SPEECHLESS

A new television series, a family sitcom, debuted last night on prime time ABC called SPEECHLESS. The show revolves around a family of five, where the eldest son, JJ, has cerebral palsy and depicts the inner workings of this family as they navigate life.

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I heard about the show early on because someone approached us about having Cole audition for the role of JJ since he’s kind of living that character already and he’s shown interest in performing over the years. After consideration, he decided not to. I think nerves and the start of high school made him think it might be too much, and he’s probably right.

The boy who earned the role is good. He too has cerebral palsy, though I suspect he does actually speak. There are certain truths about the character that wouldn’t be in the show if he actually used a communication device to speak because either he, or his parents, would know better. They wouldn’t be seeking a “voice” for their son. They still would want a wonderfully capable, engaging support for him at school, but not to serve as his “voice”. JJ uses a laser pointer in one scene so I questioned why he would not have a voice output device that operated with a laser pointer, or like Cole, by eye-gaze?

Despite my natural predilection for pointing out the things that I think are wrong with the show, which I know are things that only I would notice or care about (or perhaps other green parents), there are a great many things that are right. I’m thrilled that there’s a family not unlike my own on television. Families of all sorts are now represented on television and finally ours. It’s a huge thing to make something like a kid being in a wheelchair, attending school, and out in the community, a familiar thing.

The value in depicting a family like ours, showing some of the struggles and challenges, but more importantly, the regular life joys and relationships and dreams, is priceless. JJ, like Cole, is a boy who wants to be defined by his interests and abilities, not by his disabilities. He’s a funny, thoughtful typical high school boy, who happens to have cerebral palsy.

The beauty of Speechless is that they do a great job of portraying everyday family life, which in most ways is no different than any other, except that some of the challenges they deal with are a little different. Every family has challenges, all siblings feel neglected at one time or another, all parents fight for what their kids need and all kids are kids, no matter what their diagnoses.

My hope is that by having a family like mine on prime time television being portrayed in an authentic manner, which includes the good, the bad, and the ugly and everything in between, with humor (because who doesn’t find humor in some of the craziness we deal with?), care, and honesty, will make people understand that despite some obvious differences, at the heart, we are all more a like than we are not.

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