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Qualities and Difficulties

This week on Parenthood, Qualities and Difficulties,’ Adam and Kristina sit down with Max. Now that the cat’s out of the bag, Max wants to know about autism – what is it? Adam starts off talking about disabilities, and Kristina corrects him, but their explanation isn’t anything Max can really understand, and his lack of response triggers his parents’ emotions. Asperger’s is tough to deal with but they will, and no matter what happens they’ll always love him. And no, no one else in the family has it, only Max. When Kristina starts crying, Max asks to go to his room and runs off. Adam tries to give Kristina some support, but she tells him to stop and dissolves in a puddle of sobs.

In this clip Adam and Kristina make an appointment with Dr. Pelikan to discuss telling Max about Asperger’s.

Watch this clip on on the Parenthood website here!

How do you react to this clip? Do you agree with Dr. Pelikan’s advice?

To watch full episodes of Parenthood visit here.

  1. March 2, 2011 at 1:16 pm

    I think it’s unrealistic to this parents won’t have a sense of mourning with the diagnosis. It’s ok to cry. Yes, we embrace our children’s autism and celebrate the positives but there is definitely a period of reality hitting like a ton of bricks and trying to navigate what to do next.

    • March 2, 2011 at 1:23 pm

      I agree Melissa. If we, as parents, need time to adjust so do the kids. I think it was unrealistic that Max would react any other way in the beginning. He needed time to process. I totally understand that.

    • March 2, 2011 at 1:29 pm

      very true, I’ve known for 2 and a half years and watching her cry makes ME cry.

      • Laura
        March 2, 2011 at 5:40 pm

        I felt exactly the same…I am an elementary school teacher, and there are still days that I drive home and cry because my child doesn’t experience life the way my students do. When we first received the diagnosis, I asked, “So does that mean that she’ll never be a happy, bubbly child?” Mourning the loss is absolutely a normal reaction.

  2. March 2, 2011 at 1:19 pm

    I don’t think it’s realistic for parents not to cry and go through some sort of coping or mourning phase. Yes, we celebrate our children’s diagnosis and relish in the positives but there is also a time of sadness and trying to figure out what to do next. I agree that parents need to be on the same page before discussing it with their children to avoid confusion.

    • March 2, 2011 at 1:20 pm

      Sorry, I didn’t mean to comment twice. I didn’t think my first one went through!

  3. March 2, 2011 at 1:19 pm

    The doc was right on. The Parents were driving me nuts. I have to remind myself it’s fiction because I get so mad at how they deal with him sometimes but I know it’s a show and they’re supposed to be just learning about it. I’m glad Max knows now and that the parents are seeing the qualities of aspergers because there are SO MANY!

    • Danni
      March 3, 2011 at 12:58 pm

      I couldn’t agree more. My brother was diagnosed with Asperger’s almost two years ago, but he was about 15 when that happened. And the doctor my brother went to realized it just by interacting with my brother for about 10 minutes. So he sat my parents down and explained the diagnosis, and then when he went to talk to my brother he asked him “if he was ready to have the time of his life”. The doctor took Asperger’s from a positive aspect, and showed him all the incredible things their minds can do. Without that positive outlook on all of it, I don’t believe that my brother’s life would be how it is now. He embraces life so much more know, and is starting to understand why he thinks things differently than most kids his age. Just from my personal experience, I believe whenever explaining to a child that they have autism should be done from a positive manner.

  4. March 2, 2011 at 1:37 pm

    I’ve been subtly dropping hints along the way to my (now 5yr old) son that he has a spectrum disorder. I don’t use labels, but I don’t pretend that I don’t notice he has trouble in certain areas, like social skills. We discuss it. I don’t want him to “discover” he has ASD as a teen, after wondering for years why he was so different. It should be treated as a fact of life, not a giant revelation. This is the only way they can process it and incorporate it into their identity without it being a negative thing, IMO.

  5. March 2, 2011 at 1:42 pm

    I think Dr. Pelikan was brilliant. I think the parents were typical in reaction. I also agree it isn’t the best idea to cry in front of your child while discussing it, most kids with autism are very black and white( they are literal)…and crying is associated with negative emotion. Lets face it the world is a tough enough place for them to function in daily life…..lets not make it worse by crying in front of them. Accentuate the positive is always good In my book. I think the writers are doing an amazing job with this show….actors and actresses as well. We as parents make mistakes and not only are they showing the mistakes but a solution! I LOVE it!

