The Experts Speak: Welcome Back Parenthood!
I’m glad to be writing this blog about Max’s fictional life again this season. I call him “fictional,” yet Max’s character and experiences in this show are replicated in the lives of thousands of children with Asperger’s, and in the lives of children I see daily when working with school systems in Georgia and elsewhere in America. Welcome back, Max! This is a fantastic opportunity to continue to learn from you and the events that come your way in this series!
In this episode, Max forms the beginning of a friendship with Hank, Sarah’s ex-boyfriend. Though Max is a child and Hank is an adult, it’s actually a good match. Adult mentors are very important to those with Asperger’s. Yes, Hank has real issues with social skills and has little patience for social interactions just as Max does, though their perspectives on the social world appear to be rooted differently. Hank recognizes there is a social world and is irritated by its demands; Max sees the social world as a concrete, one-dimensional, fact-based business. Max learns the social rules one by one, accepting them as necessary but incomprehensible. He can spout every social rule he has ever been taught - but they don’t affect him, nor does he apply them in the same manner as Hank does. Max and Hank have two very different attitudes toward social skills.
In this episode, something exciting happens: Hank looks beyond Max’s exterior oddness and sees the really nice kid inside who has talent in the same area as Hank does - photography. It’s amazing how quickly Hank connects to Max on this deeper level.
This is a skill lacking in many people who teach and sometimes even live with those with Asperger’s. All too often, the only thing others see in those with Asperger’s are the challenges being presented. Many people have to be taught to dig hard to find a child’s hidden talents. As Max’s father, Adam struggles to understand and accept that this could be a friendship, and that Max is not just being used by Hank to get back together with Sarah. An actual friendship? Really? Like that can’t be possible? Adam knows Max is a gifted child with Asperger’s, but he’s still amazed that Hank actually likes Max, even telling Hank that he doesn’t have to “entertain” him. It would be oh-so-easy to view this as an insult to Max and to those with Asperger’s if we left the issue here.
But let’s view this episode from Adam’s position. The reality is that those with Asperger’s aren’t very socially savvy and can be extremely vulnerable to the ill-intentioned. There are plenty of people who will take advantage of children like Max. Adam understands the vulnerabilities that children like Max have and has a great need to protect him, as he suspects Max is “being used.” We can’t blame Adam for being suspicious; in the same situation, we would be too.
But adult mentors who can be trusted can teach a child skills that can be extended into professions when the child reaches adulthood. Max understands he must have a job because Mom and Dad will someday die and he must support himself, even if he states that rather crudely to Hank. Mentors can be family members, teachers, coaches, club sponsors, peers, religious leaders, community providers, employees of local businesses, business owners, job coaches, family friends or neighbors. The list goes on and on.
Max’s interest in taking pictures is a valuable skill Hank can foster. This could possibly be an avenue for employment in the future. Many adults want to help build skills in children who face challenges - Asperger’s or not. Parents and caregivers will always have to determine who can be trusted with their child, since the child with ASD won’t be able to discern trustworthiness.
So Adam’s quick suspicion that Max is being “used” by Hank is not paranoia; it’s a sign of deep love and protective caring for Max. It is heartwarming when he realizes Hank can be a friend and mentor for Max, which is a bond he can allow to form. Max will likely learn a lot from Hank. And who knows? Maybe Hank will learn from Max, too.
- Sheila Wagner, M.Ed.
In this episode of Parenthood, Kristina visits the hospital for a follow-up scan to monitor her for signs of breast cancer. Visit the CDC site here to learn more about scans to detect breast cancer.
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