'Parenthood's Monica Potter Takes Her Role in Promoting Autism Awareness Seriously

Monica PotterAutism now affects 1 out of every 88 kids in America. They are everywhere, and that includes prime time TV. Every week Monica Potter plays Kristina Braverman, mom of a child whose Asperger's diagnosis in the pilot of Parenthood rocked her family and made the nation stand up and pay attention to how special needs kids are being treated on television.

In time for Autism Awareness Month, The Stir sat down with Monica to find out what it's like to be a voice for moms of kids on the spectrum. She let us in on what's next for her on-screen son Max if (her words, but we're saying when!) Parenthood is picked up for another season by NBC.

The real-life Potter isn't that much different from the working mom she plays on TV. Both have three kids -- Potter is mom to Daniel, Liam, and Molly -- and both struggle to find a balance between work and home.

"I just can't go for a haircut and then take pictures of my haircut, and then Facebook about my haircut!" Potter admitted, marveling at the celebrity moms who seem to have it all, and a social media account to track it! She's too busy trying to figure out mom challenges like finding a movie that will appeal to 17-year-old Liam and not be inappropriate for 6 1/2-year-old Molly, or teaming up with Kellogg's to fight childhood hunger.

But her biggest challenge at work? Learning about autism. "I'm learning with Kristina," she confessed.

Although in part Potter says she knew little about the disorder simply because none of her kids are on the spectrum, she wanted to give authenticity to the role of a mom struggling to make sense of this new world of parenting a child with autism. Like most parents, Kristina and Adam Braverman didn't know what to do when the diagnosis came. Potter wanted America to know how confusing this is for parents.

It's worked.

When we asked her what kind of feedback she gets about her character from the general public, she laughed. "They say I'm too nosy!" she admitted. The autism community, on the other hand, has welcomed her with open arms.

Potter credits the show's creators for ensuring the story told on screen is a realistic re-creation of the life of a family with a kid with Asperger's. It's a real story because it's their story. Executive producer Jason Katims' son has Asperger's.

"This isn't someone saying this is what we think autism is like," Potter points out.

And it's not something the cast of Parenthood simply milks for viewers. Each year, Potter and her cast mates take part in fundraisers for national non-profit Autism Speaks (expect the team at Autism Speaks' 10th Anniversary Los Angeles Walk Now at the Rose Bowl later this month) where they walk to raise money to fund the research that will hopefully help these kids in the future.

The future of kids with autism is something Potter thinks about a lot. Watching these kids grow, wondering how those who are consider "high functioning" like TV-son Max, she says she'd like to see Parenthood run for another decade so they can begin to address some of the even bigger issues for parents of children on the spectrum. "What's it going to be like for these kids to date, for him to get a job?" she ponders.

In fact -- mini-spoiler here -- that's likely the next "big thing" to hit the Adam and Kristina sector of the Braverman family. As if a new baby (Potter confessed she's still carrying 10 pounds from her TV pregnancy because she ended up using the fake belly as a food tray just like real preggos do!) and a teenager headed to college weren't enough, it looks like Kristina will be struggling with a son with autism hitting the teen years with the same hunger for independence as his peers. Watch out!

What do you think Parenthood has done right in telling the story of parenting a child on the spectrum?

 

Image Kellogg's/Alex Della Gatta/AP

autism, celeb moms, celebrity

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nonmember avatar Jullie Fugitt

As a mom of 5, all with Tourette's syndrome, including two ASD mix kids, & and as a certified teacher, I a.m. so grateful for public education like this! This is exactly where my passion lies; to educate society concerning socially challenged people! However, the only place I could think to start, concerning my time-consuming world, was a blog. I would love to help in any way.

Corinne Tobias

I appreciate what the show has done to bring about a somewhat realistic approach to autism awareness.  I am glad to hear that they will be exploring all of the same issues that are currently developing in the autism community.  If the show goes in the direction that the article hints, then, viewers, get ready to have your world rocked!

jessi... jessicasmom1

I appreciate the show , for bringing autism awareness. 

jessi... jessicasmom1

I appreciate the show , for bringing autism awareness. 

mamivon2 mamivon2

I didnt watch the show but I like to see it though.. sounds educational

there... theresaphilly

QUESTION- Why is it that celebrities only take up a cause when it affects them? So far I have not been touched by Autism or Cancer, but I am very involved in both whole-heartedly any other causes that affects people lives, especially children. So when I hear a celeb say that support a cause, I know it has to touch them personally or they would not make a big ado about it.

nonmember avatar Heather

I think it's totally normal to take up a cause that affects you, celebrity or not. When I see the heartbreak that is brought to my own family, of course I want to do what I can to keep others from that same heartbreak. Or at least show them support as they go through it themselves. Why do the motivations of anybody have trying to help others have to be scrutinized?

Btw, Parenthood is a fantastic show, on many levels.

Domes... DomesticDiva007

When we experience something in life, either in our own or in someone dear to us we keep those experiences stored in our brain. During the "events" our bodies create chemicals that stimulate different parts brain. Which creates the feeling of "sympathy". This mechanism is similar to the common coding theory between perception and action. We experience, feel, perceive, and then sometimes act. It doesn't have anything to do with celebrity, non-celebrity status. Although we hear more about celebrities because they're in the lime light. 

I think hard to get behind something wholeheartedly if you can't sympathize. 

I agree with Heather- what difference does it make in who is bringing these causes to the table, if there's people being helped?

It makes me wonder what the motivations of the person scrutinizing really are??

@theresaphilly- what are you doing to help a cause or raise awareness? Do you have any good suggestions on that?

Domes... DomesticDiva007

Btw- We LOVE Parenthood! I'm so excited to see another season to come!!

steph... steph2884

I've never watched this show. My son has classic autism, something that is pretty different than asperger's. Learning about autism and living it are two different things, but I appreciate that she is taking the role seriously. I'm still waiting for a popular tv show to have a child with autism who doesn't talk and screams for no apparent reason. I guess it is hard to show the more severe side of autism.

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