  6. Tim Guyer
    March 2, 2011 at 1:50 pm

    I have Asperger’s Syndrome. I do not read body language and and facial expressions very well. So when somebody sits me down and starts talking to me about something and they are crying and acting all emotional, what little I do know about body language and facial expressions gets shut down. And I can go back to what I was focusing on before I was interrupted. It must not have been important or they would not be acting so strange.

  7. Laura Miner
    March 2, 2011 at 2:01 pm

    I have two sons ages 4 and 2 and both have asperger’s. My husband could hardly watch the part of the show where they told MAx he has asperger’s. It just rubbed him the wrong way. IT’s a reality we’ll soon have to face of telling our boys that their minds are unique and they look at the world a different way than most people. I like the idea of highlighting the many strengths AS kids have and telling them that everyone has things they are good at and things that are challenging for them. My question is what is the right age to tell them they have asperger’s? I don’t know the answer to that and it totally depends on the individual.

    • Kareinke
      March 2, 2011 at 2:10 pm

      With my granddaughters we have had an open dialogue with them since they were both around 4 years old, explaining and teaching them to cope. I feel the sooner you start the dialogue the better. The sooner they understand their uniqueness the better we can prepare them to deal with the world in the best way possible. Knowledge is powerful, the sooner they have the knowledge and can learn to deal, the better prepared they are to enter the world and deal with handling the worlds ignorance of there disorder.

  8. Kareinke
    March 2, 2011 at 2:03 pm

    I have a 33 year with two daughters with Asperger’s,I watch this show, because the way this subject is being handled is true to life, every family deals differently with the diagnois and teaching the extended family the tools we need to have to love and nuture the children. In the journey with our family, we have come to find that their father’s quirk’s, as we always refered to his diffeneces, was Asperger’s and with the diagnois, I have developed a better understand of my son as well as my granddaughters. They have so much to offer in their lives just like my son has made a good life for himself and overcome the adversities of ASD.

  9. Kristin
    March 2, 2011 at 2:21 pm

    Just to clarify, for those that may not regularly watch the show, they had not planned on telling Max yet. It came out when he overheard a conversation and they had not prepared themselves for telling him yet. They were pretty much forced to have the conversation with him, when they hadn’t even thought about how to tell him. In the story they have known for maybe a year, but had not told him yet. I thought it was a well done episode for a TV show. And, it has prompted me to talk to my son more about it and know how to talk about it.

  10. Rita Shutran
    March 2, 2011 at 2:30 pm

    I have written a book on this very thing! In it I talk about the stages of grief a parent can go through when they hear their child has Autism in general. It is full of Southern wisdom,& my grandson’s school is talking about me doing a presentation on my writings. The parents need to grieve the loss of the “blue print” of what they visioned their child to be. It was tough to figure this out, but after listening to many parents in support groups, I got it. The only thing I would have like to see in the episode is to tell Max the famous people who have had Asperger’s and what their passions have done for life today;ie the light bulb!!

    • Denise
      March 2, 2011 at 4:12 pm

      I don’t watch the show, as my son is now 18 and we’ve been through all of the stages to date. He’s our hero, and has one of the most unique, great minds. He’s been fully integrated thru school and is a success story to say the very least. We attribute to always having plans for his development stages whenever possible. The question of when to tell them is so frightening for parents; there is really no real answer because it depends so much on the individual child’s ability to gather the information and make sense out of it. We waited until middle school, when he could understand better how to deal with it. That worked for us. The best advice I can give is to avoid it getting blurted out. Either way, being factual, loving, honest, not giving too much information at once, and pointing out the many advantages (with real examples) were the way I approached it. We even were able to do questions and answers about what he does or says because of AS and how he can plan for situations better now. Everything since then has been his own “challenge to beat AS”, in his mind and heart. I also agree with showing pictures of famous people with AS who live great lives.

    • March 2, 2011 at 4:31 pm

      Our 15 year old son was recently diagnosed with Asperger’s. We would love to know the name of your book so we could read it before we discuss his diagnosis. Thank you!

