Days of Our Lives' head writer reflects on the personal battle that inspired the storyline.
Momlogic: How hard was it to convince producers to do an autism storyline?
Dena: It was quite the opposite. NBC was out there and talking about things we could do, and autism came up. I told them a little bit about my situation and they said, "Yes, do it." I never would have pushed the story uninvited. I knew that I had to drudge up some painful stuff, and that Connor would have to drudge up some painful stuff. Did we really want to go through this? And the conclusion that we came to was there was no choice--we had to go through this. In one out of every 150 births now an autistic child is born.
Here I am in this position with this great show and the impact it can have on people. I would go to bed at night and go "I have to do this." I'm trying to be very conscious of bringing this story along slowly.ML: What does Connor think of this new aspect of the show?
Dena: We had a little thing in USA Today and I showed it to him and he said, "What is this? I didn't know you were going to put my name in print." And I said, I sort of did. So we talked about it a long time. I told him this is an opportunity for him to share his story and that's all anybody was really asking him to do. I think at first he felt like he was supposed to be somebody he wasn't, and I said "No, just be yourself." You're great, and there are these little kids that don't really have role models and you can be that for them.
At that point, he thought that was really cool. So now he's jazzed that he can say: "I did this, and here's my football pictures and here's my track pictures, and here's my graduation picture. And you can do all that, too. It can happen."
ML: What do you hope to achieve by introducing the autism storyline to daytime television?
Dena: The master goal is to just get it out there. I would love to raise up a generation of people who embrace the different-ness of these kids. These kids don't sit still in class the same way, but you know what? These kids are being mainstreamed. And if you don't have a kid who has autism, you will have a kid who has an autistic kid in his classroom. How does your child behave with that child? How can your child benefit from knowing an autistic child or two? That's what I want.
I just want the sense of "we can't pretend they're not out there anymore." They're here. They're with us. They add value. Embrace them. Embrace the autistic kids that you're going to find in your lives now because it's a growing population and we isolate them or we love them. It's a choice, and Days of our Lives is choosing love.
ML: What would you like to say to other moms whose kids have been affected by autism?
Dena: I want to just give them a sense of validity. If you're sad, you have a right to be sad. If you're pissed, you have a right to be pissed. We validate every emotion that they're possibly feeling, and then we're saying don't give up hope. Don't dismiss your child as not being a miracle in the process. You have to know this little child is going to do amazing, miraculous things and change your life forever and you will be a better person. That's what I want them to know.