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Diagnosis Asperger Syndrome: Have You Seen "Parenthood" on NBC?

By March 12, 2010

Jason Merritt/Getty Images

It's rare that I feel guilty about NOT watching TV.† But as the media buzz about NBC's Parenthood increases, I realize I really SHOULD have Tivo'd the last few episodes.† Apparently, the series has absolutely nailed the experience of having a child diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder.

So in the category of "better late than never," I'm planning on watching Parenthood this weekend.† Meanwhile, though, you can add your thoughts about the series to this blog...† or check out the blogs and reviews that other About.com guides have offered.

And if you're among the many who just discovered Asperger syndrome through the series and want to know more, I invite you to explore some of these articles on the ups and downs of Asperger syndrome in both kids and adults:

  • Is It Asperger Syndrome?
    People with Asperger's Syndrome may have a tough time with social cues and small talk. They may also be very intelligent, and highly successful in their own areas of interest. Could you or someone you love be diagnosable with Asperger's Syndrome?
  • What Are the Diagnostic Criteria for Asperger Syndrome?
    What are the diagnostic criteria for Asperger syndrome? Here are the specific criteria as laid out in the official DSM-IV-TR diagnostic manual.
  • How to Explain Your Child's Asperger Syndrome
    Asperger syndrome is invisible, at least some of the time. At other times, though, symptoms rise to the surface. When should parents tell their children that they have Asperger syndrome? When and how should parents explain Asperger syndrome to other adults?
  • Adults and Asperger Syndrome
    Asperger Syndrome, a very high functioning form of autism, may not be diagnosed until adulthood. Could you or an adult in your life have Asperger Syndrome? How can you find out? What should you do next?

March 12, 2010 at 9:04 am
(1) rhinopiasman says:

I have a 6 year old with Aspergers and I saw the first episode where the parents were coming to terms with the fact that their child was Autistic. Maybe I have a unique perspective, and in all fairness to the show I’ve only seen that one episode, but I feel that the reactions were completely over dramatized. I was never in denial about it and while there are definitely different challenges for a parent of an Aspie, I personally think its just a different way of thinking. I’ve found that a positive attitude is THE most important thing you can do for your ‘ atypical’ child. It disturbs me that the press and TV shows always portray Autism in a negative light. I realize my child is high functioning and that we are by no means the worst case scenario, but by misrepresenting the diagnosis, it gives the general public the wrong picture of what life with an Aspie is like. After all, every Autistic is different.

March 12, 2010 at 9:51 am
(2) Sandy says:

Have a box of kleenex handy.

I think any time it’s suggested your child has a disability, it can be shocking news to hear. I also didn’t go through much denial however I went through that DX when my son was very young. Denial is actually a very natural human reaction many have. This show displayed a boy already in school and I think the reaction just might be different, more so when right away the school is talking different placement and the whole time the dad had the boy playing baseball. Trying to have that all typical life and wham, it’s not. The dad just couldn’t see how hard it was for his son to be in baseball but then you have to think about special education and figure out just what that diagnosis means and baseball might not be so important. I also thought the show did a very good job with grandparents also being in denial, which many families goes through.

I had a tear or two watching that TV show. The end is what got me when the dad was talking to the grandpa at the play ground during they play, and the boy playing in the water (which my kid would do). For once, you see the dad in the media and you could feel his pain. I enjoyed it that they didn’t show a screaming meltdown, which is what the media shows most times. We seen a frustrated boy who had fine motor issues, throwing his scissors and then getting into a fight. This easily can be every day life for many.
I think Parenthood did a wonderful job.

March 12, 2010 at 11:21 am
(3) Dadvocate says:

Rhino – Although the show doesn’t specifically address Asperger’s head on, my wife and I think the very entertaining show “Bones” does portray characters, including the lead, who present pretty classic behaviors associated with the AS, in a very positive light (by focusing how individual differences can be strengths and showing what a tolerant, although idealized, workplace should look like). We wondered if the writers had special understanding because it sure appears that way.

March 12, 2010 at 12:11 pm
(4) Leila says:

I watched the first episode and I cried watching the parents’ reactions to the boy’s diagnosis, as well as when the father tells the grandfather about it. It was very touching. I could also relate to the school scenes where the principal tells the parents the boy “doesn’t belong” there, and where the other kids are making fun and being mean to him.

