, so I put up with it. I had a similar experience when I first started watching television with “laugh tracks” in the background (whether or not it’s coming from a real audience watching the taping, it still bothers me). I grew up without TV access, just movies, so the laugh tracks when I first heard them at a late age were incredibly distracting and aggravating … it took me years to be able to get over it and voluntarily watch shows with them :P. I now put up with them on some of my favorites but in general I wish they would just not do them.

      Do you find Max’s portrayal on the show unrealistic (as an example of someone with Asperger’s, of course, not the be-all and end-all), or just the reaction of his family members? I could actually relate to a lot of things with the way Max acts and his recent situation dealing with rejection from other kids, though I think they spent more time portraying his interests/fun side earlier in the show, while recently the focus has more been on his struggles. I didn’t think he was that extreme, maybe less than I would expect. However, like you, I also thought his family’s reaction included a lot more tiptoeing around and anxiety and trying to protect Max than I was familiar with. However, my family is pretty much the complete opposite of Max’s parents 😛 I don’t mean they’re bad parents or anything but they are very much in the ways of, “you have to toughen up and people aren’t going to make accommodations for you.” No tiptoeing or making allowances for things that were difficult for me but didn’t seem to be difficult for other people. I honestly doubt this would have changed much if I had been diagnosed as a kid, maybe it would have helped with my personal interactions with my parents but I don’t think the overall attitude would have changed. If anything they’d probably think I’d need to face even more challenges in order to be prepared, not be protected from them :P. On the other hand, I know my father thinks that we kids had it way easy compared to the hard knocks he went through, so maybe he already considered it too protective. With that being said, I have heard a lot of parents of kids who have recently found out their diagnosis indeed react with shock and despair, and I have seen lots of parents of kids (as far as I know without Asperger’s) spend what seems like an excessive amount of time trying to avoid “setting them off” or accommodating behavior that in my personal childhood experience would have gotten a very different reaction. For example, if I’d been stomping in like Max was doing when he was upset on the show tonight, nobody in my immediate family would have been standing around looking shocked like that (or calmly talking me through it for that matter). I think my behavior at Max’s age was actually considerably more extreme, nor was it dealt with calmly :P.

      One advantage I think you have, though, is a much better perspective than either the fake parents on the show or even the writers, or most parents of kids with Asperger’s, because you also have Asperger’s. I suspect that allows you to relate to your daughter better and see more of the positives and less fear and frustration about what it means, because you know what it means, even though you are a different person. When I was pregnant with my son, I thought about the potential of him also having Asperger’s, and I decided that I would actually have a distinct advantage in many ways because maybe I’d be able to understand him in ways that other people couldn’t understand me very well as a kid (I don’t think he has Asperger’s, but, the thought occurred to me of course). Even though my frustrations as a parent are different in some ways than my frustrations as a kid, and I’m sure I would have also been frustrated with a kid like me 😛 but maybe not as much as my parents were. So, I suspect that you have a much healthier perspective than many parents of kids with Asperger’s to whom it seems strange, unknown, and scary. I’ve noticed when I read things by people with older kids with Asperger’s, who have known about it for a while, they seem to have calmed down a bit and no longer are quite as freaked out by the idea. I do wish I could tell (and I sometimes do, online) some of the people with small children, that it’s not some horrific thing or a monster attacking their kid or whatever (like the weird way Sarah was talking on the show tonight about the Asperger’s being “in the room” with them), it’s not as crazy or scary as it might look to them, it’s just different. And can be difficult, but not in a freakishly scary way, in a way that’s really logical sometimes if you stop to think about it. And maybe that would alleviate some of this panic that seems to set in or alarm, because I don’t think (unfortunately) that this part is really that unrealistic with many people. The more balanced ones hopefully take it as, “ohhh now we know what’s going on, this makes sense,” but other people just freak out. Or, others go with the “there’s nothing wrong with that kid that ____ wont’ fix…” approach. I certainly think, even as an adult who has had a lot of practice “acting normal,” that a lot of people simply don’t know what to do around someone with Asperger’s… I don’t act like they expect, and then they seem to get uncomfortable. I’m used to being in these situations where I’m not sure what to do, but they aren’t and they don’t know what to make of me or how they should treat me. Even if I’m not getting upset or in any extreme situation. Even my parents who have lots of experience with me, they often don’t understand why I get upset about something or don’t understand my reaction.