      • Rita Shutran
        March 3, 2011 at 10:06 am

        Thank-you for your interest. Sadly, I haven’t found a publisher, BUT if you want, I can e-mail you a copy & you can tell me if it is helpful. If you know of a punlisher please let me know. my e-mail is rrshutran2005@yahoo.com. :)

      • Bethany
        March 3, 2011 at 10:22 am

        Lynne, five years ago my son was 10 when he was diagnosed with Asperger’s. We had never heard of it before and neither had many teachers or relatives – so no preconcieved ideas. He’d been having a rough time at school and had only the label ADD, which only sorta fit. We learned about it together and saw past events in a whole new light. Suddenly certain strengths and weaknesses made sense … and that made it easier to focus on them and make allowances for some of them. (especially the tendancy to blurt thoughts – we call it a “lack of a verbal filter”) (Sorta like suddenly realizing your son is a lefty and that is why he’s always been so clumsy with his right. Soon you find he’s a really good lefty) So you learn to adapt. And get an IEP to help your son’s weaknesses.
        We also see AS characteristics in both sides of our family. My dad, a chemical engineer, thinks AS sound pretty normal … that’s because he’s not nuerotypical either … that’s why he’s an engineer. :)
        It’s 5 years later and my son is healthy, loving, very smart, and doing well in 10th grade. He’s different than most other kids, and that’s okay. He’s smarter, still thinks girls are yucky, still says “I love you, mom” as he heads for the morning bus, and still loves his Legos. He’s kinda proud to be “quircky” and feels no peer pressure to be the same.
        Hope this helps.
        PS Haven’t watched the show, wish I’d seen this episode. Also, he has AS and we don’t “call” it autism because many people would have a different expectation of him with that label.

  11. Anita Jones
    March 2, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    I cried when I watched this episode. I think that I would just be like the Mom I would of cried when telling my Son, especially if he asked a question like Max did about if anyone else had Autism in his family. The only thing is that I would of told Max what Autism was. I would of given him a definition of what Autism was. But I think that they show a great job on how us parents who have children with Autism and what we and the child with Autism goes through all of the time.

  12. Heather
    March 2, 2011 at 2:50 pm

    Although watching the parents try to explain it was not a pleasant scene, I am thankful to the writers for the topic. My son, 3 years old, was diagnosed with autism in December. I haven’t even begun to think about the best way to discuss this with him. Currently, we are consumed with fighting the school system for therapy, finding a preschool willing to work with his needs, learning and adapting ourselves to be able to best help him grow. At least this topic is now on my radar. I want it to be a conversation that we have continuously throughout his life. Glad it was brought up so I can start to find the best way to do that now.

  13. peggy schrabeck
    March 2, 2011 at 3:07 pm

    yes it is emotional and always will be. The problems are life long every day of the week, every week of the month every month of the year. This is an NT world and it is always going to be up hill and it will always break a parents heart no matter how old they get. To be brutally honest….the positives DO NOT out weigh the negatives. I am NT and without realizing it found myself married to an aspie. We have been married for 21 years, all of his siblings have it as does his father, uncles and grandfather all in different varying degrees. So I see first hand. The sorrow never ends

  14. molly
    March 2, 2011 at 3:13 pm

    I think the writers tried to approach it from every side – mourning parents, and the mourning process, to a doctor who shows the good things. And the situation is all of those things, I think – times when we mourn (and mourn again, and again) and times that are amazing (for example, my little man is dancing, or watching him spell and read – at three!)

  15. Cyn Maldonado
    March 2, 2011 at 3:34 pm

    I think that just as each child with ASD is unique – the approach should also be. I like that they had a therapist privvy to their dynamic guide them in thier approach. This episode has inspired me to find a therapist for our family. My daughter will be 6 this month and she knows she has it, but does not fully understand. She recognizes the word, symbols and icons as well as any actvism and advocating we do.

  16. Heidi
    March 2, 2011 at 3:46 pm

    For our family, it was just a matter of fact that our sons were different. Even before they were diagnosed we recognized that they were wired differently. And that is the expression we still use. When they officially had a diagnosis it was more like the handle of a tool box.

    However I still have my moments as a mom, and the grief of recognizing they are different and how it affects their lives catches me sometimes. I do try to grieve with friends who are supportive instead of in front of them.

