The Full Spectrum focuses on the trials and tribulations of raising a child who ranks on the autism spectrum.
Aspergers is the new black. Or so it would seem in Hollywood over the past few years. Movies such as Adam, Temple Grandin and award-winning Australian film Mary and Max all have main characters with Aspergers Syndrome.
The books are flowing, too; there’s John Elder Robison’s 2007 memoir Look Me in the Eye and his new book, Be Different, which currently has him on a major North American book tour speaking to sold-out audiences.
The news media, as well, seems most excited about the popular Aspergers trend: Barely a week goes by without someone sending me an article from a major newspaper on the topic (stories range from science discoveries to fundraisers to day-in-the-life exposés).
What’s transfixed me the most this year, however, is the NBC show Parenthood, starring Peter Krause, Dax Sheppard, Joy Bryant, Lauren Graham – and every other eligible actor over 40 in Hollywood. The series has everything a television audience could ask for: a weepy drama with witty dialogue about the trials and triumphs of a big, gooshy family. There’s even a 10-year-old boy with Aspergers in the mix!
It didn’t take me long to discover this show when it first aired in 2010– everyone was reaching out to me with the news about “the show with an Aspergers kid.” People were excited for me and, truth be told, I was excited that friends and family would finally be getting a glimpse, Hollywood-style, into the world of Aspergers.
How could I have been so naïve?
In Parenthood, young Aspie Max is one of the most annoying and unlikeable characters I have seen on television. I know that many Aspergers kids have dark circles under their eyes but Max verges on Night Of The Living Dead territory. Speaking of… where is this kid’s energy and passion? The show does a great job of showing us Max’s obsession with bugs, for example, but even he seems bored by his own obsession!
During one of the season’s final episodes, Max’s parents are told he is ready to go to a mainstream school; they’re happy to hear it yet they’re conflicted about the possibility. As a fellow ASD parent, I should have been thrilled by this turn of events for Max and his family. But all I could think was, “Really?!”
Max’s character has not really grown or changed in the two years of the show and I couldn’t understand what the school was seeing in Max that I couldn’t. Before you judge me as taking this too seriously – it is just a TV show, after all – you have to remember that while I’m viewing the show, I’m also thinking about everyone else I know who watches the show. I was depending on Max’s character to teach my friends and family about living with Aspergers – both from the child’s perspective and a family living with him. This was my opportunity to let someone else do the preaching to my people.
I knew they would add a Hollywood twist to Max’s character, but it was supposed to be in the good way – you know, like the-hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold vibe or come-through-when-the-chips-are-down kind of mainstream cliché. Not a whiny, tantrum-like version!
Before Parenthood’s portrayal of Aspergers, I spent a lot of time simply trying to explain what Aspergers is to those around me. Post-Parenthood, it has become all about explaining what Aspergers is not.
So much for my Hollywood moment.