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NBC’s ‘Parenthood’ Explores ‘Tough Love’ and Autism

February 15, 2012 3 comments

This is a re-post from NBC‘s ‘Parenthood‘ ‘The Experts Speak.’

Many of us know the feeling of being chosen last for a team or the wish to “ditch” gym. We all know the desire to make a friend. In this episode, we see Max struggling with these issues. In some ways, these are typical struggles for a middle school student.

There are at least three issues here. The first issue is Max’s not wanting to be part of a group that wants to exclude him; the second is using his Asperger’s disability as an excuse to avoid a difficult social situation; and the third is his taking the time to make a friend. All in all, except for using the Asperger’s diagnosis as the excuse, Max sounds like almost any adolescent to me. That’s a great thing.

The central concern in the episode for me is the gym teacher’s failure to facilitate both Max and Micah’s participation in gym. It isn’t Max using his Asperger’s to get out of an awkward situation that is the problem, but the teacher’s failure to use it as a teaching moment for both him and the other students. However, because Micah is sitting out, too, we know that she isn’t one to look for accommodations.

With regards to Micah, she simply isn’t doing anything to accommodate him during the class at all as he sits alone on the sidelines with his electronics. Regarding Max, she does nothing to facilitate his being part of the group so he can learn and participate by accommodating his social disability. Her actions are not simply wasting the boys’ time, but are actually depriving the boys of a free and appropriate public education (in this case, the physical education curriculum) as required by law. She and the school, by extension, are breaking the law. She is also unfortunately teaching the children that it’s okay to discriminate.

This is a serious breach of the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), a law that protects students with disabilities from being discriminated against in the public school system and mandates that children with disabilities receive a “free and appropriate public education” (FAPE). The laws governing the education of a child with disabilities also assert that education take place in the least restrictive environment. The gym – with all of the nondisabled students – is a perfect, least restrictive environment to make the accommodations necessary for the boys with disabilities to learn the lessons we all learned in physical education.

As I was thinking about what to write regarding this episode, I talked over the general issues it raises with Sarah Vinson, one of the Emory Medical School residents I teach in my clinic. Sarah astutely pointed out that students aren’t ever allowed to simply “not participate” in math class. This, of course, is true: if either boy had a math disability, the math lesson would be modified to allow their full participation at a level appropriate for them, and they would be expected to participate. The time wouldn’t simply be wasted. The boys wouldn’t simply be left to their own devices, literally.

Thank goodness Max and Micah find one another and use what could be completely wasted time to work on their social skills and to make friends. Good for the boys!
I remember nearly every time Frankie has made a friend. These have been times of celebration and pride for us as parents. I am sure parents who have children who struggle with mobility, sight or reading have the same memories of their children’s successes in overcoming their core difficulty. For those of us with children on the spectrum, our child making a friend is the real measure of winning against the autism. In the blossoming of Max and Micah’s friendship we see all of his, his parents’ and his therapists’ hard work paying off as he overcomes his Asperger’s. Too bad the school isn’t doing their part to help both boys.

Written by Roy Q. Sanders, M.D.

‘Silencing Ourselves: A Plea for Civility in the ASD Community’ – A Sister’s Response

February 3, 2012 37 comments

This is a guest blog post by Ali Dyer, the Social Media Coordinator at Autism Speaks. Her older brother Jeff has autism.

Last night I stumbled across a blog post that struck a chord by Leigh Merryday who writes a blog called ‘Flappiness Is….’ The post was titled ‘Silencing Ourselves- A Plea for Civility in the ASD Community,’ and I was moved and could relate entirely with the lens in which she viewed the autism community.

I am not always politically correct. I say autistic. For years I would have to correct people when they would say, “Oh yes, artistic, he is good at art.” I make the conscious effort to say, “My brother Jeff has autism,” but sometimes I forget. Guilty.

Of course autism doesn’t define my brother. If anything, Jeffery can be defined by his big heart, beautiful soul, and giving spirit. Saying he is autistic could never take that away from him, I mean no disrespect, to him, or anyone else on the spectrum.

