After our son Frankie was diagnosed with Autism we were devastated. We entered a brand new world of hopes, fears, restrictions, new commitments but mostly fear – his and ours. For many children with Autism Spectrum Disorder/Asperger’s the world is a very scary place. I have been told by older children and adults I know living on the spectrum that things in the world just don’t make sense, especially when they are younger. As a consequence the world can be a very scary place, whether it’s Halloween or not. And it is not only scary for the children living with the spectrum but for the parents as well.
Like Max, our son Frankie was afraid of all sorts of things. He was afraid of elevators, thresholds, haircuts, baths, certain cartoons, certain people, and other completely indiscernible objects and situations. It was like living in a minefield. We were afraid of his reactions, how others would react to him and how we would react. We were often immobilized by our fears that were part and parcel of his fears and rigid, restrictive behavior.
Over time, however, like the Bravermans we learned to grow with Frankie. One instance that comes to mind was when Frankie was about five years old and we were having dinner with some old friends who have an adult daughter on the spectrum (she now lives near them in supported living). I was trying to corral Frankie and keep him out of trouble and out of a “meltdown” when the mom looked straight at me and told me something I will never forget. She said, “You know he has the same right to fail that every other child has.” I just looked at her dumbly until it gradually dawned on me what she was trying to say: That I couldn’t let Frankie’s fears or my fear of Frankie’s fears stop us all from living or stop him from having the chance to learn and grow from his mistakes.
Ever since then I have tried to always follow Frankie’s lead. I let him give us clues about how much he can handle. Granted, there are times when I push him too hard and we have the meltdowns. There are other times when I don’t push enough or I don’t allow him the opportunity to push himself. It is a constant dance – like all of parenting – but it is a dance invitation that you must accept for your child and ultimately for you.
Parents of children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder/Asperger’s spend a great deal of time hoping and praying their child could be “normal” or more “typical.” Sometimes when the opportunity to allow just that occurs (Max wanting to go trick-or-treating on Halloween, for example) we are so paralyzed by our own fear and our fear of their fears we allow that opportunity to pass. A friend of mine who lives on the spectrum with her son has written a wonderful blog about their experience that’s captured by its quirky title: “Cheeseless Pizza and Other Philosophies of Life.” There is a dance we all dance with our wonderfully “quirky” children and the joy and pain that comes from living on the spectrum. Like the Bravermans, we all have to let our children take the lead and guide us through the minefield of fears – while we do our best to figure out when it is our turn to lead and when it is our turn to follow. We all have the right to fail/fall so we can learn from our mistakes.
Parenthood is a one-hour drama that follows the trials and tribulations of the very large, very colorful and imperfect Braverman family. Jason Katims, the show’s Executive Producer, has been honored by Autism Speaks. Parenthood airs Tuesday night on NBC at 10/9c.
In this episode of Parenthood, Max, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, did not get invited to a classmate’s birthday party. Max is under the impression that he isn’t invited because Emily, his classmate, doesn’t like him. Kristina and Adam are upset and hurt to learn that their son is being excluded.
Kristina confronts Emily’s mom and is surprised to hear that it was a deliberate choice not to invite Max. Emily’s parents decided that because of all of her struggles, she should be able to have her birthday be a special day, just as she wants it. Kristina can’t handle the reasoning and speaks to Emily. Kristina learns that Emily thinks Max is a sore loser, when playing games.
After another run-in with Emily’s mom, Kristina pleads for a play date so that the children can work out their issues. Kristina says that she is Max’s biggest supporter and Andie agrees with those sentiments. Bother mothers realize that need to work together to support their Aspie children.
How much, is too much parental involvement? Have you ever been in Kristina’s situation? How did you handle it? What are some constructive ways you advocate for your child?
Tuesday’s Parenthood Episode explored a very real situation that many people in our community face to some degree or another. We would like to applaud Jason Katims and the cast for giving such an honest depiction of a real-life situation.
Here is the synopsis: Max, Adam and Zeek hop in the express checkout line at the supermarket. When Max notices the man in front of them has seven items over the allotted amount for the express line, he starts removing items from the man’s cart. The man gets irritated with Max and then Adam. Adam tries to manage the situation, asking Zeek to take Max back to the chip aisle to grab a few more bags while he talks to the man in line. When they walk away, Adam asks the man what his problem is. The man responds by telling Adam he’s sorry for him because his kid is clearly a retard. Without a second thought, Adam punches the guy in the face, knocking him straight to the ground. Adam, Zeek and Max return home with the groceries. Kristina can tell something’s wrong, but Adam says it’s nothing.
