|Autism and Eureka (or Why Allison Blake is a Great Big Jerk)
||[Nov. 9th, 2010|12:15 pm]
So Eureka appears to be on hiatus until after Christmas, giving me plenty of time to fuss, fume, and explain why its treatment of its major autistic character, Kevin Blake, makes me want to punch things.
In the Pilot, we meet Kevin, and he's just a kid. His mom, who runs Global Dynamics, explains to the new sheriff, Jack Carter, that Kevin is brilliant but severely autistic, that he rarely interacts with anyone. He interacts with Jack, however, and helps to Save The Day, and the young actor who plays Kevin does a pretty fair job of holding both his body and his chalk like some autistic kids we've known. There's a little bit of the Magical Autism Powers problem, but on the whole Kevin gets to be a contributing member of the team. While his mom is a little overprotective, the other people say, hey, we have a problem, it's in Kevin's field of expertise, well done Kevin, good show. Like, y'know. He's a person or something. Go figure. So when timprov and I first watched this, we had great hopes that Kevin would continue to be a character who was treated like a person--a person with autism. A person who didn't want to do social chitchat with the other characters, a person who sometimes had very specific sensory issues that provoked severe reactions. Still: a person. Good good.
Things go downhill from there, with Magical Autism Powers coming more to the fore and treating Kevin like a person being less of a thing--alternating in, of course, with the regular television problem: if an adult character has a child who does not receive top billing, that child only exists when it's convenient to the plot. Being a single parent with an autistic kid never, ever means that you have to go home suddenly for his sake or that childcare is an issue or that there are any issues at school or...anything even remotely inconvenient. He requires no attention in public places unless he is about to do something plotworthy. He is no longer Kevin, person, potential team member. He is now Magical Autism Powers Source.
Then it got worse.
At the beginning of season 4, several of the adult characters traveled back in time, then forward to a slightly different timeline. In this timeline, there are slight changes to the administrative structure, one character is married who was single before, and various other things.
And Kevin is not autistic.
Not only that, he never was one. [/ob. Gilbert and Sullivan reference] It's not a Eureka moment, where he is stated to have been cured of his autism by an experiment that happened in timeline2 but not in timeline1--because they are really, really not thinking this through, because one of the major things that would change in a shifted timeline is that people would have done somewhat different experiments. Because the experiments are the lifeblood of these people. But anyway: if they had gone with "Kevin Blake was born autistic, but he was cured last year," there would be chewier problems than they would really want to wrestle with, about the nature of curing someone's natural default brain wiring, when a child can give meaningful consent to that and when their parent can ethically consent to it for them, that sort of thing that would be interesting conversation to have.
But no. No, there is no making Kevin neurotypical, because in this timeline he has always been neurotypical. His type of autism in timeline1 was extremely severe, rarely talking to others, etc. This is not the type of high-functioning kid many of us have in our lives. He's not someone who had to have small details of social rules explained to him, he's someone who could barely carry on any social conversation or want to. Fairly far out the spectrum. And then in timeline2 he is a highly sociable neurotypical teenager.
And here is where I get really screamy: Allison's only problem is that she doesn't have experience parenting a highly sociable NT teenager--and even there, she doesn't trip over habits like laying out clothes for him or doing other stuff that a NT teenager would do for himself and a kid who was way out the autism spectrum might well not do. She does not, for example, have a habit of going into his room all the time that she has to overcome. But most importantly to me, she doesn't have a problem with the fact that this is not her kid, it's another kid who looks like him. This is, in effect, not Kevin. It's Kevin2.
Because here's the thing: when you give somebody a completely different brain from birth, what do you get? You get a completely different person. His memories of which things are painful and which things are soothing? Different. His memories of when he talked and when he remained silent, when he tried to seek comfort and what he sought for that comfort, what was interesting and what was boring as all get-out? Different, different, different. Making him, from the outset, a different person.
A different person, and Allison has not, apparently, thought twice about the original person, or missed him.
And so far Kevin2 doesn't seem to have noticed that he and his mother do not seem to share memories, like, at all. Remember the time we...no, we didn't do that because I was in another timeline taking another you to therapy. How about that one Christmas--no, the lights were really painful for you, we had a completely different kind of Christmas that year--what are you talking about, Mom, I love flashing lights, the more the better. What do autistic people like? What do neurotypical people like? You can't predict it just from knowing that one fact about them. Kevin and Kevin2 likely have a great many things in common, but they also likely have a great many things not in common. Kevin2, for example, might have contracted a nasty ear infection from wanting to play more closely with one particular kid at day care and ended up with vestibular damage like mine, or hearing damage--whereas Kevin might have avoided it because he was less interested in that kid than in a particularly intriguing set of puzzles. Or with Kevin's decreased speech, he might get the same ear infection and communicate less about it and wind up with more damage from the same problem. The world is full of small variables like that, all of them unpredictable. And by the time you go from birth to age 15 or so, they add up to completely different people.
But in Eureka, Allison Blake's only reaction is, "Yay! I have a kid who looks like my real kid but isn't 'broken'!"
Go to hell, Allison Blake. I hate you. You should at least be conflicted. You should at least have noticed the difference. You should miss your real kid. I know--no, that's the wrong verb. In fact, I don't know. I don't know how hard it is to parent a severely autistic kid. I haven't been there; I don't know. But I do know that no matter how their brains are wired, your family is your family, and you do not trade kids in for easier, more charming, more "normal" models. Sometimes you try to help them get healthier, and sometimes there are very complicated discussions to be had about what is helpful and what healthier means. But wholesale trading in is not the same thing. I was prepared for it to take a few episodes to sink in, but we're several several episodes in, with several opportunities, and I have more or less given up. So now I'm cheering against Allison Blake. What a jerk.