Leigh says, “Parents feeling sadness and worry are encouraged to deny there is any grief associated with it whatsoever.” Guess what? Siblings also can feel a great sadness and worry. Am I at times sad that Jeff has autism? Yes, but not for my own sake, for his. Jeff has challenges that are unfair and it makes me sad that his life has to be more difficult than most. It is sad to me that he can’t go out without being stared at; or that he can’t carry on a typical conversation, struggling to have his voice heard.

Do I worry about him? Hell yes. When Jeff moved into his group home, a wonderful and difficult experience for our family, I was overcome with such anxiety because I was so unsure of how it would turn out. I worry what will happen when my parents are no longer around. Can my oldest brother Tommy and I be there for him in the way that he needs? I can’t be sure, but I know that we’ll try our best.

When I was young and a believer in Santa Claus, I asked for Jeff to speak. To this day, I would give anything to have Jeff ‘cured.’  Should I, and others that feel the same be attacked for that? I would never judge anyone for their stance on the topic.What do we accomplish by going at each other on this issue? As Leigh points out, “by jumping on people for their thoughts and decisions about raising their autistic kids, all we are doing is silencing them.”

I am thankful and inspired by the neurodiversity movement. I think that self-advocates have made incredible strides to raise awareness and speak for those who can’t. I have made connections and friendships with many of these folks who work hard for the greater good of the autism community.

Jeff was diagnosed in 1987. My parents were scared and overwhelmed. Autism? What’s that? When we found other families who had sons with autism, we clung, and held on for dear life. These friends soon became family.

We didn’t have the internet back then, and sometimes we think it may have been a good thing. We had to stick together and hope for the best, working towards the goal of giving my brother the most productive and enriched life we could. Today, there are ‘support’ forums and communities all over the internet. Often times, these are breeding grounds for knock down, drag out fights. People can hide behind these online personas and say whatever they want, while others are able to make connections and that become lifelines. Amazing friendships and bonds exist – I wish there was more of that. It is a blessing and a curse.

Until coming to work at Autism Speaks, I had no clue of the different segments in the autism community. I was absolutely shocked by it. Clearly we were just living in our own ‘autism bubble,’ but I don’t think it was the worst thing. Why can’t we just support and respect each other?

In fact, I never in a million years thought that I would be working at Autism Speaks. I thought that the only way to work in the field of autism was to be a teacher, therapist, or scientist. I wasn’t anti-Autism Speaks, but at the time of inception, the mission was geared to diagnosis and early interventions. We had been there and done that!

But joining Autism Speaks has been an incredible blessing. I am thrilled by the way the organization has evolved and where it is looking to go. The development of the Transition Tool Kit and Housing and Residential Supports Tool Kit are wonderful and that is only the beginning! I am also incredibly lucky to work side by side with people that really want to make life better for ALL people affected by autism. My coworkers have supported me, and in turn my family in ways I never could have imagined.

This past Fall my family along with the other families in Jeff’s group home, participated in a local Walk Now for Autism Speaks. It was with Jeff’s lead that we signed up and I have never been so proud to walk next to someone in all my life.

So there it is. Laid out for all to see. I hope that the autism community can come together for good and respect each other as time goes forth.

In the meantime, I will continue to walk side-by-side with Jeff never losing sight of the past and all that we’ve been through. But I will look optimistically to the future, because Jeff makes all of those who know him better people. He will surely leave this world a much brighter place, for the truth is, he already has.


Click here to download the Sibling Support Tool Kit. This tool kit is for children who have a brother or sister diagnosed with autism. Though the guide has been designed for children ages 6-12, the information can be adapted as needed to other age and education levels. The guide is written in an interactive format so parents and siblings can set aside some quiet time to read the guide together. The intention is to create an opportunity for siblings to focus on their feelings, reactions to their sibling’s diagnosis and get information about autism.

“In Their Own Words” is a series within the Autism Speaks blog which shares the voices of people who have autism, as well as their loved ones. If you have a story you wish to share about your personal experience with autism, please send it to editors@autismspeaks.org. Autism Speaks reserves the right to edit contributions for space, style and content. Because of the volume of submissions, not all can be published on the site.

