Stigmas and Signs

Adam and Kristina have a son named Max.
Jake and Ashley have a son named Caleb.

Max and Caleb both live within the Autism Spectrum.

Caleb lives in Tallahassee, so my family gets to spend a lot of time with him.
Max lives inside your television, so if you want, you could spend time with him.

Max is a Braverman on the NBC series Parenthood, which is produced by Jason Katims. Motivated by the fact that he has a 13-year-old son with Asperger’s Syndrome, he created Max with the same diagnosis and when asked why, he said, “My hope would be that it normalizes it,” he says. “So there’s no stigma to it, no mystery to it.”

Adam Braverman trying to interact with his son Max.

I found his choice of words very interesting. I’ll tell you why in a moment, but first I wanted to briefly talk about Asperger’s Syndrome.

Asperger syndrome or Asperger’s syndrome is an autism spectrum disorder that is characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction, along with restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests. It differs from other autism spectrum disorders by its relative preservation of linguistic and cognitive development. Although not required for diagnosis, physical clumsiness and atypical use of language are frequently reported. (See article here)

Definitions are helpful, but they are limited. Full of a bunch of words, void of flesh and blood. I consider myself fortunate to know Caleb and others who aren’t normal, just like me and my family. The best way to better understand Asperger’s, Autism, Cerebral Palsy, freckled, tall, or Canadian is to get to know someone who knows it first hand. (Caleb’s mom writes a blog about their abnormal world that you can read HERE.) Back to the quote.

Katims used the words: “normalize, stigma, and mystery”

I believe that two of them are ugly and one is beautiful, can you guess which?

Quick disclaimer, I have no issue with what Katims said. I love what he is trying to accomplish. My concern is with our culture and I believe he is hitting home.

As an aside; there are times when normalizing is misguided. Take Hitler for example. He attempted to normalize hatred and elitism while committing genocide. He was normalizing the wrong thing. Martin Luther King, on the other hand, attempted to normalize people with different skin colors who had been cast aside because of hatred and elitism. Dr. King had the right idea. Moving on.

Sadly, we live in a culture today that looks down on people who might have been given a diagnosis. We don’t like to admit it, and there are many groups out there fighting to raise awareness, but the fact that those groups exist and that Katims feels compelled to “normalize” something like Asperger’s reveals our culture’s ignorant judgements.

The truth is that Asperger’s is normal. After all, we live in America… where being Polish is normal. One of the beautiful realities of living in these United States is our multi-cultural composition and, like I’ve said before, the unique cultures of Autism or Asperger’s is no different from the unique Asian or African cultures.

Katims is also hoping that there won’t be a “stigma” to having Asperger’s, which I am sure he would extend to autism, etc. I hope he is successful.

According to Webster’s, stigma means ‘a mark of disgrace or infamy; a stain or reproach, as on one’s reputation.’ I don’t even like reading that and picturing a human being.

Would we consider green eyes a reproach on one’s reputation?
Could we say that being deaf is a mark of disgrace?

Why then would we  believe that ‘repetitive patterns of behavior and interests’ is a mark of infamy?

I believe that Les Emmerson answers the question well in the first verse from his song, “Signs.”

And the sign says “Long-haired freaky people need not apply”
So I put my hair up under my hat and I went in to ask him why
He said you look like a fine outstanding young man, I think you’ll do
So I took off my hat, I said “Imagine that, huh, me working for you”

That store owner’s policy highlights how much we love to fit it, look the part, stick to the status quo. For many, many years people with disabilities or special needs have been hidden under the proverbial hat because they don’t fit it, look the part, or resemble the status quo. We have lived in ignorance and it has been bliss… for us.

But for them, those living in the darkness of the shroud. People who have been marginalized due to their ‘difficulties in social interaction’ or ‘physical clumsiness’ life has been far from blissful. We’ve hung signs describing a mythological ideal of “normal” leaving those who don’t fit that ideal wandering around, outside our comfort zones, contemplating a new hat.

The other word he chose was ‘mystery’ and this is the only point of contention I would take with him. He used it in the same breath as stigma and spoke of removing the mystery, and I disagree with that premiss. I believe that the mystery is beautiful and prompts curiosity. Curiosity prompts inquiring; and inquiring can lead to knowing. I know from first hand experience, how scared I have been in the past to inquire or simply talk to someone who I felt wasn’t normal. I didn’t want to offend or hurt… so I overlooked. They seemed comfortable under the hat, so why should I cause discomfort?

But now, now that I have begun to read the mysteries around me, I have begun to love them. The mystery genre of people have become some of my favorites! I want to learn more about Autism and Asperger’s. I want to better understand Cerebral Palsy and Down’s Syndrome. More importantly, I want to know more of the people who are under the hats with those labels on them. Imagine that?

So, I hang out with Caleb, Andrew, Kristy, and Josh.
I spend time with Camden, Doug, Kelsey, and Alexis.
I get to know Hayden, T.J., Baylor, and Ross.

They are all different, yet all the same, and none of them normal.

If you don’t know anyone with Asperger’s, get to know Max Braverman and help make Jason Katims successful in removing the stigma and portraying the mystery.

If you want to read the full article about Katims and Max Braverman, you can get it HERE.

One comment

  1. Great post! You’re right about it being normal. With 1 in 70 boys being diagnosed, it’s becoming more and more the norm, ready or not. We love watching Parenthood, by the way! =) They do a great job with the Max storyline. It often hits really close to home.

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