  17. Rose Donovan
    March 2, 2011 at 4:06 pm

    I think the writers are doing a tremendous job with the Asperger’s story line. It isn’t always realistic, bit it’s pretty close much of the time. I couldn’t wait to see it this week to find out what Max’s parents said. It was good to see the parents sort of botch it at first, then get a second chance to do a better job. I wondered how Max would react, as I have a 17-year-old son who is very reluctant to discuss his ASD. He shuts down whenever I try to have the conversation. The show did a great job of modeling how to frame the issues in a positive way while still acknowledging the challenges.

    • Anita
      March 3, 2011 at 9:56 am

      My 20 year old is exactly the same. He knows he is autistic but shuts down when anyone wants to talk about the challenges that he is relying on others to handle for him. He just can’t grasp that it’s his challenge and his life to control.

  18. Ali
    March 2, 2011 at 4:42 pm

    I’m a voice teacher, and one of my students proudly refers to herself as an “Aspie”. Every other lesson she tells me I’m “weird”. I thank her, and return the compliment. My student has been living on her own for several months now. I also have a niece on the spectrum, who will be transitioning from high school (where she’s just won a prize in an art competition!) into a life skills training program. Their both doing wonderfully! I’m not a parent at all, let alone the parent of someone on the spectrum, but I’d like to celebrate the amazing people in my life who are autistic, and their amazing parents. Heck, I’d like to celebrate all those on the spectrum and all their parents! As this show so beautifully illustrates, what you do every day is truly incredible.

  19. Jeff
    March 2, 2011 at 6:09 pm

    I am a special education teacher for autistic and children with aspergers. I also work with emotionally disturbed children. I was very impressed at how the show portrayed the family and the son. I think the doctor gave some good advice and I think the parents did a very good job at the end of the show talking to their son about his Aspergers. I also was impressed at how real they portrayed the son’s outburst at the amusement park. It is important for parents of children with autism to understand that these children do in fact respond better to routine but if the parents want to try to break these children out of their repetitive and ritualistic routines they must do so gradually and slowly over a lengthy period of time.

    • Anita
      March 3, 2011 at 9:58 am

      Often we try to rush our children and I have found that lengthy period of time to be much longer than we had anticipated.

  20. David
    March 2, 2011 at 6:26 pm

    I don’t usually watch the show, but I was certainly curious. My wife and I have not decided how or when to talk to our son. It gave us a lot to think about.

  21. Denise
    March 2, 2011 at 6:51 pm

    Yes, we parents grieve for the hopes and dreams that we have for our children; even though some of those hopes and dreams may still be fulfilled, we as parents find that we are suddenly playing the game of life with a whole different set of rules – rules that we have to hunt for and discover one by one. It may not seem fair that many parents get to keep playing by the old rules, but we do find other parents seeking their way through it all and learn to support and help each other.

  22. Mary Cox
    March 2, 2011 at 6:51 pm

    I thought Dr. Pelikan’s advise was perfect! I believe children regardless of anything need to always be told the truth. Especially to prevent situations like in last night’s episode. We talk about our son’s autism openly and educate as different situations arise, this also helps with their siblings, extended family and educators to better understand our son and his uniqueness. We can shelter too much by the fear of labeling our children and then they are not equipped to deal with the realities of the world. Last night’s episode was brilliant.

  23. Karen Joyce
    March 2, 2011 at 7:13 pm

    My child is 7 and was diagnosed with autism at 21 months old. We knew – the diagnosis was a formality. She is completely non-verbal and completely sweet. She is so quiet and polite she seems almost invisible in a crowd. I have been explaining what autism is to her in small doses since she was 3 because I need her help. I need her to understand so that she can meet us part way and she is doing that. It is amazing that she is able to understand some aspects of this very complicated reality but she is getting it and sometimes when something happens – I whisper in her ear and she just looks at me and smiles. We are getting there. We are meeting each other and we will meet in the middle! Yes parents need to mourn but do it alone or in the shower – then shake it off and focus on treatment. Focus on how to help your child be their best self. Put your sadness in a box and come out fighting :-)

    • Karen Joyce
      March 2, 2011 at 7:17 pm

      In terms of whether or not anyone else in the family has autism? Everyone is on the “spectrum”. There is one human race and degrees of differences and metrics that vary so greatly that there is no “us” and “them”. If my child asked me if she was the only one in our family I would have said no. I would have showed her a picture of a rainbow and said we all exist within this array. Whether anyone or everyone has it does not matter.

