I recently had the privilege of attending Falling, a touching play that just opened off-Broadway at the Minetta Lane Theater in Manhattan. The play explores the challenges and painful issues that families can face when raising a teenage child with autism. Playwright Deanna Jent draws on her own experiences as the mother of an autistic son, and the result is genuine and moving.
In the play, the parents devote all of their time and energy to managing their 18-year-old autistic son—alternately endearing and angry, mentally limited but physically powerful—and their typically developing younger daughter is left to fend for herself. She carries a lot of resentment towards her parents as well as her brother, and it brings up the issue of how difficult it can be to give equal attention to your children when one child needs so much more support.
The play brings up the stress that raising a severely autistic child can have on a marriage, when parents have different opinions on how to best deal with rigid routines and aggressive behavior. What happens when one parent feels their child would be safer in a group home? What happens when extended family members don’t understand or agree with the decisions that parents make about raising their children?
In one especially painful moment in the play the mom imagines what life would be like if her son was no longer with them, and her reaction is one of relief. It highlights the emotional double bind a parent can face, being overwhelmed by negative feelings towards a child while also unconditionally loving him. These feelings are not often admitted or accepted without judgment, and Jent is able to portray this in a very honest way.
Additionally, the play brings up the need for more services to support young adults with special needs who are aging out of the system in our society. I highly recommend Falling, as it is not only an exceptional theatrical experience, but also an educational one.