The Child Mind BlogBrainstorm
'South Park' on Asperger's and Ass Burgers
Oct. 6, 2011 Beth Arky
Comedy Central created quite a stir when it announced that South Park's Eric Cartman was going to think he had "Ass Burgers" in last night's season opener, making it the third prime-time show this fall to feature Asperger's Syndrome. While some were willing to cut the gleefully offensive series some slack, others agreed with blogger Laura Shumaker, who tweeted to South Park, "All of a sudden everyone has Asperger's—insulting to community!"
But after watching the episode, many viewers were left scratching their heads at what they felt was a confusing jumble that conflated Asperger's with depression, and threw in a swipe at the anti-vaccine movement and the idea that Asperger's may or may not be real.
The show begins with Stan's depression turning everything into shit—literally. "All I see and hear is shit," he tells the school counselor, who says all the wrong things to a kid showing the obvious signs of depression: "Nobody likes being around a Debbie downer. Your attitude just sucks." "It's like he's completely turned off," Kyle says of his friend Stan. "It's like being around a black hole that just sucks the life out of everything."
Then the counselor gets the genius idea that Stan contracted Asperger's from a flu vaccination. In turn, Cartman gets an idea to sue the school for giving him Ass Burgers, which he interprets literally. It doesn't fool the school nurse, but does lead to a promising new business.
The only direct hit at Asperger's is a vision of an AS research facility as a Matrix-like "secret society of cynics" out to violently enlighten the Pollyannaish populace that they've been brainwashed by aliens (or something). Which amused Landon Bryce a bit at thAutcast blog. He writes of this episode, along with the recent Glee episode about a self-diagnosed Aspie: "Yeah, it's dumb and offensive, but no more dumb and offensive than the way they treat everyone else. There is a way in which being included in the rough-and-tumble satire of shows like these is part of the process of being included in American culture."
Over at wrongplanet, a site for those with autism and Asperger's, SoundlessAudio, a 13-year-old diagnosed with AS, was less amused, commenting that while the episode "did include some boring jokes about burgers being spewed from our rears," it then proceeded to offer a "grotesque portrayal of Aspies" before saying Asperger's wasn't real.
Some had hoped creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker would use the episode to educate in the same way they had when Cartman claimed he had Tourette's. Instead,"Ass Burgers" fell flat on its you-know-what.View Comments | Add Comment
Kids, Too, Can Be Upset About Steve Jobs
Oct. 6, 2011 Harold Koplewicz, MD
With all the talk, and the genuine sorrow, prompted by the death of Steve Jobs, it's easy to overlook the fact that children might have feelings of their own about this event. Think about it: Jobs was the creator of the devices—iPods and iPads—that kids most associate with coming of age (grade school age, or teenage, that is) and that are most intimately tied to the ways they define themselves, through their music and their friends. He was anything but a nameless CEO—rather a renegade creative force who, as one tweeter put it yesterday, "made us fall in love with machines," made products so exciting that (mostly young) people were willing to spend a night on line to be among the first to get one.
I don't know whether this death will shock kids the way the death of John F. Kennedy did me, when I was 11, but I suspect he is a hero to more than a few kids, and we can be sure that our kids got the news more instantaneously, and without adult mediation, than we did that bleak day in November. Jobs wasn't the same kind of rock star as Kurt Cobain (at least not to children and teenagers) and he died after a long, well-publicized battle with cancer. Still, it's good to check in with kids, find out what they're thinking and feeling. Even if they don't want to talk—maybe they think you're not supposed to be upset about the death of a middle-aged man you've never met—you want them to know that it's okay, lots of other people are, too, and you're available if they change their minds.View Comments | Add Comment
Asperger's Reprieve on Glee, Spotlight on Parenthood
Oct. 5, 2011 Beth Arky
The autism community has been busy keeping up with prime-time Asperger's plots. Tuesday night, Glee fans waited to see Sugar—the divisive new character who attributes her obnoxious behavior to "self-diagnosed Asperger's"—for the third and, many hoped, last time. Instead, the episode was Sugar-free and just what the critics promised, a Glee-ful return to song, dance, divas and drama. (Guidance counselor Emma's OCD was also treated with great sensitivity.) Now, both the pro- and anti-Sugar camps will have to wait to see when she'll pop up next. It wouldn't be surprising if her role on the Fox show expands, given that her daddy is bankrolling the new glee club so his little darling can strut her talentless stuff.