We want to hear from you. What do you make of this episode? Have you or someone you know, been in a similar situation? Please share your thoughts and stories.
The Los Angeles Chapter held “Acts of Love: Parenthood,” on November 4 that raised $100,000. Hosted at the Creative Artists Agency in Century City, California, the evening was a salute to Jason Katims. He is the executive producer of the NBC television show “Parenthood,” who received the 2010 Acts of Love Awareness award for incorporating an autism story line into the series.
Performers included “Parenthood” cast members Max Burkholder, Lauren Graham, Peter Krause, and Craig T. Nelson, plus Connie Britton (Friday Night Lights), Christopher Gorham (Covert Affairs), Stephen Tobolowsky (Glee), Lorraine Toussaint (Saving Grace) and Brian J. White (Men of a Certain Age), among others.
The event was attended by such personalities as Alyssa Milano, Matt Dallas, Maria Menunous, Jurnee Smollett, Milo Ventimiglia, and Autism Speaks National Board Member Holly Robinson Peete. One very special guest was a woman from Italy who loves “Parenthood” so much that she flew in from Europe just for one night to attend the show!
The audience was moved to laughter and tears about parenting—and the unique joys and challenges of having a child with autism—through music performed by John Doe, and readings from Erma Bombeck, Dana Carvey, Golda Meir, and Bill Cosby, along with several poignant essays written by parents of children with autism.
Many thanks to all who attended, and especially our major sponsors, Creative Artists Agency and NBC Universal Television.
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.
Happy Friday, everyone! I hope you had a great week and are ready for the weekend ahead.
Here are some ideas …
Interested in autism research? International Meeting for Autism Research (IMFAR) brings together the world’s top scientists who will share their latest research into autism’s causes, treatments and diagnoses. It is currently taking place in Philadelphia and we will be updating media coverage and blog posts by scientists here.
Want to Walk Now for Autism Speaks? On Saturday, we have Walks in Cincinnati, Mt. Laurel (N.J.) and Wheeling (W.Va.). Sunday, we have three more in Atlanta, Ligonier (Penn.) and Paramus (N.J.). If you live near one of these towns, visit walknowforautismspeaks.org for more information and join us on Walk Day! We promise a fabulous time for you and your family.
Set your DVRs! On Saturday night at 8 p.m. EDT, NBC is re-airing this week’s episode of “Parenthood”, Team Braverman, which featured members of the family participating in a Walk Now for Autism Speaks event. Check your local listings for show information. Tune in on Sunday, May 23 at 9 p.m. EDT to NBC’s season finale of “The Celebrity Apprentice.” In the LIVE finale “Final Two Brew” Autism Speaks board member, parent and actress Holly Robinson Peete faces off against Poison’s Bret Michaels. Visit http://www.nbc.com/the-apprentice/ for more information.
I hope you and your family have a wonderful weekend!
Many thanks to Peter Krause, Monica Potter, and Max Burkholder of NBC’s “Parenthood” who filmed this PSA to raise awareness about autism and Autism Speaks. This PSA, in the “The More You Know” series, aired after Tuesday night’s episode, Team Braverman, which featured members of the family participating in a Walk Now for Autism Speaks event.
Tune in to NBC’s “Parenthood” next Tuesday, May 18 at 10 p.m./9 Central. The all-new episode, Team Braverman, features members of the family participating in a Walk Now for Autism Speaks event.
Peter Bell, Autism Speaks’ Executive Vice President, was on set in Los Angeles and penned a blog post about his experience. Earlier this season, we spoke with Jason Katims, the show’s writer and executive producer. He tells how having a 13-year-old son with Asperger Syndrome inspired one of the show’s main storylines.
Check your local listings for show information.
UPDATE: Watch the entire episode here on Hulu. Also, the episode is being re-broadcast on Saturday, May 22 at 8 p.m. EDT. Check your local listings for show information.
Watch “The More You Know” PSA starring the cast of “Parenthood,” which aired after the episode.
