TRIGGER WARNING AND PARENTHOOD SPOILER ALERT
So those who watched last night’s episode of Parenthood were greeted to probably one of the most hear breaking talks you will ever have with a child who is different from the rest. To those who watch the show and haven’t watched last night’s episode I suggest you stop reading this and go watch it on “On Demand” or “Hulu” or “nbc.com” or whatever means you have of catching up on episodes. Go on, I’ll be waiting right here. Well what are you waiting for? Go! I’m just gonna stand here as awkwardly as Dora the Explorer does when she waits for you to answer her questions aimed at her “audience”.
So now that you’ve finished watching the episode or maybe you couldn’t care less about catching up with the series but, you love me enough to read my two cents on anything I dump on you and you want to know what happened and what I have to say today. For those who don’t watch the show or those who need a refresher, a decent amount of Parenthood’s plot revolves around Max (As portrayed by Max Burkholder*), a now fourteen year old who earlier on in the series of diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome (now classified as High Functioning Autism because the psychology bible known as the DSM-5 says so therefore, we must obey or the lord of psychology will come down and unleash the wrath of Hades on all of us). Did I get carried away? Yeah I probably did but you know you enjoyed it. Anyways, a decent amount of the plot revolves around the development of Max, the struggles that come with living with Aspergers and how it affects those around him. Those who follow my blog will know that I have elaborated on him and some of his struggles (Read “Life Seems to Have this Sick Way of Not Allowing Room for Error”). Those who know the Autism Spectrum will know that Aspergers is the highest functioning form of Autism on the spectrum and at times, being on the higher end can be a double edge sword. People with Aspergers and other higher functioning forms of Autism are usually diagnosed later than their peers (9-31, sometimes later) due to being able to meet most developmental milestones unlike their counterparts on the other end. This makes any sign of being on the spectrum really hard to catch unless you really analyze their behavior and their interactions with others. In the show, Max wasn’t diagnosed with Aspergers until the age of nine. On the surface Max appears to be a neurotypical kid who doesn’t stim or shows other repetitive behaviors. He has an obsession with reptiles and insects though he learns not to talk about them as much in later episodes.
SPOILER ALERT BELOW!!!!!!!!!!!!
Last night’s episode was a breaking point for Max as he endures yet another instance of bullying but this time in the worse way possible. The episode starts with Max getting ready to go on a two day trip with his class. His mother wants to tag along as a chaperon as her way of protecting him and keeping him safe. She fears that him being away from home on a trip in an unknown place would present too many transitional challenges for him to handle on his own. Despite her pleas, Max insists on going without any of his parents as a chaperon as he wants his independence. His father also insists that he should go alone and that they can’t protect him forever. After a scene showing Max boarding the bus you don’t hear much of Max until towards the end of the episode where they get a phone call from his teacher saying that there was an “incident” and that he threw a tantrum and that they should probably come get him. His parent’s are kind of surprised to hear the word “tantrum” as he hasn’t had many since he was younger (earlier on in the series). He’s had a few meltdowns where he storms off and locks himself in his room but nothing major until now. You assume it’s the expected sensory overload that comes with too much change at once but as Max is getting driven home he unloads all of his frustration in the form of one of the most heartbreaking rants I have had to listen to. You find out that one of the students urinated in his canteen and when he asked why he did it the student replied by saying “because you’re a freak”. Max then keeps calling himself a freak and keeps asking why people hate him. He then asks “If Aspergers is supposed to make me smart, why does everyone hate me? I try really hard to understand people yet everyone hates me”.
His cries of frustration not only broke my heart but set off many triggers in the process and re-awoke some really bad memories of being bullied. The incident that set Max over the edge brought me back to elementary school where a few people have taken my Gameboy Color, they’re passing it around and keeping it away from me, I ask why they’re doing it and one of them goes “because you’re retarded”. In that moment of Max unloading his frustration, I could feel every ounce of Max’s pain, EVERY SINGLE OUNCE. Imagine that feeling of genuinely trying to meld yourself to the expectations of the world only to be cast aside and always stick out in the worse way possible. Knowing that a lot of people look at you as freak and a weirdo is one of the most painful feelings you will ever endure.
