One of the reasons I have loved writing this blog for NBC's Parenthood is because the show has depicted Max's Asperger's syndrome so realistically. I have met Max a thousand times over the course of my years in this business. Schools, parents, community and personal relationships with people with Asperger's have provided me with many precious memories. Most of the time the memories are full, rich and positive. Some are frustrating, confusing, anxiety-provoking and, when they challenge long-held beliefs, some are life-changing. But the neat part about Max in this series is that you get to see him interacting with his family on a day-to-day basis - something I have not experienced. In Parenthood, you witness how Adam and Kristina parent Max through everyday events, how he reacts to both positive events and to incidents that frustrate him and challenge his coping skills. We see Max happy, excited and angry, but we also get to see moments when he fails to react as other family members do. We get a peek into a family and how they teach Max necessary skills, helping him to understand what it means to be a family member.
I have also enjoyed watching Parenthood because the Bravermans show us a sense of family. We see multi-generational interaction, mixed ethnic backgrounds, real world teen troubles, divorce and courtships run amok. All this is shown with an underlying, gentle sense of deep commitment and belonging to each other, especially in this episode as Victor is adopted by Julia and Joel. The pledges they make to him are heartfelt and what every child deserves. Family is important to children, and Victor now knows that he has stability and love in his life.
Being a part of a family that has deep love and commitment is a fundamental necessity for children on the autism spectrum as well. This disorder brings such stress to families that many children with ASD end up in single-parent homes or are parented by grandparents, older siblings or other extended family. Some are even in foster homes because the high-level stress has torn the family to pieces, separating all involved. Each week, Parenthood sets a wonderful example - accepting the differences in individuals and showing how crises can be handled when family members support each other. Yes, there is stress, there is heartache and there are struggles. But there is also great joy in loving each other and helping each other with life's experiences.
We all grow up thinking that every family is like our own family; sadly, that's not true. In Parenthood, we get a model for building relationships, for supporting and loving one another. Parents can see the successes and failures the Bravermans face each week. This can demonstrate to parents with children who have autism spectrum how to build their own parenting skills to meet the difficult moments that will certainly arise in family life. This weekly series, almost alone among all the depictions of violence, corruption and betrayal, is a breath of fresh air and a thoroughly enjoyable peek into the sort of family we all want our families to be. As the season ends, it leaves us satisfied and yet wanting more. I can't wait to see what happens next season!
Written by Sheila Wagner, M.Ed.