Autism Talk TV – Ep. 18 – Interview with NBC’s Parenthood Cast

December 16, 2011 1 comment

Alex, from Autism Talk TV, got the exclusive at the Autism Walk in LA. He interviews the cast of NBC‘s hit show Parenthood, starring Peter Krause, Lauren Graham, Dax Shepard, and Monica Potter.

Max Braverman is an autistic character in the show. The creator, Jason Katims, has a son with Asperger’s/autism.  Alex talks with the cast about autism, acting, and NBC’s hit show Parenthood!

NBC’s ‘Parenthood’ Tackles When Your Child Goes Missing

November 30, 2011 13 comments

In this week’s episode ‘Missing‘ of NBC‘s Parenthood, Max’s plans to go to the museum are ruined because both Kristina and Adam have commitments with work. Haddy is left to watch Max, but is involved with a school project. When Haddie is immersed in work and not being vigilant, Max leaves and tries to find his way to the museum.

Has your child ever gone missing? How have you reacted? Do you have protocol in place if a situation like this occurs? 

The Experts Speak says,

“A missing child. Fear, panic, seemingly hundreds of phone calls, 911 and a police car outside. Now add Asperger’s to the mix.

In this episode of Parenthood, Max gets tired of waiting for his museum visit, accuses his family of breaking their promises, and decides to take matters into his own hands. So he sets out to go to the museum by himself, sending his entire family into full-blown panic mode. It’s scary enough for any child to be missing, but when you know the child has Asperger’s, you also know the child doesn’t have the usual respect for strangers or fear of danger that protects most kids.

Every year, children with autism spectrum disorders go missing from their families. Most are returned safely. Unfortunately, some are not, and the worst imaginable happens. We read of these cases in the newspaper, and we know that another family is destroyed.”

Please visit our website for more information on Safety Products and Safety Tips.

Also check out, ‘Why Do Children with Autism Wander and Bolt from Safe Places?

NBC’s Parenthood Tackles Bullying

November 16, 2011 23 comments

Last night on NBC‘s Parenthood Max falls victim to bullies. Max thinks that they are all friends and impressed with his math skills, but that is unfortunately not the case. Adam and Kristina are unsure how to deal. When they drop Max off to school, they catch the bullies in the act. Kristina gets out of the car and gives the young boy a piece of her mind and reprimands him for his behavior.

Was Kristina right or wrong? How do you handle bullies? Have you or your child been bullied? If so, how do you respond? Do you have any strategies?

Bullying is an incredibly serious issue. In ‘The Experts Speak,’ Sheila Wagner M.Ed. says, “Bullies. The bane of the educational system. Bullies come in all shapes and sizes, all ages, races and religions.”

The Interactive Autism Network(IAN)  recently launched a national online survey on bullying and children with ASD to begin to address this troublesome issue in the lives of children on the autism spectrum.

Learn more about the bullying survey here.

Emotions and Autism

October 12, 2011 6 comments

This week on NBC‘s Parenthood, Max learns to apologize following the lunchtime situation he had with his cousin Jabbar. Max is upset to hear that not only does Jabbar not have detention, he doesn’t have to write a letter. Max is angry and doesn’t understand, which results in a meltdown.

Amber joins Max during his lunch detention to help work on emotional recognition. You can view the clip here.

How do you work on emotional recognition? In what ways do you teach feelings; happy, sad, angry, etc.? We’d love to hear your strategies and techniques.

Parenthoods’s The Experts Speak says, “An individuals with ASD do not glean information from facial expressions of others as typical individuals do. They do not always look people in the eye, do not understand a lifted eyebrow, smirk, sad face, disappointed face and all the other messages sent by someone else’s facial expression. In addition, when you combine all of these expressions with the thousands of possible gestures and vocal inflections – which add their own meanings into the mix – you can understand why this is an incredibly difficult skill to master when one does not have the neurological basis for doing so.”

