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August 11, 2013

‘Breaking Bad’ and Special Needs Parenting

http://www.jewishjournal.com/blog/item/breaking_bad_and_special_needs_parenting/

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Although the fifth and final season of the TV show 'Breaking Bad' starts Sunday night, I only started watching previous episodes recently. I had heard many years ago about this AMC series, but had little interest in following the story of a chemistry teacher diagnosed with lung cancer who turns to cooking meth to make a bundle of cash to leave behind for his family. Free time is a precious commodity and I sure didn’t want to waste it on watching a show with which I couldn’t connect in any way.

But after a colleague at work mentioned that the main character, Walter White, has a teenage son with mild cerebral palsy (CP), I had to pull myself away from my Mad Men addiction (love to cheer on Peggy Olson) and watch the show.

The son, played by actor Roy Frank “RJ” Mitte III, actually has CP, although milder than his character, Walter White, Jr. who is shown walking with arm braces and has significantly slurred speech. Shortly after Walter White first “breaks bad” in Season 1, there is a scene in a clothing store in which some kids from Walter White, Jr’s school are making fun of his disability, and his mom walks over, ready to give them a good verbal lashing. But out of nowhere darts his Dad, Walter White, who proceeds to beat the hell out of the young rude jerk, including stomping on his calf and saying to the effect, “having some trouble walking now, huh?” My inner pissed off parent cheered.

After Season 1, the show takes on a much darker descent into violence and greed and Walter White turns into a total absentee father for his own son (so much so that Dad misses his son’s 16th birthday party), but there’s a very small part of me that does connect with this nasty son-of-a-bitch as parent of a teen with CP. Walter White loves his son unconditionally, disability and all, and will fight to his last breath to protect his son (and young daughter) in his own sick, twisted way.

No matter how the show ends (and you know at least a few people are going down), I want thank the show’s Executive Producer, Vince Gilligan, for creating a show with a main character who has a disability, and then for getting it right by casting a talented young man who actually has that disability to play him.

And I’ve been inspired. Next time someone parks in a disabled parking spot without a placard I may just say in my best bad-ass imitation, “Stay out of my territory".

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