I watched Oprah's The Faces of Autism last night, after Fathersvox and Sweet M had gone to sleep. No point in Sweet M seeing it. And Fathersvox doesn't really keep up on the autism news . . . he's of the mind that Sweet M isn't on the spectrum, so at least one of us agreed with some of the things the doctor said on Wednesday. (Don't get me wrong, he was as knocked out by the meeting as I was, but it wasn't the lack of a Dx that had him reeling.)
The thing that I just couldn't get over is how long it's taken Oprah to do this show. I mean really. Autism has been mainstream media fodder for at least four years now . . . cover of Time, cover of Newsweek, bestselling books from Daniel Tammet, Donna Williams, and Temple Grandin. So where has the autism show been? It's a bit puzzling. But better late than never, I suppose.
Like many others, I thought Oprah did an alright job on her two key points — awareness and compassion. The tolerance was a little too much like "putting up with" — it didn't exactly overflow to acceptance. And she did finesse that vaccine debate pretty well. Impressive, but then she's Oprah! That's her special genius . . . reconciling the irreconcilable.
Mostly I was dismayed that all the children who were featured seemed to have quite dramatic classic autism features . . . as others have commented, if this is a spectrum disorder, where was the range? It's that sort of representation that has folks like the doctor we saw this week saying that Sweet M couldn't possibly be autistic because she's not withdrawn enough. The MTV True Life episode two weeks back had a greater range of experiences — though on MTV they left out the girls.
But I loved the dad who said someone asked him if he would love his son more if his son could talk, and he said, No, I love him now. Same here. I couldn't love Sweet M anymore than I already do. As it is my heart is cracking open every day at her tenacity, and determination, and whimsy, and joy.
I have to say that I was weeping when the father was talking about the little house that his family gave up so they could move in with his mother and have more adults on hand to help. It was such a sweet little modest home, and he couldn't even keep that if he wanted to make a place for his kid in the world. That was a sad, sad moment.
But then Oprah had to turn it around, searching for the department of happy endings. I'm always squeamish when we have to go to "the it made me a better person" angle. The lemonade making gets so old. We are all on the lookout for the Department of Silver Linings — how else does one get through the really hard things that happen in life — but the narrative predictability of the "it made me a better person" is just a little tired. I know it's really popular. And sometimes I even like it. But somedays it feels off and old. Is anyone else tired of the "adversity forged me" narrative? Or am I just grouchy because I have yet to get the chocolate antidote to the Dementor attack as advised by MOM-NOS?
Tomorrow, chocolate . . .