For Further Reference:

Stephen Shore: Strengths and Challenges

WrongPlanet: Using Facial Expressions

Squidalicious: Autism and Facial Expressions 

A Diary of a Mom: Emotional Identification

NBC’s Parenthood: Addressing the Needs of ALL Children

October 5, 2011 11 comments

There was a lot going on in NBC‘s Parenthood last night! ‘Clear Skies from Here on Out‘ got us thinking about how to handle the needs of both neurotypical children and children with special needs. Here is a quick rundown of the Max synopsis!

Jabbar and Max now go to the same school and they eat lunch together. One day Max is having a great time being quizzed on his timetables, but Jabbar is incredibly bored. Jabbar’s friend Jensen invited him to eat lunch, but Max says no, because they are cousins and best friends, and must eat lunch together everyday.

When Jabbar explains to his mother the situation she tells him he doesn’t have to do anything he doesn’t want to do. He can eat lunch with whomever he chooses.

At school, Jabbar eats lunch as fast as possible, then tells Max he’s going to play with Jensen. Max refuses, and it’s not long before he’s screaming and pushing Jabbar. Max isn’t done eating yet; Jabbar can’t just leave! Finally, Jabbar blurts out that he’s only eating with Max because there’s something wrong with him. Not only do all the other kids hear this, but Max pushes Jabbar to the ground. You can view this clip here.

Needless to say, when Adam, Kristina, Crosby, Jasmine, Max and Jabbar meet with Principal Taylor and the lunch lady who broke up Jabbar and Max’s fight, emotions run high and there is a major argument.

This poses a major question. How do you address the needs of both your special needs children and neurotypical children? It is often a difficult balance and we’d love to hear your strategies.

To watch the full episode, please visit NBC’s website, here.

A Parent’s Worry Explored in NBC’s ‘Parenthood’

September 28, 2011 24 comments

Here is the ‘Experts Speak‘ commentary of NBC‘s ‘Parenthood‘ episode ‘Step Right Up.’

The Bravermans are having a baby! How exciting! From the look on Adam’s face in the final episode last spring, it was a real shock to both Adam and Kristina at first. Now they, as well as the whole Braverman family, are delirious with joy that Kristina will be having a baby – and soon! But underneath, there is tension and, like many families in similar situations, real fear as well.

Kristina and Adam know the statistics for having a second child with an autism spectrum disorder. The latest research study (Ozonoff, Young, et al., 2011) released just this August in the journal Pediatrics reveals that the chance of having a second child with an autism spectrum disorder is 19% (previous rates were stated between 3% – 10%). Since four out of five individuals with autism will be boys, is it any wonder that Adam and Kristina are hoping for a girl?

Learning that they are having a baby girl lessens the tension but probably will not totally eliminate it. The research in heritability of autism in families is difficult to ignore, and Kristina and Adam face what other families face when they already have a child with autism spectrum disorder. Some families that have a diagnosed child with ASD will choose not to have a second child at all – in research, that’s called the “stop factor.” To put it plainly, they stop having children.

And that is sad. Because each child – whether they have autism or not, and whether they are the first, second, third or more child with an ASD – should be a joy to behold. For families that have a child with autism, the family gets an extra package – a child that has a very unique way of looking at and reacting to the world. Individuals with ASD offer so much to our world – to parents and professionals alike. Too often, the world only sees the “downside” to autism: the lack of verbal language, the inappropriate behaviors, the social isolation. Professionals (like myself) hold days-long workshops on ASD, outlining the characteristics, teaching strategies and methods to reshape inappropriate behaviors, and how to ameliorate the symptoms of autism. But shouldn’t we be holding days-long workshops on what those with autism bring to our society? The joy of seeing progress, the huge rote memory, the insatiable curiosity, and the pure innocence that catches us unaware and makes us all humble?

