To: Home and Garden TV (or Oprah, DIY TV, ABC, NBC, CBS, BBC or any other TV channel)
From: Alysia, mom of three
Subject: Reality TV show idea
Title: Extreme Makeover – Special Needs Edition
Dear Sir or Madam,
I’m writing to you today to pitch my idea for a new reality TV show that I believe will be an instant hit. It has all the elements of a great show – real families, dealing with real struggles until a team of superheroes comes along and helps put the family on the road to success. I see it as a show combining the house remodeling magic of Extreme Makeover Home Edition with a bit of Supernanny mixed in. But without the snarky comments or eye rolling.
My vision has a team of experts coming into the home of a family with a child with special needs. You wouldn't surprise them, because that could be too overwhelming for the child. Give a week’s notice. Send a social story ahead of time explaining exactly what is going to happen. Provide a video of previous renovations that the child can view over and over and over again on YouTube.
This wouldn’t be your ordinary home improvement team either. Yes, you would have home building and renovation experts. But you would also have a team member who understands that child’s special needs. Maybe a behaviorist. Or an occupational therapist, a neuropsychologist, a nurse, or a teacher trained in ABA. Whatever the child needed. That special expert would sit down with the parents and the child to figure out exactly what renovation changes needed to be made to help that family get through to the next day.
You see, there are families struggling all over the world trying to get services for their child. Many of us can’t afford the therapies our children so desperately need, and certainly can’t supplement those therapies at home. So many of our kids need special sensory friendly rooms and equipment and quiet places to recover. Swings and trampolines and ball pits and quiet tents. Places in their homes that are safe for them to play in and just be themselves. Places where as parents we know they can be happy for a moment so we can get dinner on the table.
Once that special team member assesses what the family needs, the home improvement team goes to work. My vision is not to build a whole new house for the family (in some ways that might be more than the child could handle), but to make renovations to the family’s existing home or apartment. It could be something as simple as finishing a basement to make it a therapy room. Or taking one area of an apartment and using the space more efficiently to create a quiet zone. Perhaps adding alarms systems and deadbolts on all the doors so the child can’t escape at night. The needs of siblings are examined as well. The team talks with the brothers and sisters of the child with special needs to see what they would like and need.
While the renovation is going on, the family is treated to a special day away. A movie theater rented out just for them so they can have that experience as a family for the first time. A restaurant closed down to the general public so they can have a meal together without the side glances and dirty looks from other patrons. A trip to the park, the zoo, or the museum just for them. When they return to their house, the team lets the family explore their new environment on their own, in their own special way.
At the end of the show, the family is presented with a special gift. Instead of paying for their mortgage or college tuition, they'd get a year’s worth of speech therapy. A new iPad with apps paid for life. A nurse to tend to the child's frequent night wakings so the parents can get some sleep. Perhaps something as small as a handmade weighted blanket by Martha Stewart.
As for the target viewing audience, just think of this. According to a survey by the Health Resources and Services Administration in 2008, 14% of US children had special needs. That’s just in the United States. Autism alone affects 1 in 110 children. At some point in the too near future, everyone will know someone who has a child with special needs. A feel-good show like this will appeal to everyone. Certainly more than “Sister Wives” or “Toddlers in Tiaras”.
There are opportunities for helping people all over the world with a show like this. Just like each child with special needs is different, each week the show could be something new. There would be a whole new awareness as to what it’s like to live with a child who has different abilities. It would be inspiring, educational, and would make a difference in real people’s lives.
If you need a test family for the pilot episode, let me know. I have a son with autism who could use a therapy room and equipment and some additional behavior therapy. And his older brother would just love a Star Wars themed bedroom…
Anyone else want in?
"If I had a hammer,
I'd hammer in the morning,
I'd hammer in the evening,
All over this land,
I'd hammer out danger,
I'd hammer out a warning,
I'd hammer out love between,
My brothers and my sisters,
All over this land." - If I Had A Hammer by Peter, Paul and Mary
Alysia Butler is a stay at home mom to three boys, one of whom has autism spectrum disorder. She writes about that and other things at Try Defying Gravity and tweets about reality TV at @trydefyinggrav