"Speechless" is a new half-hour TV show that follows the DiMeo family. Their son, JJ, has cerebral palsy. The show details some of the issues associated with working through the school system. It portrays the struggles of trying to make sure JJ has all the resources that he needs in order to have a successful and productive school experience. The show also talks about the impact it has on the entire family. It details things like changing school districts over and over again for the purposes of finding the exact right combination of services.
What’s even better is that the writer, Scott Silveri, got the idea from having a brother with special health care needs. Silveri went so far as to seek out other contributing writers who have siblings with disabilities to create a show with an authentic story to tell.
I related a lot to the pilot episode. I saw myself in the parents who are bulldogging their way to get services for their sons. I related a lot to the fact that the parents are parenting all of their kids as best as they possibly could. In some sense, it felt validating to watch this show and see my experience as a parent right there, on air.
I think the best part is that JJ is portrayed by a young man named Micah Fowler, who actually has cerebral palsy. Micah does a great job of showing that there’s a real life person behind the diagnosis—i.e., the disability is a component of his life but it’s not who he is. JJ has a vibrant personality and is just like any other kid. He just uses a wheelchair and needs a few assistive devices.
I’ve talked about this before, but it’s kind of isolating to be a parent of a child with special health care needs.
Very few other parents or family members “get” what we’re going through, what our lives are really like. Our challenges are so “out of the norm” that it feels like no one can relate to us. But a show like "Speechless" has the potential to be able to normalize disability a little bit, by mainstreaming the experience that individuals with disabilities have AND the experience of us parents as well.
I’m not so naïve to think that this show might change the world, but I do think portrayal in TV and film matters. I want my son to grow up in a world where he sees people that look, act, and talk like him on a regular basis. I want him to feel confident in his value to society as a whole and I believe, shows like this can help me in that journey.
Watch this show. Not only is it funny and entertaining but it shares a message that many of us can really relate to. "Speechless" airs at 7:30 CT every Wednesday on ABC.
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