Yes, it is a present fear that a family will have a second or third or fourth child with autism (and there are some families in this nation that have more than four children with ASD), and pediatricians and family physicians should be referring the family for genetic testing and counseling, so that the parents can make informed decisions for themselves and for their family. Although there is no definitive genetic marker for autism at this time, current studies are getting closer to capturing its elusive causes. Someday, there will be answers. Families who have a child with ASD (regardless of how many) should be referred for genetic testing, since other, underlying conditions can be identified (which may explain behavior and medical difficulties mimicking autistic behaviors) such as Fragile X, metabolic disorders, Rett’s Disorder, etc. In fact, genetic testing is a procedure that families may want to repeat every 10 years or so, since breakthroughs can happen (and are happening) at any time and in any number of disabilities and conditions.

Should Adam and Kristina be fearful? Not really; the baby is coming regardless of whether she has autism or not. A bit worried? Yes, probably, and totally understandably. But this is a strong family, and the love of their children is deep; they will love this little girl whether she has an autism spectrum disorder or not.

And she couldn’t be born into a better family.

Written by Sheila Wagner, M.Ed.

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The High Risk Baby Siblings Research Consortium—in partnership with Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute for Child Health Development announced the results of the consortium’s largest ever siblings study. The researchers followed younger brothers and sisters from infancy through the preschool period, when autism diagnosis becomes possible.  The study revealed a markedly higher risk among younger siblings than had been previously reported.

You can find more information about these findings here:

New findings on risk of autism in siblings – What do they mean for parents?

Increased Risk of Autism in Siblings LIVE Chat Transcript 

Increased Risk of Autism in Siblings News Coverage 

Mainstreaming Max

September 21, 2011 10 comments

The last episode, of NBC‘s of Parenthood, follows Max as a mainstream student on his first day at his new school. Here is a recap!

You can watch the full episode of ‘Hey, If You’re Not Using That Baby’ here.

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Kristina and Adam make the difficult decision for Max to attend a different school as a mainstream student. They both try to prep Max on how best to make friends – look people in the eye and smile and shake hands.

Max’s teacher Miss Mikindoe is giving an assignment when Max loudly calls out his neighbor for writing in her book. When Max won’t let it go, Miss Mikindoe points out that talking out in class is also against the rules. The lesson continues, and Max continues to offend, talking out of turn and correcting other students. And why does he have to raise his hand? Max finally settles down, but sadly, the damage is done, as his classmates begin to make him feel like an outcast.

Max is trying to make friends by looking kids in the eye, introducing himself and extending his hand to shake. Unable to understand why this technique isn’t working for him, a frustrated Max sits down to eat lunch by himself.

Kristina stops by Miss Mikindoe’s classroom and literally begs for a few minutes of her time after not getting a response over email. Within seconds, Kristina’s in tears, describing her worry and the spying incident. Miss Mikindoe reassures her that everything’s going to be okay – but Kristina is going to have to get comfortable with having a little less control.

Kristina visits Max’s teacher for reassurance on the decision to mainstream Max. Click here to view the clip.

Many parents struggle with the decision to mainstream their child. What has your experience been? Can you relate to this?

Have you or your child had difficulty making friends? How do you cope? 

Simon Wallace answers, “My child has joined a ‘mainstream’ classroom but is struggling. What can help?” Click here for his response.

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Valuable Resources
In this week’s ‘Experts Speak,’ Roy Q. Sanders, M.D. expresses, “I want teachers and other school personnel to know that parents know their children better than anyone else. The parents are the experts on their child. And I want parents to remember that – even though you may feel intimidated – as parents you have the most knowledge about your child. You are really running the show. You are the expert. Don’t ever allow anyone to take that power away from you.” Visit here for more.

School Community Tool Kit: A tool kit to assist members of the school community in understanding and supporting students with autism.

Asperger Syndrome and High Functioning Autism Tool Kit

Individualized Education Program (IEP): Guide

NBC’s ‘Parenthood’ is Back!

September 14, 2011 1 comment

We are so thrilled that Parenthood has returned for Season 3! The Braverman’s left us with many cliffhangers and we have been eagerly waiting to see how everything pans out!

If you missed the first episode, you can watch it online here.

We would love to share this clip with you all. Jason Katims and the Parenthood writers discuss their process and the birth of the character of Max.

* Unfortunately we were unable to add the video to our Blog, but you can watch it here!

For even more Parenthood, follow them on Facebook and Twitter!

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