Acts of Love: Parenthood
I don’t watch a lot of television but one show that I’ve started viewing regularly is “Parenthood” and it is definitely because of the autism story. I really enjoyed a recent episode that dealt with the theme of parents trying to relate to their children, but found themselves thwarted by external forces.
Knowing the characters and the actors who portray them isn’t critical to understand how their experiences are universal. Sarah, the single mother, wanted to bond with her daughter Amber, who was clearly embarrassed to bring her new wealthy friend over because of the differences in their parents’ incomes and lifestyles. Kristina wanted to help her daughter Haddie win the student body election but pushed too hard and ultimately antagonized her. Crosby wanted to spend time with his son but got passive resistance from the boy’s maternal grandmother. Adam tried to get his son Max interested in anything they could share together but found no response despite his multiple attempts.
Although these examples sound very much alike, Adam’s challenge was very different from those of his siblings because their obstacles existed in the form of another person and his was a thing—Max’s autism. In one scene we witnessed the extended Braverman family of siblings, cousins and grandparents casually spending time and interacting together while Adam watched Max engrossed in a video game, completely unconcerned with his surroundings. No words were necessary to express the sense of emptiness Adam felt as he painfully wished his son played with him, or anyone for that matter.
It was a powerful moment that parents of children with autism can easily relate to and my wife turned to ask if I ever felt that way. My immediate response was, “Oh, yeah.” My son, Andrew, will be 18 in less than a week and even though he’s made amazing progress from when he was first diagnosed with autism and Asperger Syndrome at 3½, we will always have concerns.
A few nights after this episode aired we were at a Bat Mitzvah celebration and Andrew was having a fantastic time. Even though he doesn’t connect socially with typical kids his age, he manages to have fun because he really loves music and is totally uninhibited dancing at parties. It’s much like parallel play that’s typical of younger kids—a dozen teens were lined up doing the “Cha Cha Slide” and Andrew was doing the exact same moves ten feet behind the group.
At one point in the evening I saw another boy walk up to him and then Andrew pulled out his wallet and handed this kid a dollar bill. I thought this was odd and went up to Andrew and asked what happened, and he said the boy wanted money to ask the DJ to play a specific song. (That seemed to be true since I saw the boy trying to hand over the money but the DJ refused.)
Regardless of the other kid’s intent, which I can’t say was benevolent since he asked someone he just met—a naïve young man who appeared to be an easy target—for money, I had to explain to Andrew that he can’t just give money to people who ask him. It was not an easy situation because Andrew gets agitated when he’s caught in a situation doing something he shouldn’t, even in this instance where his motive was pure.
Later that night I saw that same boy come up to Andrew and give him the dollar back. Andrew proudly walked up to me and flashed the bill in my face saying, “See. I got it back!” Well, I suppose that’s nice, but what’s going to happen when something similar happens as Andrew is walking down the street by himself as an adult. Will a complete stranger take advantage of his open disposition?
I think about Adam Braverman’s frustration with his son’s Asperger Syndrome and even when he admitted that wanting to connect with Max was more about fulfilling his own needs than his son’s, that doesn’t make it any easier. Once again I can relate, but it’s more than that. Andrew connecting with others in socially appropriate ways will be important for keeping a job and all the other interactions we generally take for granted because we learn them intuitively.
As a parent of a son with autism, I’m always excited to see stories in the media that can increase the understanding and awareness of autism in the general population. “Parenthood” does an excellent job of just that in a very realistic way, and we are proud to be honoring Executive Producer Jason Katims with an award at this year’s Acts of Love event.
Autism Speaks’ 8th annual Acts of Love will take place November 4 at Creative Artists Agency in Los Angeles. Scheduled to appear this year are Phil Abrams (Parenthood, The Island), Amy Brenneman (Private Practice, Judging Amy), Connie Britton (Friday Night Lights, Spin City), Tim Daly (Wings, Private Practice), Christopher Gorham (Harper’s Island, Ugly Betty), Lauren Graham (Parenthood, Gilmore Girls), Peter Krause (Parenthood, The Truman Show), Donal Logue (Terriers, Blade), Joe Mantegna (Criminal Minds, The Godfather: Part III), Mary McDonnell (Battlestar Galactica, Donnie Darko), Alyssa Milano (Charmed, Melrose Place), Mark Moses (Mad Men, Desperate Housewives), Craig T. Nelson (Parenthood, Coach), Lorraine Toussaint (The Soloist, Saving Grace), Brian J. White (Stomp the Yard, Daddy’s Little Girls).
Tickets are $250 for general admission and $1,000 for VIP seats that include a special pre-show reception with the cast. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. for a silent auction featuring a selection of contemporary artworks curated by Bruce Helander. The performance begins at 7:30 p.m. and the evening concludes with a dessert reception for all guests. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.autismspeaks.org/actsoflove or call (323) 297-4771.