Later on NBC, Parenthood fans found Max, the young Braverman with Asperger's, still struggling in his new "mainstream" school. In the episode's first scene, Max's parents watched with barely contained joy and relief as their socially challenged son headed into school with Jabbar, his younger cousin. They didn't have to say what they were thinking: Max had a friend! Max thought so, too, quickly declaring to Jabbar that they'd be eating lunch alone together every day; after all, they were now "best friends." As is often the case with those on the spectrum, Max missed the social cues his visibly unhappy cousin was sending him. Max not noticing Jabbar having feelings that were different from his own "seemed true," notes adult Aspie Landon Bryce on Facebook. (He blogged about the episode at thAutcast.)
When Jabbar complained to his dad, Crosby, he was told to be patient with his cousin; Max has "problems," Crosby said, which include not being able to make friends easily. So Jabbar tried again, but when he ate his lunch quickly and tried to join a friend before Max was finished eating, the older boy got angry and yelled at him; after all, in Max's mind, Jabbar was breaking "their" pact. When Jabbar blurted out there was something "wrong" with Max, the distraught older boy pushed him to the ground. The boys' parents were called in and the inevitable family fight ensued. There was no real communication about Max's Asperger's or Jabbar's feelings; nothing was resolved in neat TV fashion. Once again, Parenthood kept it soberingly real.
Tomorrow: Asperger's comes to South ParkView Comments | Add Comment
Now Cartman Thinks He Has Asperger’s
Oct. 3, 2011 Caroline Miller
Here we go again: Comedy Central let it be known this morning that when South Park returns with its 15th season premiere Wednesday, we'll learn that Eric Cartman thinks he has Asperger's.
When Glee rolled out a "self-diagnosed Asperger's" character two weeks ago—an irritating girl who used the syndrome as an excuse to be crude and, as we say, inappropriate—the show prompted a war of words over whether it was funny and honest or insulting and toxic. Expect more of the same as the potty-mouthed, cranky Cartman tries on the idea that he has what he calls, predictably, Ass Burgers.
Or not: Viewers in the Asperger's community may have been particularly offended by Sugar Motta, the Glee character, because the show has something of a track record of sensitive coverage of teenagers who are vulnerable to bullying. Not so the gleefully profane and politically incorrigible cartoon, to say the least. It isn't even the first time Cartman has claimed a disorder; last time it was Tourette's. So while the South Park storyline will certainly be rude, it's not likely to be a shock.View Comments | Add Comment
James Durbin Releases First Single, a Rousing Anthem
Sept. 30, 2011 Beth Arky
If you're still rooting for James Durbin, the American Idol rocker who last spring became a fan favorite and a hero to the Asperger's and Tourette's communities, here's something to cheer about. Durbin's first single, "Stand Up," is out, on a compilation EP Official Gameday Music of the NFL, Vol. 2, aimed at firing up stadium crowds throughout the season. And at least one metal critic finds it up to the task, and more: "Thunderous, chunky rhythms propel the song and Durbin's got total control over that wild voice of his!" writes Amy Sciarretto on Loudwire. "It's a big, bold, riff-fattened anthem, steered down the fast track by the Durb's high pitched wail."
Sciarretto predicts that the single, which is already the most popular of the five songs on iTunes, will be not only be a winner with NFL fans, but will help propel Durbin's debut album, Memories of a Beautiful Disaster, to be released November 21. "Durbin's rock 'n' roll career is a powder keg and it's ready to blow, courtesy of 'Stand Up.'"'
Durbin, the Season 10 fourth-place finisher, tweeted that the title "means looking back on events in my life, to see the beauty in the pain." The 22-year-old Santa Cruz native, who has both Asperger's and Tourette's syndromes, is clearly referring to the years of bullying he endured, only to be followed by unemployment, before his triumphant turn on Idol. His stirring personal story, along with his talent, showmanship and touching emotion, endeared him especially to the special-needs community.
