Asperger’s on TV

As I was Facebook chatting with Alysia from Try Defying Gravity, we got to discussing one of our favorite television shows, Glee. We are both Gleeks (much as I hate that term) and were both eager for the start of the new season.

The first episode this season introduced a new character, Sugar Motta. Sugar claims she has self-diagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome.

How offensive.

I usually have such high respect for Glee. I feel they treat the problems and sheer suckiness of high school with dignity and humor. And being a former theater major, I get a kick from the musical escapades, auto-tune and all. And it was only their high notes from the past that kept me from changing the channel and deleting the series from my DVR.

I figure I’ll see where they take Sugar’s character, but I feel like they’ve “got some ‘splainin to do”. Sugar is offensive and brash, but frankly doesn’t come across as being on the Autism Spectrum at all. I’m sure I’m not the first (or the last) parent or Aspie to be mad at Glee.

And while we are on the subject of Aspie’s on television, let’s go ahead and talk about Max in Parenthood. The #1 most common question I hear when I tell people Jett has Asperger’s is “Do you watch that show Parenthood? It’s really great, and it has a kid with Asperger’s.”
Until last night I had watched Parenthood exactly one and a half times. The series premiere and half of the next episode. On their very first episode (which J and I were really looking forward to since we love Peter Krause from Six Feet Under) they introduced Max in school wearing a costume, and totally misbehaving. I turned to J at that moment and said “they are going to give that kid Asperger’s.” Sure enough, they did. And since we were in the middle of our own diagnosis and grief/coping, I elected not to watch it on tv. It was happening in my house, and at the time I sure didn’t see that as entertainment.

In the same Facebook conversation about Sugar Motta, Parenthood came up. I was surprised to hear my friend watches the show. So, in her honor, I gave it another try. It’s still pretty painful. I can see the similarities between Jett and Max, and also between myself and Max’s mom. When the mom on TV “stalked” her kid on the playground to see if he was playing with anyone, and found him sitting by himself I could just cry. I was that mom last year, and really all the years before that. It didn’t help that we lived just a few doors down from the school and I drove by the playground every time I had an errand.

So yeah, still not totally entertaining to me. Still makes me cry. The show is really well written though, and that actor is a genius.

Speaking of genius… want to know the best portrayal of Asperger’s on TV? In my small opinion, that would be Dr. Sheldon Cooper from the Big Bang Theory. The show has never defined the character as being on the spectrum, but it just seems so obvious. And it’s really funny. Laugh out loud, pee your pants kind of funny, especially if you grew up a geek like me.

Sugar Motta irritates me, Max makes me cry, and Sheldon Cooper makes me laugh. That may actually sum up my experience with Asperger’s Syndrome in real life, too.



About morelikeaveragemom

I'm a stay home mom with 3 kids. I am simply figuring it out as I go.
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12 Responses to Asperger’s on TV

  1. akbutler says:

    you summed it up perfectly in those last lines. Exactly. And I think it’s why I’m moving from Glee (yikes did I say that???) and more to Parenthood and Big Bang. I can’t take the irritation. But the sadness and the happiness – it’s my day. I can laugh and relate to both.
    You are spot on about another thing. Something about having a kid on the spectrum seems to mean that you have to watch all the shows with kids on the spectrum. Why do people assume we watch those shows just for that? I started watching Parenthood because I too love Peter Krause (and yes, I’m also a fan of the guy from “Coach” 🙂 ) I stayed because the show hits me in every part of my heart. Glee – I was pulled in by the storylines and the music. I’m pulling away for the same reason now (Hoping tonight proves me wrong).
    I’m so glad we had that conversation. It made me think a lot about the characters and what I need (and get) from TV. Someday I hope we can meet and have it in person too 🙂

    • I would live to meet someday too! Maybe our homeschool adventures with take us your way one day 🙂

      I added Parenthood to the DVR list. But I may virtually cry on your shoulder every week!

  2. Jenny says:

    I agree about Sugar’s character, but in GLEE’s defense, she says she’s self-diagnosed Asperger’s. Which, for such a self-absorbed kid, seems right that she would choose it as her ‘out’. It allows her to be rude and crude AND play the victim card– which no self-respecting Aspie would do. As for my favorite Aspie character, that would be Jerry, an attorney on Boston Legal, which is no longer on Tv, darnit.

  3. susan says:

    Glad to read such thoughtful reflections on TV’s portrayal of people with Asperger’s. While we’re on the subject of GLEE – I’m still irritated that the actor portraying Artie can, in fact, walk. Seems like the producers and directors of GLEE could have found an incredibly talented young man who uses a wheelchair for real – not someone faking it. It’s time for TV to accurately and authentically portray people with disabilities.

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  5. Your post was one of the suggestions in the Related Articles box of my Zemanta recommendations when I wrote my post yesterday, and it’s very interesting for me to see how this link looks on your site. It appears somewhat spammy to me, but I assure you that I read your article first and related to it so much that it became the first one I’ve ever clicked.

    I especially understand what you said about “Parenthood.” Even though I see it from a slightly different perspective than you do, I cried through the first few episodes I watched. As emotionally charged as your life is while dealing with your child’s Aspergers, I’m so glad that your family knows. I wish you all the best.

  6. garymac says:

    If you are looking for positive role models on tv for people with Asperger’s, don’t forget the woman in Bones. Also, don’t watch it if you haven’t the strength, but the season premiere of South Park featured “Ass Burgers” and was hilarious though it completely misrepresented autism spectrum disorders.

  7. Shelley Fugitt says:

    Ugh. Not a Glee fan and this may be the final nail in the coffin. LOVE Big Bang Theory. Gives me hope that maybe someday life may be “normal” for Andrew. Or as close as it can get. I agree that everyone expects me to watch Parenthood and I just haven’t had the time to watch it yet. May not. Life is bittersweet enough. I don’t really want the reminders of what we face on any given day. Middle school has been rough enough. May have to Hulu an episode just to see how it goes.

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