Note: Thank you the author, who is Mom to a teen daughter with autism. I know this family. I know this young woman. Our kids played together many years ago during this autism journey. When I read about her daughter's pain, as a result of some shitty, probably 20 something writer's mistake, I asked her to share the story here. Autism and Asperger's are not sitcom fodder, nor are the diagnostic labels to be used to disparage. A is not the new R word, people. The irony to me is that Big Little Lies airs on HBO, now home to Sesame Street which touted Julia, a female muppet with autism. This post is anon to protect the young woman's privacy. Thank you for understanding. Kim
My 19-year old daughter has Asperger’s. She is smart, and funny, and talented, and pure hearted. Everyone who meets her comments on her sweetness. She has some sass too.
Life has not been easy for her. When she was little, sensory issues were debilitating, and she had frequent meltdowns. She suffers from anxiety and has difficulty inserting herself into a group conversation. She never quite feels welcome socially and lives in fear of saying the wrong thing, and of being rejected, so she mostly stays quiet around people she doesn’t know well.
She did have two good friends in high school and it was a relief to see her enjoying life and doing things with them, while it lasted. After graduation, her friends went off to college, but she was not ready to launch. She successfully completed her first two semesters at the local community college but it has been a lonely year for her.
To help her out of her funk, last week she took a trip to visit relatives in another state. It was her first time flying solo, navigating the airports on her own. She was nervous, and excited, but she did great. While away she visited a couple of colleges, and came home proud of herself with big dreams fresh in her mind. Maybe, one day.
We were waiting for her to get back so we could watch Big Little Lies. We were on season 2 episode 2. We’d been watching the show as a family and having good discussions about it between episodes. Like any good show that hooks you, the characters start to feel really familiar. We were rooting for them.
About ten minutes into the episode, we were stunned by the dialogue between the characters Bonnie and Jane. They were discussing a potential love interest for Jane (while stretching at a yoga studio).
Jane: “He’s really smart. I don’t think there’s much faking it to him. I think it’s what you see is what you get. He’s weird though, like maybe Aspergery or something….”
Bonnie does a silent snicker, almost an eye roll, registering this.
Jane: “I don’t know, there’s just something, I’ve never met anyone like him.”
Bonnie: “They fake that sometimes.”
Jane: “What, having Asperger’s?”
Bonnie: “Yeah, so they can get away with saying dumb shit.”
I hit pause on the remote and looked at my daughter.
Holding back tears, she said, “It’s okay. It’s okay. You don’t have to stop.” In her sweetness, she didn’t want to be a bother to us. She didn’t want us to have to stop enjoying the show.
Moving in closer to her on the couch, I said, “It’s not okay. Are you alright?”
She burst out crying, and I wrapped my arms around her. Her brother and father looked on helplessly.
“Why can’t I be part of watching pop culture, without being insulted?” she cried.
I hugged her tighter still. My blood boiling.
“I’m so sorry Sweetie. Whoever wrote that, whoever directed it? They are very ignorant. They don’t know anything about Asperger’s, and they don’t know you.”
She cried, “It’s just such a reminder of how everyone thinks I’m weird, and everyone thinks I’m dumb. I don’t fit in, anywhere.”
Just like that, after all the confidence her recent adventure gave her, she felt defeated.
Side note: Did you know the suicide rate for people on the spectrum is 10x higher than the general population?
It’s the second time this has happened to her. When she was a tween, she was obsessed with the show Glee. She LIVED for the show. Then, they introduced a character who was super rude and unlikable, and every time she stepped on someone’s toes, she said, “Sorry,…Asperger’s.” Either she was faking having Asperger’s to get away with being an asshole, or perhaps she just was an asshole and it was because she had Asperger’s. It wasn’t made clear.
It broke my daughter’s pre-teen heart.
What is it with mainstream entertainment taking pot shots at people with this disability?
Everyone from the producers on down to technicians had a part in allowing this flippant scene to happen. Did no one speak up? With autism so common these days, surely someone on the production team has someone they know on the spectrum? Do they not care? Why is it okay to throw people who already struggle socially under the bus? Do they not understand that real people with Asperger’s will be watching the show? Do they think they are talking about a population that won’t “get it?”Don’t they realize people with autism, even non-verbal ones understand everything that is said about them?
This piece is anonymous, because at 19, my daughter fears becoming “the poster child for social awkwardness.”
And because it is anonymous, I give myself permission to say, from the heart,
You fucked up, big time, Big Little Lies.