This guest post is by Peter Bell, executive vice president for programs and services at Autism Speaks. Peter and his wife, Liz, reside in New Jersey with their three children. Their eldest son, Tyler, has autism.
On April 15, when most people were scrambling to file their tax returns, I had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that will hopefully make a profound difference for Autism Speaks and the autism community.
As many people know, the new NBC hit series “Parenthood” has a story line that involves a family coming to grips with their son’s recent diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome. For any family that has gone through the experience of having a child diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, you quickly realize just how easy it is to relate to the Braverman family. The show has beautifully captured the range of emotions our families go through during this difficult time.
So, when the producers of “Parenthood” approached Autism Speaks recently and asked if we would be interested in helping to film a future episode that would include an Autism Speaks Walk, the answer was without reservation “yes, of course!” To add icing on the cake, they also invited us to provide a real person to play the role of the Autism Speaks representative on the stage of the walk – that’s when this became a personal journey for me.
With just a few days notice, I was off to Los Angeles. Lucky for me, my body was still on East Coast time for the 7 a.m. call time. After signing all the necessary paperwork (I think I’m now a member of SAG), I was taken to the make-up trailer. There were about five chairs with make-up artists doing their magic on various actors. My second stroke of luck came when they seated me next to Monica Potter who plays Kristina Braverman, mother of Max.
I was told by some other “autism moms” at Autism Speaks to tell Monica how much they love her performance as the take-no-prisoners mom of Max. I faithfully shared this sentiment as they were removing the curlers from her hair and another make-up person was dabbing my face with something that felt cakey. It was sort of a surreal moment for me but I think she realized that this was the highest form of a compliment one can get, besides an Emmy, of course.
After a quick change into my wardrobe (special walk t-shirt, khaki pants and my own running shoes), it was time to report to the set. The walk venue was set in a community park not far from Century City. Since the series takes place in Berkeley, California, they had to be careful not to have any palm trees in the background. They transported us from the trailers to the set in a van and this is where I met Max Burkholder, the incredible child actor who plays Max Braverman, the young boy with Asperger’s. Naturally he was with his real mom and we enjoyed a nice conversation about his role and how he gets into character. Although his character is only eight years old on the show, he is actually 12 years old.
Once we arrived on the set, I had a chance to meet Peter Krause who plays Adam Braverman, Max’s dad. Fortunately, we connected on many levels. In addition to sharing our common name, we are both dads. Although Peter K does not have a child with autism, it was obvious that he takes great pride in having an eight-year-old son. We talked a lot about autism, what is known scientifically (and not), what’s behind the large increase, how families cope, etc. He was genuinely interested in learning everything he could about the condition and what families go through. I complimented him on his ability to capture the feelings that many dads go through when their sons are first diagnosed. Peter K was remarkably kind and fun to be with for the rest of the day.
Next – rehearsal. Since they were recreating a walk, which often attracts thousands of participants, they brought in more than 200 extras to create the feeling of a Walk Now for Autism Speaks event. I was really impressed that they were able to replicate the look and feel of our walks – then again this is Hollywood. After a few run-throughs it was time to “roll film.” Our scene was only about a minute long but we ended up doing it about 15-20 times. They needed to film it from several angles. Each time was a little different which allowed for some creative interpretations in how we delivered our lines. Which take they will use in the final cut is anybody’s guess but the amiable director, Lawrence Trilling, seemed pleased.
Perhaps the most memorable aspect of this experience was how wonderfully kind the cast and crew were. Each person was truly amazing. They were upbeat, deeply interested in autism, compassionate and energetic. Executive Producer/Writer Jason Katims, who has a teenage son with Asperger Syndrome, was on set for much of the day and really is the creative juice behind the Braverman family’s autism story line. He confers with autism experts who are always on hand to make sure everything is as authentic as possible.
The episode is expected to air in mid-May and is the 12th of 13 episodes this season. The show has not been renewed for the fall yet, so please be sure to watch and tell all your friends and family to tune in. Autism Speaks will provide more information as the air date nears.
As for this dad, I’m back on the East Coast living my own wonderful version of “Parenthood.” I’m thankful that the world is learning more and more about autism spectrum disorders and the joys and challenges it can bring to an entire family via this groundbreaking series.
What follows is an interview with Jason Katims, writer and executive producer of the NBC hit series “Parenthood.” “Parenthood“ airs on Tuesdays at 10 p.m.