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Speechless, the new ABC comedy, has quickly become one of my new favorite indulgences. I’ll be the first to admit I’m not generally a comedy fan. In my opinion, what passes for comedy most of the time has stepped over the line of funny and gone into the territory of stupid. Speechless is an exception. It is a comedy, and there are things that are exaggerated and sometimes over-the-top but not absurd.

Speechless follows the DiMeo family as they move into a falling down house in a wealthy neighborhood in California so that their oldest son, JJ, who has cerebral palsy, can get into a good school that will provide him with an aide. The show is being praised for shining a light on the experience of families of children with disabilities.  In a groundbreaking move, JJ DiMeo is played by 15-year-old Micah Fowler who actually has cerebral palsy.

If you’ve been reading my blog for very long, you’ll know that JJ and I have that in common. I, too, have cerebral palsy and use a motorized wheelchair. Unlike JJ, my cerebral palsy doesn’t affect my speech. I can speak and in fact, most often dictate to write. However, it is not uncommon for people with cerebral palsy to have their speech affected. I admit my cerebral palsy is why I was first drawn to the show, but that’s not why it became a favorite.  It became a favorite because Speechless is funny and because the show gets a lot of things right.

(credit: Speechless Facebook Page)

(credit: Speechless Facebook Page)

What Speechless Gets Right

  • The Parent Advocate
    • JJ’s mom has what I affectionately refer to as a bulldozer personality. She will do anything for her child, whether he needs her to or not. This is a common trait of many parents of children with disabilities (including my own mother).
  • The Sibling Perspective
    • For the most part, JJ’s siblings take life with him in stride. They often do things for him and the three of them tease and joke together. However, they don’t always enjoy everything that comes along with having a sibling who has a disability. Ray doesn’t want to move and is unhappy that his mom wants to move yet again for JJ. Everything isn’t always sunshine and roses when dealing with a disability. Sometimes it is hard on parents and on siblings, and I appreciate the honesty.
  • So Many Stereotypes
    • This show gets so many of the stereotypes and experiences right about disability I can’t even begin to name them all. Off the top of my head, some of the things include: people immediately deciding JJ is inspirational before they ever know him, the overly cheery sugary-sweet aide (people like this make me crazy) ,and having to use the trash ramp to get into school (I can’t tell you how many freight elevators I’ve been in my life).
  • JJ is a Normal Teenage Boy
    • This is perhaps my favorite part of the show.  JJ acts like a normal teenage boy. He uses the laser pointer for his speech board to point at girls’ butts and ditches therapy to watch the cheerleaders practice.  He blames his siblings for things he did and gets excited over his first chest hair. JJ isn’t defined by his disability.  It’s just part of who he is.

Where They Take Creative License

  • JJ’s Speech Board
    • JJ doesn’t speak so he uses an alternative communication device called a speech board. I’m not an expert on speech boards but my friends who know such things tell me that the board JJ is shown as using wouldn’t allow for the complex phrases and sentences JJ uses.  The portrayal is good but not entirely accurate.
  • JJ’s Aide
    • In the show, JJ’s aide from school is also with him for a while after school and at home.In my experience, both as a student (who also had an aide at school) and a teacher, school aides are school employees and work the same hours as teachers. They don’t take kids to school or to therapy after school. I’m kind of glad the show blurred this line though because it’s made for some very funny scenes.

If you haven’t already checked out Speechless, I highly recommend you do. Not only is it a hilarious comedy, it’s a very important realistic portrayal of a person with a disability.