True Life: The Benjamins

The Episode of True Life I watched was The Benjamins. The illness narrative shared the quest narrative of two brothers, named Kenny and Brad, on the autism spectrum. Essentially, this story is told to show what it is like to be in your twenties with autism. The narrative emphasizes how hard it can be for someone with autism or Asperger’s to cope with new experiences, and how that influences people around them (e.g. their parents). The main quest shows that through repetition and exposure to social situations, the brothers can learn to be more social while still living with autism. Medically speaking, autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects a spectrum of social, communication, and verbal skills. Meaning, there is a wide range in the severity of the disorder and what symptoms manifest. Within Western culture, autism can be socially debilitating. Those with autism, often have a very difficult time communicating and understanding the perspective of others – which can make seeing new medical professionals difficult. For this reason, Kenny and Brad have a trusted social worker that works with them. For people without autism, and who do not understand the disorder, communication can be extremely frustrating. This miscommunication can isolate people with autism to an even deeper level, and make family members feel defeated on the quest to help with symptoms of autism. In the case of the Benjamins, they are lucky enough to have a very supportive family, friend, and social worker who wants them to branch out of their comfort zones (at their own pace of course). Their sick role makes them aware of the fact that they are different from the average twenty year old. Within this, their parents and the brothers know that they need special care. Everyday things, such as baking a cake, can be a huge struggle for the brothers if their mother is not there. Therefore, they are excused from the responsibilities of the average twenty-something (learning to drive, moving out, going to college, etc). For Kenny and Brad it is highly difficult to adapt to big changes and can be mentally overwhelming. I think this autism narrative is useful, because it showcases that people with autism are not as socially inept as people may think. The Benjamins’ narrative proves that. These two young adults want socially interaction, however, they just do not understand how to go about it. I think this story shows that with support of friends and family, people with autism have a much better chance of leading more normal and independent lives. Which is not only beneficial for the wellbeing of the brothers but for those who care about them and for others who are living with and influenced by autism.

 

References

Lecture 4.1 Experiencing Illness. Week 4: Experimental Approach.” ANP 204 course website. http://anthropology.msu.edu/anp204-us14/week-4-lecture-1

Lecture 4.2 Illness Narratives. Week 4: Experimental Approach. ANP 204 course website.http://anthropology.msu.edu/anp204-us14/week-4-lecture-2/

MTV. Accessed July 23, 2014. http://www.mtv.com/shows/truelife/true-life-presents-the-benjamins/1726860/playlist/#id=1726860.

Wikipedia. Accessed July 23, 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autism.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Matt Meranda says:

    http://youtu.be/w_23z9yJAq0

    I hardly think that the boy Joey featured in the short video clip I found would consent (or be able) to participate in a major reality T.V. show. He represents a much more severe form of autism than do the Benjamins of True Life, and I think this fundamental biochemical difference affects his illness experience more than any other factor. A similarity I noticed however, between his case and that of the individuals featured on True Life was in his social support system, particularly the support he received form his parents. While Joey’s condition is far worse than the Benjamins, his parents do their utmost to provide a comfortable life for him and to cope with Joey’s illness by his side. This doesn’t come without a certain level of resentment however. While Joey’s condition is indeed far worse than the Benjamins, I imagine his level of social isolation (whether he is able to perceive it or not) is only compounded by the fact that his parents refer to him, not so much as a person, but as a chore (the mother in the video clip seemed to be convinced that her son was representative of a divinely administered test of her fortitude).
    YouTube. “Autistic Child Has an Outburst | This Is Autism.” YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w_23z9yJAq0 (accessed July 24, 2014).

  2. Kelly Delorme says:

    The video I found is about Derek Paravicini, a man who has severe autism, as well as blindness and a learning impairment. I found his story to be extremely interesting, because he is not very high-functioning, but yet he manages to have such an amazing, unique, and natural talent for playing piano. Derek struggles to communicate with people and it is not easy for him to interact with the world, but he was able to teach himself piano and he has an amazing ability to reproduce entire songs after only hearing them once. I think socioeconomic status played a big role in Derek’s development because his parents were able to hire nannies and then piano teachers when he talent was discovered. If they had a lower socioeconomic status, they may not have been able to provide Derek the care he needed and he would have remained much more isolated. Like the Benjamin’s, Derek has a great support system of friends and family, and he has a very caring and understanding piano teacher. Derek and the Benjamin’s have faced the same cultural and social isolation, but Derek has been able to acquire fans and support because of his unusual talent, and this has allowed him to become widely accepted and integrated into the musical world. Through the use of a quest narrative, I think the Benjamin’s and Derek have both made sense of their disabilities, have been able to feel more empowered and less isolated, and have been able to create a model for others who have autism. I think Derek’s support system allows him to use his severe disabilities to his advantage and he is able to make sense of his condition with a quest narrative. His disabilities are part of his identity, and he has been able to foster his musical talent and he has grown through his experience.

    YouTube . “In the Key of Genius: Derek Paravicini and Adam Ockelford at TEDxWarwick 2013 .” . https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3S1HK7LQY2I (accessed January 24, 2014).

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