Review of ABC’s “Speechless” from a Special Needs Mom

I have mixed feelings. I usually do. But when you put a show on primetime television about a kid with cerebral palsy, it better have the right message. The premise of the show is simple: JJ DiMeo has CP and his family moves to a new town so that he can attend a school which will provide a speaker’s aide. The family is quirky and has the feel of “The Middle” and it’s a sitcom, so goofiness ensues.

The downsides:

  • Minnie Driver, as the overbearing, hover-craft mom, gives special needs moms all round the world a bad rap in the pilot with her over-the-top theatrics in defense of her son. It’s just too much. Give us some credit for being rational creatures. Luckily, she tones it down some in later episodes.
  • The less attractive sides of cerebral palsy are glossed over in an attempt to make it funny and family friendly. Baths, getting in and out of bed, insurance battles, judgment by peers…none if this makes an appearance. I understand that this is not a documentary and the purpose is a heart hug over television waves, but I still wish they didn’t make JJ an immediate hero at school.

The upsides:

  • People are actually getting a glimpse into special needs life. The populace now knows what a word-and-letter board is and that a kid with CP is not unapproachable. Regular ol’ folks can navigate the fun-filled logistics of doorways too narrow for wheelchairs and equipment malfunctions.
  • Micah Fowler, who plays JJ, does have cerebral palsy and proves there’s a person with a personality behind the wheelchair and the silence.

  • It’s funny. I find myself on the inside of a joke and I like it. The episode “Inspirations” visits a day in the life when JJ is off with his speaking aide, Kenneth, and the rest of the family has a free day to try out normalcy. They go play paintball (where a wheelchair could not go and with guns JJ could not hold) and love it. Cue the tears and group hug because they feel guilty for loving an experience that excludes JJ. This is so true, people. When I catch myself laughing at Cora and Jonas hurling themselves down the slide at Monkey’s Treehouse or just walking themselves into Sunday school at church, the happiness triggers the guilt reflex. It’s hard to appreciate one side without mourning the other.

I want this outfitted van!

Overall, I like it, I think. It brings awareness and rubs out some of the “otherness” of special needs. I hope Minnie Driver continues to calm down a bit though.


Have you seen the show? What did you think?