March 12, 2010 at 12:54 pm
(5) Bill says:

I am endowed with Asperger’s.
I do not normally watch television, but I made an exception to watch Parenthood in what I guess I could call “defensive awareness”. If a huge percentage of the American public was going to be exposed to Asperger’s syndrome, I wanted to be prepared for what image would be presented, to anticipate how it would affect me, my sons with Asperger’s, and my siblings with Asperger’s.
I have not forgotten how badly the movie “Rain Man” distorted the national perception of autism.
Since I am a lousy judge of neurotypical emotion, I can’t argue with how the parents in Parenthood were portrayed, though I certainly didn’t think it was all that big a deal when the first of many Asperger’s diagnoses fell upon my family.
I had trouble with the scene of the visit to another family with an Asperger’s child; I couldn’t tell if the director was trying to mock their silliness or not.
I have since heard that an executive director on the Parenthood staff has a child with Asperger’s, so I am now guessing the scene was indeed meant to mock the Asperger’s/autism silliness which is out there.
I heard an interesting expression on radio just this morning; “parenting by default”. The pundit was implying that many parents don’t really force or control parenting. I think that strategy sort of works with neurotypical children, because peer pressure and guilt and society’s norms all work in the parent’s favor.
The Parenthood episode this week, especially the dinner scene, emphasized Asperger’s as brat, and the discipline challenge faced by the parents of a brat. Default parenting will not work with an Asperger’s brat.
To those of you offended that I dared to call an Asperger’s child a brat, may I suggest you go in Google News today and search on the terms Asperger and “go cart”, and read the article that pops up. Raising an intelligent child with no morals and no common sense anticipation of consequences is hell.

March 13, 2010 at 10:51 am
(6) AutismNewsBeat says:

I had trouble with the scene of the visit to another family with an Aspergerís child; I couldnít tell if the director was trying to mock their silliness or not.

That was my favorite scene! And yes, there was serious mockery going on. The couple started out saying it was important to accept and accommodate the child, then immediately launched into their GF/CF infomercial. Comedy gold.

March 15, 2010 at 11:52 am
(7) Paula says:

I think that the show Parenthood is doing a fairly decent job of showing what its like to have a child be diagnosed with Asperger’s. No, its not perfect, but I got tears in my eyes when the parents found out their son might have Aspergers. If nothing else, maybe the general public will see the show and gain a better understanding of what high functioning autism is like.

I also enjoyed the last episode when Max’s parents met with another family whose son had Aspergers. The parents were discussing treatments with the Braverman’s and having to shout to be heard over their son who was playing the electric guitar Jimi Hendrix style! LOL.

March 18, 2010 at 10:32 am
(8) Otir says:

I believe Parenthood is doing a pretty good job overall. First of because Asperger’s is not the main topic of the show and therefore the issues are well integrated in all the balance that parents have to generally deal with at the same time. In the last episode, sibling issue has also very well been dealt with, and the elder sister’s calling upon her parents because she has been neglected from the very start (meaning even before her parents even knew their son’s diagnosis) rang a bell of truth.

It is not over dramatized, just the way a show dramatizes anyway, because of the genre.

I enjoy watching it, and will go on doing so (I don’t watch TV at all, and enjoy the fact that NBC has all episodes online right after they aired, even for a limited period of time, but then I can watch them at an acceptable time for my schedule – on Hulu).

March 18, 2010 at 10:29 pm
(9) snowangel says:

Why is so hard for everyone to remember that each person in the spectrum is unique to themselves. I was told early on if you’ve seen one child with autism you’ve seen ONE child with autism. At my daughter’s school there are 8 children in the Autism Resource program, with all degree of functioning represented and yet because this is how one child reacts to something no one expects it to be the same for them all. Television is a representation of a character, we’re not supposed to see our life mirrored back to us perfectly however we’re supposed to see things thoughout the story that make us smile and say oh yeah I remember when it was like that at our house too or thinks to help us understand why our child does something the way they do, or even to just to help us remember sometimes to count the blessings for the child we have. It’s okay to admit, “It’s hard in our reality but Thank God we don’t have this issue or that problem along with it.” God gave us these children because we were strong enough to be their mothers and yet he still knew our strengths and weaknesses.” I’ve learned when reading and watching things and our interactions with physicians, clinicians, and other medical professionals throughout this country, sometimes what “we” say is not accurate about the character ‘s behavior in real life could very well be someone else’s reality. I fought with one professional at the School Board year after year about what to do to stop my child’s hitting, I’d disagree to be told she was the professional and not me, And every year her coworkers had to side against her that my child was the first they had ever seen that the technique didn’t work.

