An Open Letter to the Parenthood Team

Dear Jason Katims, Max Burkholder, and the entire team of Parenthood,

Kids Included Together has a vision of a world where children with disabilities are welcomed, valued and supported in their communities. We began as a small, grassroots effort in San Diego in 1997 and have grown to a reach that covers 45 states and 10 countries. We teach a model of inclusion that changes attitudes towards disability, a model in which our learners come to view disability as a natural part of life. Changing attitudes and societal norms is a big challenge. Daily, we run up against people’s fear, lack of information, and deep stereotypes that limit participation of people with disabilities in our society. It’s tough but important work. It is work that our board of directors, our staff, and our national network of participants are deeply committed to. And to you we want to say, “Thank you.”

Over the past five years you have made our jobs a little easier. By choosing to include a child with an autism spectrum disorder in the network television show Parenthood, and making it part of the storyline every season, you have not only raised awareness of autism, but also helped people understand that kids are more alike than they are different. You have shown that parents, regardless of their children’s abilities or disabilities, have the same goals for their children: to be happy, to be accepted for who they are, and to love and be loved.

You haven’t shied away from depicting some very difficult moments in the life of a young person with a disability diagnosis. You have done it in a way that creates understanding, without engendering a feeling of pity in the audience. I’m sure many parents watching felt their own hearts break in Season 5 when Max was bullied on a school field trip. Most parents can relate to the conversation in the car ride home as Max asks Adam and Kristina, “Why do all the other kids hate me?”

As the series finale airs this week, we at Kids Included Together wanted you to know that your work has made a difference. You portrayed a family where diversity and inclusion is a central theme. You did it in a way that is respectful of differences, while honest about the joys and challenges. By showing it on television to millions of people each week, you have made our mission easier to achieve, and for that we are grateful.


Torrie Dunlap

Chief Executive Officer, Kids Included Together

Kids Included Together (KIT) is a non-profit located in San Diego, CA and Washington, DC. We help make the world a more inclusive place by providing live and online training to people who work with kids. We teach strategies, accommodations and best practices to include kids with and without disabilities in before & after school programs. Inclusive environments create stronger communities. Learn more about our work at


  1. Deb on January 27, 2015 at 6:22 am

    I have been watching Parenthood throughout it’s run. As a teacher of Special Education, I have worked with children on the spectrum, including those with Asberger’s, like Max in Parenthood. When it comes down to it, kids are kids. Everyone wants to be treated fairly regardless of their special difficulties or needs. We just need to take the time to realize that they are a little different and need to be listened to and accepted despite their differences. Oh and let’s not forget our undiagnosed adults, portrayed beautifully by Ray Romano. We accept adults “slightly off,” more readily than we do children.

    • Torrie Dunlap on January 28, 2015 at 12:50 pm

      Thanks for your comment, Deb! I agree- Ray Romano is also wonderful. The scene where he was reading the book about Asperger’s given to him by Adam and Kristina and seeing himself in it was very powerful, I thought.

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