Wednesday, September 15, 2010

MTV, Jenks, and Autism

I know I sound like I'm 800 years old when I say this, but sometimes I worry about the youth of today. Now, I'm going to defend myself here against all you people who are or who have children who are the youth of today. I say this semi-facetiously because I don't really know any of these people in real life. What I'm talking about are the youth I see on TV—notably MTV—and roaming the streets and malls of my town after school lets out.

Many of these teens and young adults seem rude, thoughtless, and have terrible taste in music—which they play waaaaay too loud. (Also? It's entirely possible that I was exactly the same way when I was ages 15 through 22.) Anyway, when I see this youth portrayed on reality television, I get annoyed by them. It's possible that I'm watching the wrong shows on MTV, but the young adults I see on the shows I do run across don't do a lot to impress me.

I watched the VMAs the other day—and trust me, no good can come of that if you are over 35—and saw an ad for an episode of World of Jenks in which documentarian Andrew Jenks was to spend a few days with Chad, a 20-year-old man with autism.

I decided to watch, because I was curious to see how a network not really known for its sensitivity would handle autism. The full episode is online, so you can judge for yourself, but I think it was okay. Granted, this episode was as much (or more) about Jenks and his ego than Chad, but it was nice to see someone with autism presented in a very humanizing way on MTV.

I appreciated that Chad didn't fall into any of the autism stereotypes that we often see in popular culture: the savant, the person trapped in solitude, or the plucky young kid overcoming the odds. By selecting Chad, the producers found a very real young man who lives with his parents (and even sleeps on their bedroom floor), loves the beach, is obsessed with Grand Theft Auto, and has a sense of humor. Just like my child with autism, Chad doesn't fit neatly into a box.

Jenks takes Chad on several outings, with varying degrees of success. The show managed to capture several moments that clearly spoke to what it is like to be out in the world with a person with autism. By the end of the episode, I found myself crying. (I also found myself wondering what the aftereffects of being filmed and being so intimate with Jenks, who of course had to leave, would be for Chad.)

Hopefully some of today's young people will see this episode and realize that people with autism are complex and have deep emotions, thoughts, and feelings. This episode isn't the half hour of television that I would have produced, but I was happy to see it. Especially on a network for today's youngsters.


Stimey writes at her personal blog, Stimeyland, runs an autism events website for Montgomery County, Maryland at AutMont, and can be found on Twitter as @Stimey. Now, turn that damn racket down and get offa her lawn!


  1. Ummmmmm YES YES was refreshing to see a quick portrait of a young man with autism without the stereotype

  2. I saw the ad during the VMAs (and you're right - no good came out of watching that...I couldn't tell what was the song title and what was the artist for best rock band and felt like a fool...) but I couldn't bring myself to watch the Jenks show. I will check it out now, though. Thank you.

  3. Gorgeousness of the filmmaker/ star aside. I was happy to see a portrait of a young man with autism instead of seeing more footage of young children. I often wonder what life will be like for my autistic friends as they get older, how will they change, at what rate will they develop. I'm curious for a hint of who my friends will be as they grow up. Chad seems to be figuring out his niche and is a great guy. Jenks maybe needs a few more years under his belt before I would send my kid out into the city with him.

  4. I'm re-watching this show, and as Jean said, it's great that this show is on MTV. Although it's not what a parent of an autistic child would produce, a great number of kids are seeing Chad treated with respect and friendship. Maybe next time the teen audience interacts with any disabled person, they will be just a bit more educated and accepting.