My son Thomas with cerebral palsy was born 19 years ago this September 26. Last month, my daughter Taite, who’s 14, found a passage I had written about Tom’s birth a few years back:
“Tom emerged from the firestorm of desperation which blazed along his brain’s neurons as they felt the chill of dying, and did so with determination to believe in one lucky tumble of the genetic dice. Tom is a cute kid. Everyone falls for him.”Taite read it aloud, smiled with an odd mischief, and said to me, “Dad, that is sooo dramatic!”Isn’t that how so many of us treat cerebral palsy and disabilities? With seriousness, caution, and care, giving monumental importance to every moment and nuance that surrounds a life so often fragile. The creative mind wants to give us things in a way that we might finally be able to share them.That is the beauty of the new sitcom “Speechless.” The show not only wants to talk about those things, it insists on doing so with humor.
Ever since my organization, the Cerebral Palsy Foundation, became involved with “Speechless” and this milestone moment, we have been aware of how the world of disabilities has needed something like this, even longed for it: a chance for a few moments in the spotlight. I’ll never forget the moment when my son was 2 years old and my best friend sat with me in a car and broke down crying. He said, “I always thought you just asked Tom questions and pretended he answered so you could feel like the rest of us. But I saw it today. He’s answering you with his eyes. I saw that he’s always communicating with his eyes.”
With “Speechless,” the world may finally be able to see our kids as well. They’ll see something quite remarkable: that people with disabilities are just like everyone else, with the same sense of fun, the same ambitions, the same desires, joys, and longings. This show might finally help the world get us right. And it will happen because behind every show are the people who create it. The group is amazing. An actor, Micah Fowler, who has truly lived the life the show puts out there. A cast who have worked to find our rhythms and who have done their homework and worked so hard to find what drives us all forward. Writers who have family members with disabilities, and other writers who share their insights. And TV executives who have embraced all that is special about this show and who have put not only their resources, but also their passion into getting behind it. Raising a kid with disabilities has its own special requirements, and the same goes for this show.