Sunday, December 19, 2010

Yellow Peppers: A New Israeli Drama About Autism

"Yellow Peppers" is a new series about a family of farmers in the Arava Desert in southeastern Israel. In the debut episode, which aired yesterday, the family is confronted with the possibility that something might be wrong with their five year old child, Omri. The boy's uncle returns from Tel-Aviv to the farm with his wife Yael, a doctor who had cheated on him. When she talks to Omri, she sees something wrong and tells her husband, who accuses her of saying this only to feel important. It is then revealed that the kid was taken to a specialist two years earlier, at Yael's suggestion, and the specialist didn't see anything wrong.

Also, when Ayelet, Omri's mother, asks his kindergarten teacher point blank whether he needs to be checked out, the teacher says yes, "but don't worry, he's adorable". Ayelet asks why she never said anything, and the teacher says that she did, she had previously said he's "special", "not like everybody else", which Ayelet had taken as compliments. Like in many cases in real life, the teacher only had the guts to speak in code, not to outright tell a parent there might be something wrong.

It is a very realistic series, based on the experiences of the show's writer as a mother of an autistic son. A lot of things reminded me of what happened in my own family when we first thought my nephew might be autistic. In the show, the grandfather gets yelled at for taking his grandson to a child development specialist without asking his daughter and son-in-law. My mother got her head bitten off when she first suggested to my sister that my nephew should be checked out.

"He's a very confusing child," says Yael when she calls a colleague to ask for the name of a specialist. That's what we've always said about my nephew. He always seemed like a genius, another word attributed repeatedly to Omri. As a two year-old he didn't speak, but he could repeat very complicated words, could spin dreidels masterfully and was fascinated by spinning things. That's also why he was obsessed with CDs. On the show, Omri is also obsessed with CDs, but for a different reason - he sings different adult songs, knows exactly what their name is, who performed them, and which album and year they're from. Most of the songs are inappropriate for his age, like a song about suicide. Despite knowing all this stuff, he doesn't seem able to hold a simple conversation.

I look forward to seeing the rest of this show. I hope it continues to be as good as its first episode, and that it gets good ratings, and Israelis will realize that autistics aren't the head-banging, screaming stereotypical menaces many believe them to be.

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