March 28, 2010 at 4:48 pm
(10) camom says:

I thought the parents’ reaction was right on for parents that ‘just discovered’ their child’s diagnosis. If you remember the denial did not last long. My son had other issues and we always knew there was something ‘off’ about him. So for us when we got the diagnosis, it wasn’t a shock. However, when he was 2 and not talking and I first heard he had a speech disorder of Apraxia, I was in denial.
Every one is going to react different. It doesn’t make it good or bad. Just different… just like every child with Asperger’s is different.

April 24, 2010 at 5:22 am
(11) Anonymous says:

I love the show Parenthood and I was just telling my mother tonight how well they portray this intelligent high functioning child live in his own world.

My favorite scene as this week’s show, maybe episode 6 or 7 I don’t know. But the Aunt was coming over to Kristina’s home to ask whether her daughter could possibly have Aspergers. She said hi to Max and he ignored her but spoke profusely and intelligently about beetles. It was classic. This boy is intelligent, appears every bit as typical as other children, but he lives in HIS world.

I absolutely love the show’s development of a child with Aspergers, now that 1 in 110 children are affected it is important to raise awareness.

And to the commenter that said it was unrealistic because the family is in denial? That is a very ignorant comment, a lot of families are in denial. I know my niece has Aspergers, she can function to an extent..she just turned 4 and does not speak well. She won’t communicate with anyone other than her mom, her live in aunt, father, and baby sister. She ignores everyone else. Is socially awkward, or rather, socially non-existent. And her parents have done nothing about it. They don’t believe she has Autism.

November 10, 2010 at 11:18 am
(12) Theo says:

I remember nothing but a sense of relief for everyone when I was diagnosed with AS! I had been misdiagnosed for several years with ADD, and although many of the symptoms were familiar, it never really seemed to fit.

Other than relief, things went on as normal. I finally understood why I was treated as though I was so different in school. I was always a target, whether at home (PTSD comes from stepbrother won’t say further than that) or at school. I never understood why.

I never saw the differences at the time between me and everyone else. I certainly can see them now, and they don’t isolate me, I feel quite empowered actually!

I never mourned or denied my diagnoses and neither did my family. We simply just work with it, and other than that look at it as something that isn’t really that big of a deal. It’s not a tragedy. It’s part of what makes me me, and I do so love me!

The complications come in when the AS/PTSD get set off at the same time. Thankfully this is a rare occurence.

Most families I think are like mine. It’s not a tradgedy or anything else. It’s something to learn about, now let’s go about our day as usual. :) I always thought that was the best way to deal with it.

Parents can project thier sense of tragedy on thier children. I’ve seen it again and again! This is when the kid will start thinking of his/herself as damaged, as the depression and lonliness kicks in.

So parents, watch how you react in front of your kids. It weighs heavily into how they will deal with and view thier AS themselves.

November 17, 2010 at 4:03 pm
(13) Bethanie Johnson says:

I am the mom of an ‘aspie’ girl who was diagnosed about twelve months ago. She’s now 13. I have really related to a lot of the behaviors the son displays. For instance, the episode last night hit on the issue of being a sore loser. I spent a year of my life playing games with my daughter (who simply couldn’t stand to lose…at all), so that she could just be bareable when it came to games. She still has trouble..in fact, out of practice at playing board games, she got so upset with the prospect of losing a chess game to me several weeks ago, that she decided not to finish it.

I enjoyed the episode where the son was diagnosed…and all that has happened since. Because for so long, life was just so hard, and I didn’t know why. Knowing why, and strategies to help…has made such a difference in my life. Also…because of that knowledge…changing my own expectations, has helped tremendously.

We actually watch the show together, and I know she recognizes herself sometimes in that character.

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