Apple TV + “Cha Cha Real Smooth” and the superpower of autism

In Apple TV+’s “Cha Cha Real Smooth” series, it’s not the autistic daughter who weighs down the single mother — it’s what lifts her up. I can relate.

“How are these two things alike: a car and a train?” asked the neuropsychologist Dalia, who was then 5 years old. She looked hopeful. Finally, she said, “They both look like a hummingbird.”

When the doctor looked puzzled, she added, “Only if you close your eyes.”

Even while many now look beyond autism’s disability—think of it as a difference rather than a disorder—the word still carries a huge stigma. & nbsp; & nbsp;

As is often the case, Dahlia’s answer made my mind reeling. One of our many purchases regarding the Covid pandemic was a hummingbird feeder. Was this what she was studying that day when, despite my pleas, she did not rise from the grass? I felt a hot touch of shyness.

My eyes met the doctor and shook my shoulder. We both know she didn’t give the ‘correct’ answers to the test. But “correct,” as my daughter taught me, is a limited term.

“How are both Mondays and Fridays?” asked the doctor.

“They are not,” my daughter said, and her voice now was quite defiant. “One feels the excitement; one feels the shiver.”

quivering? That’s exactly what a Monday feels like for a little kid, I told myself. Especially for the girl whose school experience was ruined the previous year by the Covid invasions.

Over time, I realized that Dahlia’s responses could not be considered right or wrong. They are true to her unique way of seeing the world, which, if you listen really well, can also help change the way neurotypical people see the world.

Autism is a widely misunderstood condition. It is not so much a disease as a set of behaviours, from an inability to speak or communicate leading to repetitive behaviors or movements (as in Dahlia’s case) to difficulty in processing social cues the way children with a neurotypical pattern do. Even while many now look beyond autism’s disability—think of it as a difference rather than a disorder—the word still carries a heavy stigma.

Part of this stigma has to be blamed on the portrayal of autism in popular culture, perhaps most famously being actor Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man. But recently, Hollywood has improved. In “Cha Cha Real Smooth,” one of the main characters is Lola, an autistic teen who is avoided by her classmates. She was played by Vanessa Burgart, who has autism. At first it seems like Lola may be a burden to her mother, Domino, played by Dakota Johnson, but we discover that despite all of Lola’s limitations, she is actually the emotional anchor for Domino. As a single mother with an autistic daughter, I have been deeply attached to this feeling.

Recently, a mother on the playground looked at me sadly when I told her that Dalia was changing school due to her diagnosis.

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” she said, avoiding meeting my eyes. “this is difficult.”

“No, it’s not,” I answered and quickly walked away.

In the first few years after Dahlia’s birth, as her differences became more apparent, perhaps this woman’s sympathy caused my stomach to sink. Not anymore. It’s not that I have developed a greater tolerance for seemingly arrogant mothers on the court, but that I no longer consider Dahlia’s differences to be tragic at all. In fact, learning to see the world through her gaze has opened up to me. I don’t often get the responses I expect from my daughter, but in that surprise, I often find myself pausing, rethinking, and seeing things all over again.

In high school, I had an art teacher who asked us to spend a week looking for diamond shapes in the world around us. It turns out that when you look for it, diamond shapes abound. This is what it’s like to parent an autistic child. In Dalia’s presence, I suddenly became surrounded by things I hadn’t noticed before. That piece of blue glass on the sidewalk? It is a treasure. A curtain flutter in the window? There is a princess hiding. This paperclip? They are fairy wings.

“Why?” She asks me constantly, her mind struggling to put the world in order. “Why can’t we wear pajamas on the field?” “Why don’t we talk to the dead?” “Why do we take pictures of things?”

Why reality?

Dahlia sees things as they are, not how she wishes they were. Although it sometimes leaves her confused, there is a lot to be said about her style. She, for example, doesn’t see her parents and I raising parenthood in separate homes as a problem. It helped me see it differently, too. When I stopped thinking of our family breakup as a failure, I could see how rich and rewarding our new formation can be.

I used to care so much about what people think that I kept myself in check. When I watch Dalia walk through life ignoring the reactions of others, I find myself imitating her. In my writing, I no longer worry so much about confronting or exposing my deepest thoughts. And my patients benefit from the daily reminders I get from Dahlia that the most practical approach in a given situation – which results in the “correct” answer – is often not the most creative or articulate.

There were losses too, but even these were beneficial. Those friends who were put off by her immediacy or behavior that they considered strange may not have been close friends. And the fact that Dahlia, like many children with autism, does not always like to be hugged, forced me to reach for it in different ways: art, stories, building Lego structures or forts made of boxes. It made me realize how many times I’ve used physical touch as a substitute for deeper forms of communication.

I may not always accurately understand how Dahlia’s mind works, but I’ve learned to appreciate his creativity and spontaneity. Before I had it, I was walking through life, not realizing it. Now I am enjoying its beauty, and the state of unpredictability.

Not only did Dahlia make my world a brighter place, but she also made me a bolder, awakened version of myself. What I had to say to that mother on the playground was: “We should all be very lucky.”

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