Coincidentally, Durbin will share his November 21st release date with Season 5's fourth-place finisher Chris Daughtry, pitting Memories against the band Daughtry's third release, Break the Spell.View Comments | Add Comment
New York State Layoffs Target Mental Health Care
Sept. 29, 2011 Harry Kimball
Financially, times are tough all around, and we've all been told we need to make sacrifices. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's contribution was slashing the state budget and demanding concessions from employee unions. One union, the Public Employees Federation, wasn't having it and voted down a contract with this result: 3,500 layoff notices that started going out yesterday.
If the idea is that we all have to share the burden of mangled budgets, unrealistic compensation packages, and a badly hurt economy, one would expect that the layoffs would be spread around equitably. But of course not. It is the people who need the most help, in the form of New Yorkers with mental illness and developmental disabilities, who will experience the lion's share of cutbacks.
According to the New York Times, the Office of Mental Health will lose 643 positions, and the Office for People With Developmental Disabilities will eliminate 386 jobs. That is more than 1,000 out of 3,500 in two agencies; Reuters reports that more than 40 other agencies are affected, apparently in a less drastic fashion.
While we've seen many severe problems in the mental health apparatus of New York—and many other states, to be sure—the solution is not cutting funding and laying off workers. We're hesitant to lay blame here on any one party, but the situation handily demonstrates how thoroughly marginalized these children and adults are in our society. Case in point: The other of the top three hardest hit agencies? The Department of Correctional Services, with 446 layoffs.View Comments | Add Comment
The Redshirt Disadvantage
Sept. 28, 2011 Caroline Miller
If you're mulling whether to send your child to kindergarten as one of the younger kids in the class, or wait another year until he's older, you should read this surprising piece from the New York Times. The authors argue that the advantages a more mature child may have in athletic achievement (largely because they get more playing time and attention from coaches) don't apply to academics. Any edge he may have initially is wiped out after a couple of years, and the advantage actually goes to those who start school younger. The reason? A more challenging environment in the classroom—not being at the top of the class—is what stimulates learning. Of course there's such a thing as too challenging; children who really need that year to be ready to keep up with classmates should take it, they argue, but most parents shouldn't shy away from letting a younger child struggle:
Learning is maximized not by getting all the answers right, but by making errors and correcting them quickly. In this respect, children benefit from being close to the limits of their ability. Too low an error rate becomes boring, while too high an error rate is unrewarding. A delay in school entry may therefore still be justified if children are very far behind their peers, leaving a gap too broad for school to allow effective learning.
Figuring out where your child fits best can be tricky, especially if she has psychiatric or learning challenges, but the writers also note that one reason younger children in a classroom make the most progress is, ironically, that they have older children in the classroom to learn from.View Comments | Add Comment
Parents Playing Favorites
Sept. 26, 2011 Caroline Miller
Time magazine's cover story, Why Mom Liked You Best, is getting a lot of attention, mostly because writer Jeffrey Kluger makes the provocative claim that all parents (even though they doggedly deny it) have favorites among their children, and promises to back this up with The Science of Favoritism.
Tantalizing headline, but there's precious little science involved, except a 2005 study in which 70 percent of fathers and 65 percent of mothers said they felt a preference for one child. And Kluger mostly tells you what you already know—that it can be complicated what makes mom or dad feel closer to, or lavish more attention on, one kid than the other. Sometimes a parent favors the oldest or strongest or best looking—reflecting the genetic predisposition (documented in many animal species) to favor the child with the best chance to survive and thrive. Sometimes the weakest child gets the attention, especially if he has medical, psychiatric, or learning challenges. Sometimes it's the one girl among several boys, or vice versa. And, I might add, preferences can certainly change as kids change.
Obviously, it can be damaging to kids to feel that they are "least favored," which is why most parents labor to treat children equitably, whatever their feelings. And there's no denying that what Kluger calls LFS (least favored status) can be a potent wound well into adulthood. He notes that Charles Dickens never got over his LFS, "which he experienced most acutely during a period in which his family had only enough money to send his older sister to school while he worked in a bootblacking factory."
