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Piece by Piece: NBC's 'Parenthood' Strikes a Chord

NBC’s “Parenthood” has started its new season, and this one is truly striking a chord with me. One of the characters, Max, has Asperger’s Syndrome, an autistic spectrum disorder. Some friends have asked me how the show does with its portrayal of autism. There is a saying that when you have met someone with autism, you have met someone with autism. It does not necessarily help you understand the next person on the spectrum who you meet.

My son Peter is 10 and has PDD-NOS, which is considered on the high end of the spectrum. He has verbal skills, although he is often too concrete. He can take care of himself in many ways now, pouring milk from a half-gallon container so easily that the milk is disappearing a bit more quickly than I would like. He can tell me he wants to shop for Tony Hawk clothes because I have a good Kohl’s coupon and he has sisters that have given him fashion sense.

In Peter’s program at school, one can truly observe what autistic spectrum means. Peter has friends who talk circles around him and others who do not speak much at all. Although most of them share some common issues in terms of their sensory overload, they are also very different. Some have dietary restrictions. Some had skills that they lost. Others are still trying to find their true voice.

Yes, I do think Max represents a child on the autistic spectrum. He is bright yet hesitant, overwhelmed by his environment, more frank than most appreciate. Peter is all those things because of his autism. The part though, that strikes a chord is not Max. It is the family dynamic. This year, especially, they seem to be showing how Max’s mom, Kristina, is handling the challenges of Max’s autism.

Although all of our children are different, we moms are very much the same. We all worry constantly about whether our child is communicating to others clearly. We all know that our child is struggling to be social when at this age it is hard enough to navigate through the world. We all want them to become independent and then follow at a distance to make sure they are coping with the freedom. We all regularly wonder just how many things we will have to piece together to feel secure about our child’s future.

You can contact Patrice Athanasidy at

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