Families with special needs aren’t often reflected in the media. The ABC series “Speechless” is changing that.
The half-hour sitcom focuses on the life of the Dimeo family, led by Maya – a mom who will do anything for her husband and three kids, including her eldest son, J.J., who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair and a device that requires an assistant to be his “voice.”
This groundbreaking comedy busts several myths about special needs families out of the water:
1. Our lives are a tragedy.
As a parent of a six-year-old with cerebral palsy who uses a wheelchair, I can tell you that our life is full and rich. Like the characters on the show who moved into a particular area to make sure their son was well supported, we make major decisions to give our daughter access to the best supports. But I don’t feel heartbroken every time I look at her wheeling around in her hot pink set of wheels. I simply see a spunky kid with challenges that are visible.
2. We’re super parents.
Like any parent, we don’t get it right all of the time. In the “Speechless” pilot, the plot focuses on Maya’s middle son feeling like his needs and desires are never a priority for the family because of his brother’s special needs. When Maya realizes what she’s missed, she apologizes to her son. She also admits that she let him down and commits to doing better.
In the second episode, Maya is ready to have her son’s aide fired, but when she realizs that she’s making a mistake, she switches up her plan of attack so he can keep his role. Like any parent, we make mistakes, we miss things, we forget to fill out forms and we lose patience sometimes.
3. Our kids are super kids.
Let’s get it straight: a wheelchair doesn’t make a kid an angel. In the show, J.J. shows his rebellious streak by manipulating a situation so he can do what he wants. What teenager doesn’t do that?
4. There is no humour in our lives.
If you spend any time with parents of kids with special needs you will see that we have a dark sense of humour. It’s important to note that this is different than the mean-spirited humour that comes at the expense of someone’s dignity or bullying. It’s simply a tendency to poke fun at ourselves and relieve our extra stress through laughing.
The show shares these hilarious moments, such as when J.J. flips a couple of nasty kids the bird with his whole hand – as many people with cerebral palsy have challenges controlling their hands and fingers – and his mom shouts out that they are working on getting the finger right. Watch the show. You will see how funny our lives can be.
5. Special needs families are really different from yours.
Yes, our lives have unique challenges. But like you, we will do anything for our kids. Our lives are filled with the frustration, joy, exhaustion and laughter as any other family, and we have more in common than you think.
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