To say bullying is an epidemic would be an understatement. Bullying is plague and unlike the Bubonic Plague or the plague of the locusts, this plague isn’t going away anytime soon. For those with a disability, bullying is inevitable. Here a spoiler alert to parents reading this blog who has a child with a disability, your child WILL get bullied and there won’t be a damn thing you can do to stop it. Some schools are willing to crackdown on bullying and make sure it almost never happens but most public schools don’t give a shit. You’ve heard all the stories of people getting bullied who have attempted suicide and how they tried to get help but no one would listen. A lot of people who get bullied aren’t as willing to speak up, I know I wasn’t. I kept all of that pain pent up for years and a resurfaced in the worse way possible.You can’t stop it from happening but you can help your child. When your child or friend gets bullied enough they’ll learn to internalize every awful thing that has ever been said about them. Your job is to always prove them wrong in hopes that one day they’ll have the confidence to prove others wrong. Bullying starts early and in my opinion is sometimes a result of bad parenting on the part of the Bully’s family.
A lot of parents wound up in denial when their child is accused of bullying. “Not my child! My child is an angel!” or “How dare you accuse our perfect child of being a bully”. As a result a child’s bullying continues due to lack of parental intervention. If you know your child is being a bully then you should talk to them immediately, most people bully in order to feel powerful as a way of compensating for something they lack like self esteem so the make others feel inferior as away to feel big. Chances are your “bully child” bullies because at one point of another they were bullied by someone else so they feel they need to make another feel inferior. That person who was bullied will either grow to hate their self or worse, hate others. Bullying is a cycle and unless work is done on both ends to curb the problem, it will continue. Those with a disability are more susceptible to bullying because their differences unfortunately make them stick out in ways they don’t want to. For me, people always made fun of the way I talked and even some of my stimming behaviors early on in my youth. Some with deformities will get made fun of because of the way they look or move. You’d think being in the 21st century we’d be past this but then again, this is coming out of the same era where the LBGT community still doesn’t get treated like everyone else in some parts of the country but that’s a conversation for another day. If your child is getting bullied, you need to step in and rebuild their self esteem as well as pick up the pieces of their shattered psyche because without a decent support system, self destruction will always be the only way out for someone who is that mentally broken and going one and enduring it all simply becomes a means to an end. For those who have a child who bullies, chances are they got bullied by someone else or find out what makes your child feel so inferior that they have to make other feel like crap because let’s face it, the last thing you want is to hear about your child in conjunction to a child who inflicted some sort of harm on them self as a result of your child making their life a living hell a long with a group of others.
Also the victim blaming has to stop. I recently read a story about a boy who got beat up because he wore a “My Little Pony” backpack. Rather than discipline his bullies, the school simply stated that the boy couldn’t wear the backpack anymore. I’m sorry but since when were we not allowed to express ourselves? That boy should not have to hide a part of his identity simply because people can’t tolerate it. It’s not like this kid is wearing a Swastika on his bag, he just has a My Little Pony backpack. Unlike his peers, he was brave enough to watch a TV show that preaches friendship and being kind to others yet because of it’s girly aesthetic people want to cast him aside. A lot of times in order to make situations less sticky and not have to deal with parents who are in denial, schools will often blame the victim. Maybe they asked for it with what they were wearing or how they choose to express themselves. “Maybe that boy deserves to get beat up for wearing a girly backpack” or “Maybe that girl deserves to be called a slut because she wears short shorts”. People are who they are and should choose to express themselves as long as it doesn’t offend anyone and let’s be real, I see NOTHING! ABSOLUTELY NOTHING offensive about a guy wearing a My Little Pony back pack or even a guy who simply wears pink and purple. That boy is probably manlier than all of the guys making fun of him in the first place.
Now that I’m done with that tirade, Bullying is going to continue unless the problem is curbed at all ends. Again, kids being bullied need to be reassured nothing is wrong with them, those who bully should be set aside and talked to in order to get to the root of the problem because chances are they’ve been bullied too or maybe they’re simply insecure about something. School also need to do a better job of making sure their environment is one that’s safe to be in because the more you ignore the problem, the easier it will be for bullies to get away with what they do and the cycle will just continue. The earlier you start the better, don’t wait until it’s too late to stop bullying. To those who have been bullied or those who still get bullied, it gets better, it truly does. I wouldn’t be writing these blogs right now if it didn’t.