|Max Burkholder (Max Braverman on NBC's Parenthood)|
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?