      • March 2, 2011 at 10:38 pm

        love that. Thanks, Susan, you are so right.

      • Anita
        March 3, 2011 at 10:05 am

        Absolutely how we present it to our son.
        There are others that aren’t at the same point on the spectrum as him but we are all human!

  24. Samantha Conkle
    March 2, 2011 at 8:42 pm

    I completely understand the Dad’s reaction. If tomorrow they told me that there was a cure for autism, I would be in line for the cure. I wouldn’t be alone either. Maybe it is because my daughter has only been diagnosed for a year, but I am still seriously pissed. I am not angry with my daughter, but more with God and myself. Right now, I have a hard time thinking of advantages to autism. However, my baby is only four and time will tell what advantages and disadvantages autism will give. Right now, I am just angry that this disorder is making my daughter’s life so difficult. Life is hard enough.

    • Denise
      March 2, 2011 at 10:09 pm

      I won’t tell you that autism is wonderful, but it can have advantages for some. My 15 year old aspy son wants to be a video game designer. He has the math skills. He has a hyper focus to get the job done and done right, if he is interested in the job. He almost oozes creativity from his pores. He thinks and sees things differently from most others, and that can be an asset in this field. Also, when it is time to do an oral presentation in class or play his saxaphone, he isn’t nervous. He is confident in what he knows. My 8 year old daughter, is further down the spectrum She has always had an ability to draw. She understood perspective before she was ever in kindergarden. She is also good at languages. Today, her aide asked me about her Spanish lessons. I told her that my daughter had never had lessons beyond Dora and Diego. She responded that she and my daughter sometimes have conversations in Spanish, and that my daughter is pretty fluent. No, their lives aren’t easy or rosy, but neither are they dreary and hopeless. My son doesn’t want a cure; he’s afraid that he would turn into someone else. He just wants to improve enough so that one day he can have a strong marriage and be a good dad.

  25. March 2, 2011 at 10:37 pm

    Given that Max’s diagnosis is still so new, they are definitely still in the mourning stage (when does that end, exactly?). It was not fair that their hand was tipped before they were prepared to discuss Aspergers’ with Max, but I do think the psych was right that they have to get their own emotions out of the way, and be more objective when discussing it. Collapsing into tears in front of your kid only sends the message that something is terribly wrong (with him? mom?) and of course max ran away; any kid would have. Once they got the script down, and were able to present a united, calm front, the message was way more effective, and yes, positive. I know Adam had a problem with “positive” (and he’s right – it totally sucks), but, to help his kid, he HAD to get past that.

    I don’t think anyone is saying that the grief and pain are irrelevant at all; we have to process this emotionally like any tragedy. But certainly the way we spin it for our kids sets the tone for the future.

    • Anita
      March 3, 2011 at 10:12 am

      I don’t think the loss is ever totally accepted. At least not in my experience. We celebrate all his achievements and chear him on daily (for the last 20 yrs). However we certainly don’t sugarcoat the FACT that neurotypicals run this planet and he will have to follow their rules to avoid negative consequences like jail.
      I don’t watch the show but from the clip it sounded like the therapist was wanting the parents to ignore/sugarcoat the realities and be all upbeat. LIFE with autism is just not that easy. Sorry

  26. Sherry Caillouette
    March 2, 2011 at 10:47 pm

    I love this show and I tell as many people as I can to watch and learn. My grandson has aspergers and I learn from him everyday as well as from my son with autism. Thanks for updates.

  27. Michelle
    March 3, 2011 at 10:15 pm

    My daughter (diagnosed with “high functioning” autism) asked me what autism was after she overheard me discussing it with her pediatrician. I told her, “It is the thing that makes you nervous about things that other people don’t seem to get nervous about”. “Nervous” is the word that she uses to describe how she feels when she is over-focused on something or having issues with sensory integration, or when she is upset that something has “changed”. She immediatly asked me if she could start a club for kids with autism. I told her that she was in one(her social skills group). She didn’t realize until that moment that the group was all members with autism. Knowing other kids who had autism that she considered “friends” seemed to make her feel better about her diagnosis. Feeling connected to other kids with autism has seemed to help her be proud of her diagnosis as opposed to seeing it as a burden.

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