Monday, March 21, 2016
Hey, ABC, about that new special needs family sitcom: Don't let us down
Hey, ABC, people are buzzing about Speechless, your pilot centered around a family with a child who has special needs. The so-called comedy from writer Scott Silveri stars Minnie Driver as Maya, an "overbearing mother who moves her family from town to town in an effort to find the right school for her non-verbal son, JJ," according to TVLine.
Deadline says that the family "is good at dealing with the challenges it faces and excellent at creating new ones." It also notes that Maya's "single-minded fight for her family can rub people the wrong way—sometimes people in the family itself—but it all stems from a loving intention."
Well, now. While it's breakthrough to have a sitcom about a special needs family, this isn't sounding like a very positive portrayal, ABC. Still, I'm willing to give you the benefit of the doubt. I speak for a lot of parents of kids with special needs when I express my hopes for this potential series.
We hope you don't make special needs moms out to be obnoxious crazy ladies.
Like any parents, we want the best for our children. But we often have to be pushy—because of old-school viewpoints about kids with special needs, because of budget concerns, because of prejudice, because of ignorance or because sometimes only we see our child's potential. Even in settings where you wouldn't think we have to go into overdrive, such as education meetings that determine our children's education goals, we have to be pushy. As a mom noted on a thread on the Facebook page of my friend Hallie, who has a daughter with Down syndrome: "That overbearing mom/dad persona exists, and a comedy may be exactly what we need to help it be understood." We hope you make it clear why special needs parents behave the way they do.
We hope you accurately depict the mountains we must climb, small and large.
Entertainment website The Wrap describes a scene in which a school groundskeeper and Maya have a run-in when she "throws a fit because the wheelchair ramp doubles as as a ramp for the garbage dumpster." I hope you make it totally clear that this is no small thing; why should a child share an entryway with trash?! Sometimes we have to stand up for our children's most basic dignity. Michele Shusterman, founder of the CP Now Foundation, pulled her daughter out of a school that would not install a bathroom grab bar for her. No joke.
We hope you show the abilities.
OK, so you went clever with the title Speechless, a play on the extreme frustration this mom experiences and her child's lack of articulation. But JJ surely isn't voiceless; there are many ways a child with verbal challenges can communicate—with speech apps and augmentative devices, with gestures, expressions, with their eyes. Our children make their needs known. Please show how competent JJ can be.
We hope you help people understand we're not so different.
As parents of kids with special needs, we are acutely aware that sometimes people pity us and our kids, and think that we are a wholly different species. Yes, we face unique challenges, but our families can be like any out there: We enjoy each other's company, we go places, we have fun, we get on each others' nerves, the whole family shebang. We don't want people to feel sad for us—we want them to include us.
Maya and her family may be fictional, but they'll be the first special needs family a lot of viewers will be exposed to, and they'll likely accept them as reality.
Don't let us down, ABC.