Thursday, January 5, 2012

There Must Be Consequences!

Max Burkholder (Max Braverman on NBC's Parenthood)
I have such a love/hate relationship with the NBC show "Parenthood." On the one hand, I love that they have a character who has Aspergers, and little Max Burkholder, who plays Max Braverman, does a wonderful job portraying the behaviors typical of a child with high-functioning Autism. Someone very much like my Jack. That's why it upsets me so much when they handle storylines so poorly. Even though they go out of their way to write Aspergers into the show, sometimes they seem to forget that Max actually does have Autism. This week was one of those times.

At the start of the episode, the family is preparing for a weekend road trip, and Max is playing a video game. After his mom Kristina tells him several times to turn off the game and Max keeps saying he's almost done, Kristina marches over and snaps off both the television and the gaming system. Anyone who has a child on the spectrum can tell you what happens next. Of course, Max has a giant meltdown, which includes calling his mother a bitch. Hello! Did you forget your child has Autism? Did you expect any other response when you just figuratively slapped him across the face?

But does Max's mother take any ownership of her part in the meltdown and remember her child has Autism? No! She proclaims, "There must be consequences for his behavior!" Max is grounded for calling his mother a bad name and forbidden to go on the family trip. Kristina ends up staying home with him and his infant sister while everyone else goes to Grandma's.

I've been in that exact situation. I once grabbed a Nintendo DS out of Jack's hands because he didn't seem to be listening to me, and I'm here to tell you we both learned a hard lesson that day. The meltdown that ensued was extremely painful and emotional for both of us. He not only called me a bitch, but he told me he hated me and he'd never loved me. He was 9. By the time it was over, we were both crying and upset, but I realized that I was the one who provoked that meltdown. I was the one who threw the switch and sent his brain spiraling out of control.

Kids with Autism have low tolerance for frustration. They don't like transitions. In Max's mind (and Jack's) his mom just destroyed all the progress he'd made in the game he was hyperfocused on, just as effectively as a bomb blowing up in his face. It's too much sensory input and a meltdown ensues.

How can you punish someone for the way their brain works? Would you punish an epileptic for having a seizure when you shine a light in his face? Would you punish a diabetic for going into insulin shock when you forced her to eat sugar? Would you punish a child with dyslexia for not being able to read?

Once again this is the age old assumption that children have "tantrums" due to bad parenting. Very, very hurtful to someone who has a child who has these outbursts. He's not a brat. He has Autism. A little more compassion, a little less judgement. 

Once Jack had calmed down after his meltdown, we hugged and apologized to each other. We both cried. I told him I was sorry that I grabbed his DS out of his hands, and he told me that he was sorry he said all those mean things to me when he was angry. He didn't mean any of those things. He was just so upset he was using his words as weapons.

We don't believe in punishment just for the sake of punishment. Real life has its own consequences. If you say mean words to people in anger, the punishment is watching the person you love cry. Isn't that punishment enough?


  1. Do you know that show "The Middle"? Its American but we get to see it here in Britain. We're always debating whether one of the kids in that has Aspergers or not. Its never spelt out exactly, but it seems the most likely match. I quite like the fact that noone ever makes it a big deal - he's just a bit different, and the family are completely used to handling it.

  2. Hi, JuliesMum! I haven't watched "The Middle," but I love shows that have quirky characters like that. Isn't it funny how the more we learn about autism, the more we see it in everybody? I think we're all of us at some point on the spectrum! Thanks for stopping in to comment. I appreciate it!

    Debbie K.

  3. I have to disagree in part. Children have to have boundaries and calling u a bad name is not appropriate. Anymore than calling a teacher, a policeman , and eventually a boss. It doesn't start at 30. There are consequences to bad words and quite frankly loosing a game or a trip is mild.

    While Chrustina may have lost patience as u did that one time, does not mean your child should not learn how to handle his frustration appropriately. Remember calling names is just one aspect, next is hitting, throwing things and one day he will be 6 feet and 200 pounds. There r no excuses in society.

    Autism is not a good excuse for everything. It's just means there r different ways to handle inappropriate actions. There comes a time that they really should know better.

  4. My point is that when he's provoked into a meltdown, he loses all control and stuff happens. I had to take ownership for my part in his meltdown. I could have handled it better, as could Kristina. He knows he shouldn't use bad language, but when he's out of control, he's out of control. I'm the one who pushed him over the edge, and so did Kristina.

    As he gets older, he's learning to manage these meltdowns. I see it as kind of a seizure. When he's on sensory overload, all bets are off.

  5. I saw it differently. I knew exactly where it was heading when Kristina turned off the game but the punishment didn't fit the offense. Even a NT kid wouldn't get that type of punishment for something like that. Parents get frustrated even at our kids on the spectrum but we also have to learn that we have to give appropriate consequences not far reaching ones.

  6. We all lose our tempers and say things we don't mean. Autistic people as well as NT ones. It upset me that she didn't admit her part in it, and it was overkill to cancel their trip. Sometimes you have to wonder who's punishing whom.

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  8. I honestly don't know anyone with Aspergers, but I have recently started watching parenthood and I'm just wondering a few things. I don't see Kristina or Adam ever punishing max and I don't understand that at all? Just because he has autism he isn't supposed to be punished, he talks all the time about haddie doing something wrong and she needs consequences but what about him? I just saw him throw a major tantrum in the middle of the hospital and say he didn't care about amber. Then he proceeded to scream, tell his grandpa to shut up, hit his mother and his grandpa. I'm just wondering if there are any consequences.

  9. Hi, Brooke! Thanks for your comment. People with Autism have a brain that works differently. Sometimes when there is too much input, it kind of short circuits and a meltdown is a result. This is more common when kids are younger, although some never seem to outgrow this. My son is 15 now and is much better able to handle his emotions that when he was younger. I haven't seen that episode in a long time, but I vaguely remember what you're talking about. Rewards and punishment don't work on a person with Autism. You can't punish someone for the way their brain works. It would be like punishing a baby for falling down when he's learning to walk. What parents of children with Autism need to be aware of is to not put too much stress on their children. Kids with Autism don't like change to routine. Max sitting in that hospital was very hard for him. When he said he "didn't care about Amber," he didn't really mean that. He was upset in the moment. His parents should have taken him out of that situation. It was too much for him.

  10. You do realize that Max has a disability, don't you? Kids with Autism are very easily frustrated. When something goes different than planned, they can often lose their cool. Their brains are wired differently than yours and mine. My son has gotten better at coping with situations as he's gotten older, but he can still get upset if something unexpected happens. Parents of children with Autism are doing the best they can. Until you have a child with a neurological disability, please don't judge. I do appreciate your input though! Thanks for reading!