Okay show of hands, Who watches Parenthood and most importantly who watched this week’s episode? For those who do watch the show and for those who did watch Thursday’s episode then you probably already have an idea what this blog is going to be about but for those who don’t watch the show here’s a bit of a synopsis. Parenthood follows four siblings and their individual families each with their own unique dynamics and predicaments. Now one of those families has a teenager named Max who has Aspergers and though this isn’t the central focus of the entire show, Max does contribute heavily to a decent amount of the central plot lines in the series. Max is somewhat of a texbook Aspie (routine dependent, oblivious to social cues, has trouble coping with drastic change, hyperfocused in a particular subject for him being reptiles, very literal in how he conveys and receives information, and has no filter).Now obviously I have grown to like the Max character because I can totally relate with that struggle of navigating the social jungle (no surprise there!). Unfortunately it’s because I can identify with the character that I kind of cringe and occasionally shut my eyes when he’s about to do something that would be considered socially unacceptable primarily because it brings me back to times when I made the same mistakes and unfortunately times when people weren’t willing to forgive the lapse in judgement primarily because due to me being on the higher functioning end of the spectrum, people expected me to know better.
Now during this episode of Parenthood, based on advice Max got about photography in pertaining to capturing photos of people in the moment, Max goes down the hallway randomly taking pictures of people without even warning them. This continues down the hall until he eventually approaches a girl on the stairwell who is distressed and is being comforted by her friends. He snaps several pictures of her without realizing that it wasn’t an appropriate time to take the pictures. Now of course since none of the students truly understand what Max is struggling with the girl got freaked out and her parents got freaked out as well which caused a panic that required some damage control by the principal. You find out later that the girl who was crying lost her dog that morning and that Max made the situation worse without realizing it. Without even giving Max a chance to explain himself and without even having the patience to explain to Max what he did wrong and how to do it correctly the next time, the instantly drop Max as a photographer and they put him on layout work and to add insult to injury they don’t even go to Max directly, they leave that burden on his mother. The principal also mentions other incidents that she was never notified about or had a chance to explain to Max. The staff never bothered with him, his higher functioning appearance tricks people into expecting him to know better.
Being on the higher end of the spectrum growing up was a double edged sword. I never came off as being Autistic on the surface so when I did make rookie social mistakes like saying inappropriate things at inappropriate times or offending someone without realizing or totally missing certain social cues like when people are getting pissed, people simply assumed that I was being a legit asshole and wrote me off without ever giving me a chance to explain myself or even to make amends. It was pretty painful knowing that I never had the room to make errors and feel my way around the social jungle. Some days it wasn’t any better at home. My parents chewed me out for making rookie social mistakes and sometimes they got so pissed I felt like they forgot I was Autistic. Always getting chewed out for screwing up socially eventually put me in the situation where I felt like I was walking on eggshells when I was around people. When I finally realized that I had to be weary of what I said, I was afraid to interact with people for fear of screwing up or saying something stupid. I knew that in this world I only had one chance to get something right and if I screwed it up then that’s it. First impressions counted in the worse way possible. I constantly wished that life was like a video game where I could screw up as many times as I wanted before finally getting it right and getting better in the process but life is no video game, there are no extra lives, there are no continues or retries and shit, there isn’t even a reset button for when you’ve completely botched things. You just gotta pickup the pieces and move on knowing you inadvertently torched several bridges in the process.
Watching that episode I instantly felt Max’s pain. Yeah he screwed up big time and there’s not sugar coating it, no dusting it with fairy sparkles or seasoning it with 11 herbs and spices, no putting lipstick on the pig, he screwed up but that doesn’t mean he had to be written off there. All the principal needed was the patience to explain to him what he did wrong and give him the chance to fall off the bike as much as he needed to until he finally got it but he didn’t, he got fed up with doing damage control and didn’t even give him a chance. Mainstreaming children can be some scary shit, not many people in the public school system know what they’re up against when it comes to those with intellectual challenges. Parents are constantly between that rock and that hard place when it comes to deciding weather or not they want to mainstream their child who is on the spectrum. It’s not very easy to explain to students why another student behaves the way they do and some teachers simply don’t know how to handle situations like that. Putting them in a specialized school however isn’t very effective and eventually they realize they’re being babied not to mention they eventually severely out grow the curriculum.
There’s never a happy medium with this scenario and the only way to approach the situation is to know that at some point that kids on that end of the spectrum are going to screw up socially. Though classmates who don’t truly understand and probably never will won’t forgive as easily, it is the job of the adults to understand that just because he or she isn’t flapping their arms or drooling or throwing things doesn’t mean they instantly know better. They won’t know any better until you coach them, a job that can’t be left entirely to a behavioral therapist. We as a society also seem to have a problem when it comes to accepting failure, no one in society has has room to make mistakes. We’re all at the mercy of someone’s wrath when we screw up and when we do, there are those who are nice enough to explain to us where we went wrong and there are those who expect us to get it the first time and if we don’t we’re horrible people for not doing so. This was a serious problem academically for me as well and as I mentioned in the earlier blog “Perseverance is Failing 19 times and Succeeding the 20th”, I had the 9th grade physics teacher who expected me to get the class concepts instantaneously when he explained it and got pissed when I didn’t
The point is this, people are going to screw up plenty of times in life, some harder than others. For those on the spectrum they’re going to screw up in ways you couldn’t even imagine. Instead of being a pompous prick and writing them off, explain the problem to them as many times as you possibly can until they get it. Repetition and example is the key and if it’s going over their head then maybe you’re not explaining it correctly and most importantly, you’re not being patient enough. In this world we need to allow people more room to screw up, screwing up is how we learn from out mistakes but how can we learn if we’re afraid to screw up? Think about it the next time you decided to chew out someone for not getting it, put yourself in their shoes cause when you finally see how they’re perceiving the situation you’ll realize that they’re genuinely struggling to get it whether it be socially, conceptually, or academically. Stay classy people…