      I do think the show is probably supposed to have the characters have a flawed approach to dealing with Max, but maybe not the worst flawed approach. However, it’s probably intended to be relatable to NT parents with kids who have Asperger’s, without really trying to teach them how to react. Maybe they would even see the flaws in some of Max’s parents approaches and deal with their own kid differently. After all, it’s not like we would want to follow the example of most of the characters on the show for how to manage romantic relationships or other areas of life :P. They seem to exist in an area of “soft conflict,” they have a lovey-feely family yet fraught with various problems in the ways the people deal with every relationship. I suspect that if I were to recommend the show to anybody in my family they would be bothered by the tiptoeing around Max as well, because that’s not how they approach Asperger’s or anything else, but, for some reason it doesn’t bother me that much anymore, I think it stopped bothering me when I began to think of the other extreme they could portray, which would be significantly more upsetting to watch. At least these characters seem to be trying to help Max with the various struggles that come up, though unsuccessfully. I find Sarah’s character on the show a lot more aggravating actually 😛

      I’m also curious to know what you thought of the portrayal of Hank’s character? I was kind of glad they introduced an adult with Asperger’s character since there seems to be an overwhelming focus on kids with Asperger’s, as if it somehow… goes away, when we know it doesn’t. In the show tonight as you mentioned, Hank’s character was the one who was able to get the root of Max’s trouble and get things straightened out, now that he understands that he and Max are reasoning things in a similar way. Maybe that’s even touching a bit on what you talked about in your comment… unlike Max’s parents you know how to deal with your daughter in a much better way, due to both having Asperger’s. Perhaps Hank will teach them a few things?

      • Brenda says:

        I have seen all the behaviors in my son that I have seen in Max. I do reward my son when he performs as a normal teenager, and when he control his Aspie annoying tendencies that pushes people away, I don’t reward him. Yes, He is his own person and a joy in any form. I am his mother, his coach, his couselor, and his teacher. I have to get him ready for the world. I have to make sure nobody takes advantage of him, uses him, blames him. Some day I am going to die, and my son needs to enjoy life and protect himself in life. I don’t feel bad for rewarding him when he bahaves “normal”.

      • qatheworld says:

        What kind of things do you reward him/not reward him for, out of curiosity? From my perspective, I think it’s helpful to at least know what is expected or “normal.” Just knowing that can sometimes be very difficult, especially if it’s something nobody explains because they think it is too obvious. Of course, I’m not always capable of doing the expected thing, or sometimes, I choose not to because you just have to pick what’s worth focusing on 😛 but, knowledge is power. I would prefer to know and be able to decide than not to know, because that is confusing and frustrating. I still discover things at my age that I had no idea were considered problematic or I didn’t realize I was doing them differently or bothering people (of course, I have different priorities now than as a teenager and tend to care considerably less about how I’m viewed than I used to 😛 ).

  9. What a wonderful post! I’ve followed your blog and shared this post on my Facebook and Twitter. You have a unique, intelligent, and important voice. I’d love to do an interview with you, if you are interested.

  10. Jaime says:

    Wonderful post! Very insightful. I finished watching all the seasons and, while I did enjoy the show, there were certain elements regarding Aspergers I found…strange. My primary concern was how the parents handled situations. My son is high functioning and was mainstreamed (with an aid) in the second grade. He begins sixth grade in the fall and is doing amazing. We always knew he was quiet but we thought he was just a “good” child. He’d tantrum (over OCD issues) but when he didn’t respond to verbal cues and loud sounds, we worried he might be deaf. After hearing tests we learned it wasn’t his hearing, it was autism (he wasn’t officially diagnosed until a few weeks later). For us, the news was a relief. We immediately enrolled him in Early Intervention and he’s been in programs since he was three. We spent time with teachers and parents and worked very hard to challenge him while also making sure he was a happy, healthy, little boy. We didn’t tolerate meltdowns (at the age of three he only spoke two words “Momma” and “Daddy”) when he had to verbalize what he wanted. We dug our heels in and if he decided to tantrum, we simply told him that when he calmed down to come to us and let us know what he wanted/needed. It didn’t take long for him to understand certain behavior wasn’t acceptable. He also learned he could get the attention he needed by being patient and accepting certain boundaries.

    I’ve always told my son he’s not different; he’s amazing. I tell him he sees the world in a way none of us ever will (his father tells him this as well). It’s always been positive (no tears, no anxiety) and he smiles, laughs, and even shows physical affection now. I’m not sure if the constant positive reinforcement helped, but that’s how we dealt with things (he has three siblings — one older and two younger — and things have been amazing with constant love and acceptance). I couldn’t imagine crying in front of him when he addresses serious topics. While it’s hard for some Aspie kids to grasp emotion, my son does understand tears. He’s aware that means something is “bad”. We’d never want him to feel he was responsible for something (or that something was wrong with him).

    Anyhow, thank you for this entry! I didn’t mean to ramble on.

    • qatheworld says:

      Thank you for commenting! I’m glad you enjoyed the post and it’s very interesting hearing your perspective. I’m curious about what examples of the parenting you found most problematic on the show (I can’t remember when they cried in front of him… was it towards the end when he was dealing with the school bullies and they were all in the car?). Where there some other examples too? There were several times I found myself skeptical of their reactions, but I often have trouble figuring out why people react the way they do to things even in real life. I really like that they introduced an adult character with Asperger’s (Hank) further along as well to provide some balance to Max’s version of things (and also to illustrate a more realistic adult version compared that other adult autistic guy that showed up earlier in the series in one episode).

