Monday, January 23, 2012

The Thinking Person's Guide to Autism & Special Needs: Touch

Fox TV's new Kiefer Sutherland series Touch premieres in two days, on Wednesday January 25th. We're intrigued, and watchful.

The series revolves around a non-verbal child, Jake, who understands numerical patterns other people can't perceive -- and his father Martin's attempts to understand not only what Jake is trying to communicate, but Jake himself.

From the series description at
Blending science, spirituality and emotion, the series will follow seemingly unrelated people all over the world whose lives affect each other in ways seen and unseen, known and unknown. At the story’s center is MARTIN BOHM (Kiefer Sutherland), a widower and single father, haunted by an inability to connect to his emotionally challenged 11-year-old son, JAKE (David Mazouz). Caring, intelligent and thoughtful, Martin has tried everything to reach his son. But Jake never speaks, shows little emotion, and never allows himself to be touched by anyone, including Martin. Jake is obsessed with numbers—writing long strings of them in his ever-present notebooks—and with discarded cell phones.
Some folks are already skeptical. Alyssa Rosenberg at ThinkProgress is critical of series co-creator Kring for "inventing a magical alternative to autism," and Ellen Seidman at says:
I like it in concept because it’s a TV program about a kid with special needs, which isn’t very common (understatement alert). I don’t like it concept because I’m concerned it’s going to take the focus away from the amazing reality of our kids—something many people still don’t get. And, count on it, some people are going to think kids with autism actually can do this, feeding into the stereotype of savant abilities.
Matt Web Mitovitch of TV line reports that series star Sutherland believes Touch will highlight the potential of those with autism, and the need for the rest of society to try to better understand autistics:
“The Danny Glover [professor] character is interesting,” says Sutherland. “He believes that we have misdiagnosed a group of people that actually are at a much more advanced form of communication, but because we don’t understand it we’ve diagnosed them with what we can best understand.”
That exploration of what autism is and could be was born of the fact that [series co-creator] Kring has a son who lives with the condition; as such, he’s taking care to see that Touch‘s fictional aspects are founded in scientific fact.
Autism is no longer mentioned on Fox's official Touch site, but Fox secured an autism and special education expert, Joanne Lara, as technical consultant on the pilot. Joanne also advised on the role of Jake, the eleven-year-old protagonist. We spoke with Joanne last week; here's the part of our conversation that centered on the series' special needs themes.

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