‘Parenthood’ Explores How To Tell A Child He Has Asperger’s

Max Burkholder, Peter Krause and Michael Emerson in Parenthood (NBC)

Max Burkholder, Peter Krause and Michael Emerson in Parenthood (NBC)

How do you explain Asperger’s syndrome to a child with Asperger’s? That is the dilemma that last night’s powerful episode of “Parenthood” tackled. The ongoing struggle of Adam (Peter Krause) and Kristina (Monica Potter) to help their son Max (Max Burkholder), who was diagnosed with Asperger’s in the show’s first season.

“I’m very proud of [this] episode.  I think it’s one of the most emotional episodes we’ve done” said Jason Katims, the show’s executive producer, whose son is on the Autism spectrum. “In many ways, the show has been building toward this moment from the pilot episode.  We get to the live through this journey with Adam, Kristina and Max in a very nuanced and honest way and I think this episode will be remembered as one of the show’s finest.”

Watch last night’s episode here on xfinitytv.com

In the prior episode, Max learned he had Asperger’s from overhearing a heated family argument. Caught off guard, Adam and Kristina alternately gave Max information that he cannot comprehend (“Asperger’s is a form of Autism”) and say things that go against proscribed therapeutic guidelines for discussing Asperger’s with a child. (“You’re wired differently.”)

See Adam And Kristina Explain Asperger’s To Max:

[iframe http://xfinitytv.comcast.net/tv/Parenthood/104496/1825440017/If-at-First-You-Don-t-Succeed…/embed 580 476]

It’s impossible to tell how Max feels about this information. He does not express anger or pain or relief  at knowing why he’s different from other kids. That’s one of the many difficulties of raising a child with Aspergers. Adam and Kristina, being upper middle class helicopter parents, are convinced they have done permanent  damage to Max. They consult a caring but judgmental therapist, played by Tom Amanades, who makes them feel even worse about the language they used. He tells them that they need to try again, “Be simple, upbeat, emphasize the positive aspects of Asperger’s.”

Watch the full episode here.
[iframe http://xfinitytv.comcast.net/tv/Parenthood/104496/1825239079/Qualities-and-Difficulties/embed 580 476]


For Adam, who desperately wants his son to be like everybody else, there are no positives. Instead of following the script that the doctor recommended, he decides to make his son feel better by taking him to an amusement park on a school day. It’s clear that Adam’s really the one who needs to feel better about himself. Encouraging Max to break from the routines that he needs to function is really about Adam’s hope that if he tries hard enough, Max will change. After his son has a meltdown when his favorite roller coaster is closed, Adam realizes that the therapist was right. He and Kristina tell Max that his Asperger’s gives him  a superior memory and boundless enthusiasm for his interests, even though it makes social interaction more difficult. Max’s simple response is heartbreaking: “Will I always have it?” His parents surprisingly don’t point out that Amazing Andy (Michael Emerson), the bug expert Max idolizes, also has Asperger’s. They just tell him yes. On most shows, Max would say he feels better about having Asperger’s now that they have talked. But “Parenthood” strives for realism, so he just goes upstairs to play on the computer. It’s messy and unresolved, just like life.


The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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