      Although I really like the show in general, I did find certain aspects of their parenting to be problematic as well especially when I started watching, such as a lot of overcompensating/not thinking he can handle things he actually could, but I decided that must be intentional as all the characters on the show are flawed: I don’t think they’re necessarily trying to show that these parents are doing a perfect job of parenting a kid with Asperger’s, they just chose particular ways in which they don’t handle him so well. Which upon reflection, is a lot better than some other ways they could have demonstrated “Parents having difficulty with kid who has Asperger’s” that would have just been too painful/unpleasant to watch (I don’t know if you’ve seen or heard others talk about how they would deal with children with Asperger’s, or heard of others childhood experiences, but there are a lot of bad ways people react that make things infinitely worse and more difficult). So I do think that some of the flawed behavior is intentional just like on the other characters, and perhaps intended to spark discussion of what they could do better. There’s no good show about anything without debate on what the viewers think the characters SHOULD have done (unless it’s purely instructional, I suppose) 🙂 I have often thought to myself that poor decisions by the characters is actually what makes any story a good story (unfortunately for them) because if they do everything right it’s not that exciting.

      But anyway, back to your comment! It sounds like you’ve found a good balance for dealing with your son, and I think this is a very important point when dealing with Asperger’s (or any child-related issue really), which is that the approach really needs to be customized for the person and situation. Perhaps even more so with Asperger’s, as even within the condition people are different and don’t all respond the same way to the same situation or parenting method. For example regarding the tantrum problem, when I was a kid I certainly (unfortunately) had major meltdowns over various things. I remember it to this day (though I often don’t remember what set it off in a particular memory). My parents were certainly NOT tolerant of it, and frequently ignored it until I “calmed down” but for me their method of dealing with it was not a good solution for anybody involved, and they would probably agree in the present day. They didn’t coddle me to any extent (hence my noticing that seemed extreme on the show) but the fact that they didn’t tolerate (and often punished or walked away from) “tantrums” didn’t solve the problem for me or allow me to stop, I guess I had a really hard time figuring out how to calm myself down and moderate my responses, and as a result I simply continued to the point of exhaustion. My meltdowns didn’t achieve anything (I certainly wasn’t rewarded in any way) it was just the only remaining way to outlet the extreme emotions once I got past a certain point of no return. This is my description thinking back from the present day, of course, none of that was going through my head at those times.

      However, although I no longer “melt down” in the same way I did as a kid (though I do become overwhelmed, I try to deal with it differently), I didn’t even begin to get a handle on controlling my emotional reaction until I was much older, and not even living at home, and I began to realize that it really alarmed people. I did not know that my reaction was that unusual, as a child, actually. My only way of controlling my emotional meltdowns initially was to absolutely shut down any emotional reaction. It was extreme, but it was all or nothing… if I let something show in a situation of extreme emotions I would just lose control of my reactions completely and be bawling, for example. Though I’ve gotten better at it, this has remained problematic to this day. People who don’t know me well (who I am able to remain control around) probably have no idea of this side of me and often say I react insufficiently or don’t seem to care, but when I do get overly emotional about things and let it show (not even having a meltdown per se, let’s just say it’s a really intense situation like a really sad goodbye) others seem to be taken aback by my eruption of heretofore unseen emotions. I realize this is not a good solutions (total emotion lockdown) but I still haven’t learned how to moderate emotions “appropriately” much of the time. Another example is if I have to talk about something emotional like something that hurt me in the past or even something I just have strong feelings about (and most of my feelings are strong) sometimes I get so choked up I can’t even speak or I feel like I might cry (or do) which is of course embarrassing in front of strangers and if I’m trying to make an important point it undermines my standing with the listeners significantly.

      As I am now a parent myself, I think I have a lot more sympathy for other parents going through difficult child situations, especially as my (non-autistic) son doesn’t put me through nearly as much grief as I remember putting my parents through, not to mention the parts I don’t remember. I really do think it has to be adjusted for the individual. I don’t know what my parents “should” have done to make the situation better for me or them in terms of tantrums, certainly, and I can’t remember all the factors that went on at the time. But probably as a result of my own experience, I spend a lot of time making sure my son knows how to express himself appropriately and show emotions moderately without them overwhelming him, or being locked away. Luckily he naturally is much more adept than I ever was, but I realize that even NT people can receive detrimental feedback about this sort of thing as children, having known other adults as well were were not autistic but who were afraid to really express themselves or show emotion because of previous negative feedback, or afraid to ask for help with things they couldn’t handle emotionally for being thought weak and incompetent.

      I will admit to crying in front of my son and feeling bad about it, and I don’t think it’s the best way to handle difficulties. But on the other hand sometimes it is me (attempting) to moderate between extreme emotional lockdown and a meltdown that he would be able to understand/tolerate even less. And even though I have felt guilty whenever he saw me crying, I guess he can also learn something positive which is that even mommies struggle sometimes and I’m not a perfect being who can handle everything that I think I should be able to handle, and I don’t expect him to be either.

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