Last night, after the kids were in bed, I settled down on the couch to watch one of my favorite shows, "Parenthood". In one of the opening scenes, Max (who has Aspergers, a form of autism), wants to sit out of gym class because none of the kids picked him to be on their basketball team. He motions toward another kid, in a wheelchair, who is sitting on the sidelines playing video games. The gym teacher says the wheelchair kid (Micah) is sitting out of the gym class "because he has a disability". Max declares that he also has a disability, and should be allowed to sit out as well.
I was not even able to enjoy the rest of the show (honestly, I can't really even remember much of it), I was so upset and angry about this opening scene. That the show would protray a child in a wheelchair sitting out of gym class because of his disability was plain ignorant, in my opinion. I can't imagine that there is a single public school in this country that allows students with disabilities to just sit out of activities and do something like play a hand-held video game instead! A child in a wheelchair is perfectly capable of playing basketball, and those that do not or cannot participate in gym class with their peers are in adaptive phyisical education, not sitting on the side doing nothing while the "normal" kids play basketball. Ian is in adaptive phy.ed. twice a week at school, and it is his favorite class. I would throw a fit if I found out Ian was sitting off to the side just watching while his peers were having gym class! Children in wheelchairs (and all kids with disabilities) need physical education in school just as much as any other child.
During the episode, Max and Micah become friends, and at the end Micah comes over to Max's house to play. Micah's parents tell Max's parents he has spina bifida and give them a list of instructions for Micah while tearfully telling them that they are so happy because Max is Micah's first friend. These kids aren't 3, or 5, or even 8; they're 11! This kid is 11 years old and has never had a friend? Just because he's in a wheelchair? I know this was supposed to be a touching and relatable moment for parents who have children with special needs, but really...11?! It was like they filmed one of my worst fears for Ian and then showed it to me on TV!
"Parenthood" should be commended (and has been, a lot) for highlighting special needs kids and bringing attention to autism, but shouldn't stereotype other disabilities in the process. I understand that the "point" of Micah being added to the episode was to show Max breaking out of his comfort zone and making a friend, something that doesn't come easy to him, but the writers could have had them become friends a variety of other ways rather than sitting on the sidelines during gym class because of "disabilities". The boys could have played basketball together, showing the other kids in the class (and the viewing public) that they could do it as well.
Point being, I'm sure a lot of thought and research goes into the writing for the character Max, and the same thought and research should have been done for the "wheelchair kid" character. As a parent who has a child in a wheelchair, I was disappointed in the portrayal and think the show could have come to the same point of relationship with the boys a much better way.