American Idol’s Durbin Has Chutzpah

Yes, I’ve been Durbinated. And, there’s not much I can do about it because I’m such a big, big fan of American Idol’s James Durbin. Everybody knows he’s the handsome, Aspie rocker on the tenth season who keeps making the cut. Boy, can he sing! And, he has a huge fan base to prove it.

There is so much to admire about Durbin. First of all, he is a survivor. He grew up in the shadow of a horrible tragedy, his father’s drug overdose and death. Then, in spite of having Tourette and Asperger’s Syndrome, he braved the audition process not once (got rejected) but twice to fulfill his dream of becoming a famous rocker. The fact that he didn’t give up after the first rejection (Season #8) shows a level of tenacity and self-confidence that is admirable.

Although James is high-functioning, his life could not have been easy growing up. Tics caused by Tourette make sufferers a prime target for teasing and bullying because they are typically outward — physical and/or verbal. Forgive the double-negative, but you can’t not notice a tic. It draws attention to itself like a moth to a flame. And, I can clearly see his facial tics (eyes squinting) when he speaks. But, being able to endure and overcome people’s reactions to the tics takes chutzpah. Durbin’s got some chutzpah.

Then, there’s the Asperger’s Syndrome. As with many with Aspies, he got a late diagnosis. On planet autism, “9” is considered late because the child misses out on critical years of intervention. Since Aspies don’t possess the language deficits of classic autism, they get swept under the carpet, overlooked by medical professionals. Normally the red flag doesn’t go up until late elementary school when their deficits can no longer be ignored.

So, as if Tourette isn’t hard enough, Durbin had to deal with the lack of social dexterity that comes with Aspergers. Whenever I read news clips about Durbin they tend to use the phrase ‘social awkwardness’ to describe the condition. What many outside of the autism community don’t understand is that it’s not just about being awkward. The word ‘awkward’ is an overly simplistic way to describe the inability to grasp the perspective of another person. It is the human perspective, the acknowledgment – so to speak — of an external and communal viewpoint that is the cause of what many call ‘awkward.’ So, it’s not like being uncomfortable in a room full of strangers. Or, shy amongst one’s peers. We’re talking about a dysfunction that’s intrinsically deeper, with neurological implications that may never be managed without the right support. From what I’ve read, Durbin manages his symptoms quite well.

Now, just like every other contestant put in the media spotlight, he’s not immune to ridicule. The public didn’t like the remark he made about Pepsi. After one of his performances with pyrotechnics on stage, he remarked, “I have a lot of hairspray in my hair… the one thing I was worried about was having a ‘Pepsi moment.’” He was obviously alluding to the Michael Jackson incident. Many felt it was disrespectul. So, his Tourettes and Aspergers are not going to give him a pass when it comes to public relations.

Anyway, I am always looking for positive role models for my son. And, I have a vested interest in finding ones on the autism spectrum. My son is only seven and has many years of intervention ahead of him, but I want him to be able to look out there in society and see what those on the spectrum achieve. James Durbin represents the possibilities and hopes and dreams of many.

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