Today I read an article in my local *newspaper of record* about the new Sesame Street character, Julia (or is it Julie?), the little girl with autism. This wasn’t the first time I read about the Sesame Street character but this article spoke of why they chose to have a girl character, why they created her more for autism awareness for NT kids and a few other issues. Now let me be clear…I am grateful for all the autism awareness on television from Sesame Street to Parenthood to The Big Bang Theory. I think the characters are interesting, if a bit sanitized for the general public.
But back in the day, when “Rainman” came out, there was a bit of belly aching from some in the Autism Community for lack of realism but I was grateful there was a movie with a character who had autism! I actually knew the Mom of the person the Rainman character was based and the character’s behavior was based on a real person with autism, so why some criticized the lack of realism I never understood. There have been other movies since with characters who have autism, again, sanitized and perhaps a bit romanticized but……again, I’m just happy Our Kids are represented in the cinema.
Anyway, today over my morning coffee, after reading that article, I got to thinking…..instead of having a character with autism on a scripted show, wouldn’t it be more interesting to have real people with autism on a reality series? So here is my proposal: Make it a cross between “Survivor” and “Big Brother” and perhaps a little, “So You Think You Can Dance?” Instead of parents of kids with autism, make the contestants extended family members of people with autism (I’d like to nominate several of my In-Laws), arrogant special educators and para-professionals (nominated by parents of their students), neighbors of families with an autistic family member and those older ladies in Target and Costco who think they know how you should handle your kid when he has a melt-down in the middle of the store. And of course, we can’t forget those folks with perfect children who are so precocious you feel inferior just standing next to them. I’m sure most of you have several people you would happily nominate!
I imagine there should be about 25 contestants to begin with, in a lovely perfect house, with lovely and perfect furnishings…and part of the *goal* of the show would be to keep the house and furnishings lovely and perfect! We would start out with 5 kids, beginning with one or two newly diagnosed (perhaps 2 or 3 years old but a newly dx-ed 10 year old might be interesting), one or two elementary school age and then a boy (has to be a boy) entering puberty. The children with autism should cover the spectrum but a *night time howler*, a *feces smearer* and someone non-verbal should be included. It goes without saying they should all be on different diets. As contestants are voted off, a new child with autism will join the house, and each child will be slightly older until there are at least three adults with autism (covering the spectrum) as well as the children.
While the children are at school, the contestants will be expected to clean and cook and if there are any problems at school, they will be expected to drop everything to handle the problem. They will be made to feel guilty if they are not able to fly right over even if they are in the middle of cooking something needed for a special diet which will be ruined if they leave it. After school, they will be expected to shop, run errands as well as take the kids to any therapy or extra-curricular activities. All this will be happening while trying to keep up with their own jobs via phone, text or email.
As each new person with autism joins the house, the jargon will change….IEP will stay the same but *Staffing* will become *M-Team* and ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) will become plain ol’*autism* etc. The contestants will not be notified of the changes and will be expected to figure it out contextually. And as the new autistic people join and are older, contestants will be expected to find adult day programs and the funding for the adult day programs.
Did I mention there will be surprise inspections which will be part of the elimination process? And those Inspectors will be the *voted off* contestants who will feel free to criticize their former colleagues…LOUDLY! I’m not sure what the ultimate prize should be at the end and I’m not sure how I would *pitch* the idea to begin with.
But I do know when someone tells me they understand my situation or can empathize or thinks it’s all Rainbows and Unicorns, I want to tell ’em if they think it’s so easy or they could do a better job, they can take over any day. The “So You Think You Can Survive Raising a Kid With Autism?” show would be a great outlet for those folks. But it’s not practical…..they wouldn’t last a day!