It's tempting to point out that the "humiliation" Dickens described could reflect less the parental rejection than the factory experience—which he obviously made good use of, nonetheless. But the real reason that Kluger's story is generating so much buzz is that it reminds us of the raw feeling that can remain long after the parental slights (and even the parents themselves) are history. Like the song goes, "parents are people, people with children," and sometimes they can make those kids feel bad. That's not particularly scientific, but it's the truth.View Comments | Add Comment
Buffy, Gwyneth, and the Self-Diagnosing Trend
Sept. 26, 2011 Rachel Ehmke
"I totally have body dysmorphic disorder. I think most women do." Believe it or not, this is Sarah Michelle Gellar talking, in a new interview with Health magazine. The quote comes out of left field, not only because of its flippancy, but also because Gellar seems otherwise confident (and healthy) throughout her interview. To our knowledge Gellar hasn't actually been diagnosed with BDD, and it seems like she is casually name-dropping a psychiatric disorder, joining the same self-diagnosing trend that Glee has recently come under fire for. Unfortunately, reasonable doubt hasn't stopped several breathless media outlets from reporting her self-diagnosis as fact.
Any psychologist will tell you that body dysmorphic disorder is a real and serious disorder, and that most women do not have it. The ordinary insecurity many of us feel about our body isn't a disorder, and Gellar trivializes real suffering when she conflates the two. Gwyneth Paltrow—whose name has become synonymous with healthy living—recently shocked fans in her GOOP blog by posting a picture of herself at the Emmys with the caption, "Wait...why does my arm look like that and since when do I have 9 chins?"
Now a blogger at The Stir is wondering if Paltrow, too, has BDD, in a post titled Deranged Gwyneth Paltrow Thinks She Has 9 Chins. Of course, this is ridiculous speculation, and it does little to quell the rumor that BDD is as common as a cold. We can't help wishing that Gellar had chosen her words more carefully. The self-diagnosing trend does little to validate the realness of psychiatric disorders and the impairment they cause...and it also distracts from the real causes of the all-too-common insecurity that most women have about their bodies.View Comments | Add Comment
'Parenthood' Earns High Marks for Max Mainstreaming Episode
Sept. 22, 2011 Beth Arky
Parenthood fans who had been waiting eagerly to see how Max Braverman was doing at his new "mainstream" school were rewarded this week with an episode they found satisfyingly accurate, if painful. They gave the portrayal high marks for truthfulness as Max, diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, experienced a rocky transition that left him alone and confused and his mother, Kristina, distraught and frustrated.
Last spring, many in the autism community felt that returning Max to a school setting for "typically developing" kids was unrealistic and premature, given that he had just transitioned to a special-needs school after an outburst led to him breaking the classroom fish tank—and his being asked to leave. Last week's season debut was criticized by those who felt his character had been reduced to a fact-spewing, emotionless stereotype.
So this week's episode did much to redeem the NBC show and its creator, Jason Katims, in their eyes. Teacher and Aspie Landon Bryce, who blogs at thAutcast, is among many adults on the spectrum who have faulted the media, Parenthood included, for focusing on how autism affects parents rather than ASD individuals themselves. But he raved that this week's depiction of how hard school can be for socially challenged kids like Max "got just about everything right." Bryce was thrilled to see Max's feelings front and center as he struggled to understand the social norms of making friends (the coached boy tried awkwardly to introduce himself with a frozen smile and a handshake, making him seem weird to other kids); follow proper classroom conduct (raising your hand to answer a question, not interrupting others); and share his problems with his parents (Kristina sees he's in pain but he can't answer her repeated questions about school). Many noted the lack of support for Max, who, like many Aspies, has issues with impulsivity and focus. Self-described "autism momma" @LexilooG tweeted, "Why does he not have an aide?"
Meanwhile, autism mommas everywhere understood just how upset Kristina was when her flurry of emails to Max's new teacher, who was clearly unprepared to deal with Max's issues, went unanswered. Other parent advocates know well the fine line Kristina must walk between "involved team player" and "intrusive, obsessive, overly emotional mother." Likewise, they shared in Kristina's heartbreak when she went by the school playground to check on Max, only to see him sitting alone while the other kids played noisily around him. "I cried when he was by himself in the school yard," one mom, whose 10-year-old son has AS, posted on Facebook. "It rang so true."
Asperger's was in the spotlight on Glee this week, too, but parents and Aspies were not all charmed.View Comments | Add Comment