Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Glee's Sugar not so sweet

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I am a total Gleek. My husband and I faithfully DVR every new episode to watch undisturbed. In our house Glee is an event. We put the boy to bed, grab our snacks, turn off the phones and settle in for an hour of laughter, drama, and music. There are times when we have to hit pause just so we can spend ten minutes delving into philosophical conversation about the relationship between Sue and Will.  We found that ourselves almost pooping our pants in anticipation of this season's premiere episode.

Image from Gleewiki
Something odd occurred during the season premiere: We saw our kid on television. Okay, not really our kid, but someone like our kid. Her name is Sugar Motta, a "self-diagnosed" aspie girl.  My jaw hit the floor when she said "... which means I can pretty much say whatever I want. " because my boy just went through this phase. (Part of the reason why I haven't had time to post is because he decided having Asperger's could give him a free pass to do and say whatever he liked. Thankfully, we have moved past that for the most part.)

I won't get into how offensive it is to hear over and over again that there is something wrong with having a "stereotypical" aspie kid. If  there is anything I have taken from this debate it's that the autism community does not accept stereotypical aspie kids or their parents. 

I can't say I know what the writer's intentions with this charcter is or what the future will hold for her. What I can say is that I recognized some of my kid in her. Spoiled, check. Egotistical, check. Rude, check. Smart-mouthed, check. Manipulative, check. Of course, he's not that way all the time, but he certainly has those moments-- a lot of them in the past month. One of his biggest challenges is learning not to tell people how much smarter and more skilled he is than his peers. Most of the time it's true, but there are times when he over-estimates his abilities landing him in a socially awkward pickle. His reaction is much like Sugar's reaction to being rejected membership in the glee club. She calls Will a "Broadway wanna-be", then angrily storms off. Been there, done that.

I can say that after watching the second show I'm sure Sugar isn't autistic. My god, she gave out a hug without a thought to someone she hardly knew! My kid would never, ever do that unless it was family. He hugs family because that is his routine. Does that make me hate the character? Nope.  It wouldn't be the first time Glee faked a disability--remember Tina and her stuttering? I'm okay with that because being a regular teenager is hard and you couldn't pay me to go back.

Now most of the autism community is outraged by this portrayal of a self-diagnosed autistic young lady using AS to as a free pass. Sugar was not a well received character. Twitter, Facebook, the entire Blogosphere was all abuzz with criticism. The character is viewed as stereo-typical and insulting to those with Asperger's. For a good summation of those thoughts and feelings, I suggest Beth Arky's post at The Child Mind Institute. I'm not going into detail, mostly because I'm feeling lazy and want to eat my gyro leftover from last night's dinner.

I happen to hold the less popular view that Sugar is an interesting character. I don't find myself taking offense, maybe because I am raising a stereotypical aspie kid? Or maybe because I'm okay with television writer's taking liberties with things that effect humans. I'm certainly more okay with Sugar than I am with journalist saying autistic kids lack empathy. That really gets up my nose. I don't watch Glee to be educated; I watch it to be entertained. It's great when a work of fiction gets us thinking, actually I prefer that, but I don't get my facts from hour long musical show.

I think what surprises me most about this debate is the fact that the autism community took a first impression and made a very harsh judgement. One thing I've learned from autism is that a first impression isn't the the time to pass judgement. You just don't know what's underneath the surface in five minutes of character introduction.

I think the autism community is having a knee-jerk reaction, which I can understand. Getting people to really and truly understand autism is hard, hard work. There's a lot of discrimination, a lot of "you're just saying that so your kid's behavior is excused". I get that. I've lived that. Yet, does a history of experiences with others' knee-jerk reactions justify us having our own?

Julia Bascom's blog post, Just Stimming, makes a very good point that I will leave you with (and I reccommend you read her entire post on the subject):

Anyone who thinks that Sugar’s actions won’t be addressed hasn’t been paying attention to how the show works for the past two years. Anyone who thinks that her plot has anything to do with actual autism, or the issue of self-identification in the autistic community, is putting assumptions into play that the show has never expressed an interest in. And anyone who thinks she is written as actually autistic, as some parents have been suggesting, has some serious ableism of their own to unpack.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Natural Diaster Week not enough for you?

