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Acts of Love: Parenthood

This post is by Phillip Hain, the Executive Director of Autism Speaks’ Los Angeles Chapter. He has been an autism advocate since his son was diagnosed in 1996.


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.

  1. Tony Treadway
    October 7, 2010 at 2:47 pm

    I have a wonder woman and friend with a 6 year old son with autism. She sacxrafices a great deal to make his life as pleasant and fulfilling as possible as a single mother. She is afraid of long term relationships because she doesn’t want to risk her sons’ happiness. All of us around her love and admire her and her children. The loniliness and isolation she feels scares me as someone who loves her. I wish that there were more ways to help and build bridges to life for her and her son.

  2. October 7, 2010 at 6:45 pm

    I smiled when I read about your son’s uninhibited dancing. What is it about autistic kids and their love of bustin’ a move? My son will dance anywhere he can find the space: the living room, church, Petsmart …

    But it’s terrifying to think of our kids out there as autistic adults and all the scenarios we haven’t prepared them for. There are so many social situations for which they can (hopefully) memorize the appropriate response. But we can’t think of everything; we can’t write a social story about everything they’ll face for the rest of their lives.

    I, too, think Parenthood has done a wonderful job of portraying the real impact of autism on a family. We don’t miss a single episode :-)

  3. crystal guerrero
    October 8, 2010 at 10:07 pm

    I have an Autistic Neice.. Madison.. she is 11.. my sister and many other have organizied a non profit organization… IHA inspiring hearts for Autism http://www.hearts4autism.org

    they have a haunted house and all for profits.. My sis Heather, vice pres.. is also VERY trained and has very useful facts about ANYTHING!!!! when it comes to AUTISM!

  4. October 11, 2010 at 1:44 pm

    Thank you, Mr. Hain, for bringing “Parenthood” to the attention of others here! My family LOVES the show for how they treat family relationships in general & autism in particular!!

  5. November 6, 2010 at 11:52 pm

    HI there,
    I am a mother of a son with autism spectrum disorder, I am an author of 5 books, hosted The BIggest Loser Australia for 4 years, am a writer and poet and I now live here in the uSA, and have tried repeatedly to get in touch with Austism Speaks and offer my support.
    Passionate advocate for helping others and am currently writing my own book on the experience of having a child with aspergers and also creating an anti bullying program for schools worldwide focusing on the acceptance and awareness of autism.

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