NBC's "Parenthood" (10 p.m. Tuesdays) returned for the fall season last week, and one of its strongest storylines continued to be how the Braverman family is handling young Max's Asperger's diagnosis.
I found Max's story eye-opening. But I was curious about what members of the autism community thought of the show's treatment of the syndrome, which is classified as an autism spectrum disorder. Lauren Presti, director of Therapeutic Integration and Social Skills Program at Trellis Services, Inc. in Hunt Valley, shared her thoughts. I also want to hear from you. Have you seen the show? What's your reaction to the storyline? Share your opinion in the comments.
How do you feel about the show's depiction overall of the boy with Asperger's and how his family is handling it? Are there any parts that ring particularly true or false?
When we, the audience, were first introduced to Max we were able to see his lack of peer relationships with his classmates, his lack of social skills, and his inflexible thinking about day to day routines. He became agitated when his schedule changed or when he was asked to focus on something separate from his fixation points (whether that be his animals or another science fact he is stuck on). Max in these ways reminded me of some of the clients I have worked with over the years in therapy and in Social Skills Groups. For a majority of students on the spectrum, it is difficult to break away from a preferred item or topic, to show empathy, to develop peer relationships, and to change a schedule. In other words, they are very inflexible in their way of thinking about others and how they relate to others or the world around them.
"Parenthood" also gives its audience an insight into the family dynamic. We could see how the entire family responded to Max's diagnosis and struggled as a whole in adjusting work and school schedules as well as daily home routines. In my own experience, I have had parents like Max's mother who completely break down in intake or call to express their frustrations with the different therapies, diets, schools, etc. they are juggling for the benefit of their child. The frustration in the mother and even the father made the depiction incredibly true in my perspective. I would say, on the behalf of many of the families I have worked with over the years, it's the support given [that rang] false. We saw Max's parents go to a renown therapist (only after a few phone calls), receive support from his school system for a private program immediately and in ABA therapy sessions within a very short time. Although services and therapies are becoming more accessible, especially in Maryland, families are frustrated with waiting lists, funding options, IEP disagreements, and the general education about Autism in the schools.
How about his relationship with his older sister?
Haddie's character is one that I enjoy, although I wish the writers would have added a younger child to show more peer interactions at home. Due to Haddie's age, we see her more a caregiver or educator in Max's life rather than a sibling. She is flexible to his needs and follows through with the daily schedules and routines that the family has in place. Haddie is also old enough to understand Max' s earning system, his therapy, and the reason for his outburst. For many siblings of children with Aspergers or Autism, the lack of understanding about their sibling's behavior often causes another challenge in the family dynamic. Jealousy over parent's time and attention, earning charts, and cool rewards can make it difficult for siblings to be supportive. The "Parenthood" audience saw a bit of the jealously when Haddie dyed her hair to get the mother's attention or when she threw her own fit when she was told she had to adjust her plans with friends to take care of her brother. Generally, sibling groups and individual therapy is recommended for siblings of children with autism who are struggling with the adjustment.
And is the therapist's course of treatment -- and how he's responding to it -- accurate?
In general, the process of receiving diagnosis, changing schools, receiving funding and setting up an in-home program is much more complicated then seen on TV. That being said, the in-home therapy and school support is a very common and successful course of treatment. Other treatments that are recommended include: Social Skills groups or individual practice, speech therapy, behavior modification therapy and occupational therapy. With each treatment, it is important for the entire family to be involved and educated. At Trellis Services, Inc. we model our in-home therapy, early intervention school, after school program and outpatient clinic around each client and their families by providing family training and support with every individual treatment offered.
Is this the first major Asperger's storyline on network primetime TV?
It is not the first time we have seen characters that display Asperger or Autism characteristics, but it is the first time we have seen the diagnosis process, the family frustration and adjustment, and an ABA therapist working in-home with a child.
NBC photo of Max Burkholder as Max Braverman, Monica Potter as Kristina Braverman, Peter Krause as Adam Braverman, Sarah Ramos as Haddie Braverman.