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Photo:NASA/NOAA GOES Project Hurricane Irene
There was a lot of complaining in our little state that the news media and officials gave too much hype to Hurricane Irene. I think THIS cartoon, by Rob Torone, sums it up best. For those who think it was over-hyped: Did you really want find out what mega-flooding is and are you expecting weather forecasters and public officials to make guarantees that loss of life and property are going to occur?

We don't have the science for those guarantees... except with this storm those terrible things did occur. It's just that we got lucky. Really, really lucky... except for those people who had their homes and vehicles destroyed. And the farmers who lost crops and livestock... and the businesses that were flooded.  Oh, and the people who died. So I guess you could say that the people who were merely inconvenienced were annoyed at being inconvenienced without thinking about the actual people and communities that had tremendous losses on the Delmarva Peninsula. Plus, it really damaged my garden, which had been a labor of love... :(

Don't worry, inconvenienced people! You'll see that devastation show up in your rising grocery budget. Economic devastation does trickles down. Actually, that economic impact can be compared to a river at flood stage.

I personally think our area needed Irene to test the mettle of its newest emergency plan. Good news: It worked! Whether one thinks it was dramatized or not, we now know that we can face a potential mega-disaster with relative calm because we've been through the Irene Drill. I would venture to guess that many, many homes now have an emergency kit and plan. I know we have ours. As a state, we are ready to face whatever nature throws at us while hoping we don't have to face it.

If there's one thing I've taught my son, it's that he needs to respect Mother Nature. You cannot master the forces of the Earth, so never underestimate them. What you can do is be prepared and practice good safety measures to minimize it's impact. It's a great method for helping kids feel like they have some measure of control over their own environment when things don't feel all that stable.

The week of natural disasters, everything was shaky-- emotionally, mentally and physically. I think everyone was on edge because the hurricane was preceded by an earthquake. I think that got everyone ready to expect the unexpected. But maybe there was a big let down that this was not the end of the world or enough to have our area featured  in one of those Discovery Channel mega disaster shows?

(The Delmarva Peninsula has the grand privilege of amplifying earthquake waves. They say the quake we felt was only a 2 on the Richter Scale. It'd hate to feel a three! Our house turned into a shaky kidde-coaster. The house went up and down and side to side, with enough motion to pop up floor board nails, disconnect some plumbing and pop plastic siding out of place. I'm ready to move into a sturdier structure!)

Did I want to find out how my home reacts to an earthquake and a hurricane happening within a week of each other? Not really. Did I mind the forecasters saying "get away from water!"? Not at all, especially since our little town floods whenever we have heavy rains. Did I want to find out how autism and hurricanes mix? Not on your life. Earthquakes and autism don't do well together, so I was not about to lump in the potential storm of the century.

We opted for a "hurrication". Instead of going to a shelter, instead of going through the anxiety of a storm, we went to visit my parents in upstate New York. We beat the traffic by leaving a day before everything was officially evacuated. We packed up all the essentials, including our pets-- who did really well on a 9 hours car trip-- and hit the open road.

We hadn't had a vacation in two years and after our crazy, stressful summer, it was time. We had an awesome and relaxing time... except for Saturday night when we watched the news with bated breath to see if our area survived the storm. It did survive, mainly due to the preparation measures (yay for a sandbagged library). So, instead of riding out a hurricane, my boy rode on roller coasters. He was happy and relaxed rather than having anxiety induced meltdowns.

I'm not sure what people expected to happen? Did they want more death and destruction to feel like the weekend wasn't wasted? I'm not really sure. Perhaps they aren't educated in the art of hurricane prediction and forecasting? Or maybe they don't realize that the media can get into a lot of trouble for over-hyping a hurricane? You know, forecasters aren't allowed to cause mass panic.

When the people on The Weather Channel get deadly serious and have a somber tone-- dropping the meteorologist boner tone- we need to listen. When governors go on the airwaves speaking to the populous like children, they have good reason to do it. When resort towns start banning the sale of alcohol things are not okay.

If the hurricane wasn't enough for you or annoyed you, well, all I have to say is good luck in future storms. Hurricane season isn't over until November, so perhaps you'll have plenty of opportunity to practice what you preach. And maybe you'll be lucky to keep preaching after the next one... or maybe Mother Nature will take you and your stuff out. In the mean time, I'd be happy to give you a hurricane reenactment-- it'd be great stress relief!