They Kicked the Autistic Kid Off the Glee Project

The other week, my Mom called me and asked me how I was.  I said good.  My real life is going great.  Oscar and Cal are doing great.  But my not-real life, my TV life, isn’t going too well.  They kicked off the autistic kid on the Glee Project.  (The Glee Project is that reality show where they have a talent competition to see who gets to be on Glee next season.)  The judges kept saying the autistic kid made odd acting choices and he kept getting in trouble for not following directions well.  They loved him but Ryan Murphy said he thought going to the beat of your own drummer was important but the autistic kid couldn’t fit into Glee.

I was really annoyed cause there is this Turkish Muslim girl on the show and Ryan Murphy’s like, girls are really going to be inspired by you.  Muslim girls are not being represented.

I’m like, what about me?  I was really inspired by the autistic kid being on Glee.  It was nice to see people appreciate the autistic kid and think he had talent and want to give him a job.  Ryan Murphy, what about all the Mom’s of autistic kids who want to believe someday their kid will be able to get a job?

But I knew from the beginning, the autistic contestant would not make it on the show.  I wouldn’t hire him.  Not because he’s not cute or not talented but because he is way too much work.  He has special needs–by definition.  He has more needs and it’s a pain in the ass when you have to get things done.

Even though it’s just a TV show, I’ve been in a little bit of a funk since the autistic kid got kicked off of The Glee Project.  I guess the fact that Ryan Murphy loved the autistic kid and he was doing well on the show, I took it as a sign that Cal is going to be OK.  People will love him and appreciate him and want to give him a job and realize how special he is.  “Look, it’s cool to be autistic, you can be on Glee.”  I know Ryan Murphy doesn’t decide what happens to Cal.  Cal decides what he’s going to do and the Universe and God.  I want some help.  I just want someone big and powerful to say, don’t worry, you’re son’s going to be OK.  You don’t have to do anything anymore.  I want the load off of me.

When my typical son, Oscar was 5, we went to see The Whiz in downtown Atlanta.  I felt kinda bad cause it was just a spontaneous thing I decided to take Oscar to on Christmas Eve and so I was wearing jeans and Oscar wasn’t dressed up.  So everyone else in the audience was African American and serious and dressed up.  I didn’t think much about what we wore before.  The play was really cool and Oscar was very into it.  It was so cute because at intermission we went out to use the bathroom and the bells rang that it was time to go inside.  Oscar and I went in but most everyone else stayed out in the food area eating and chatting.  Oscar couldn’t believe it.  He said, don’t they want to know what’s going to happen?  Oscar was so into the story and waiting for intermission to end to see what happened to the characters he couldn’t believe people were taking their time coming back in the theater.  As we were waiting for the show to begin the 2nd Act, I read the program.  The director wrote, “If you carry something that might be a load, give it to God, and then ease on down the road.”

I want to believe Cal will be OK, and is OK.  So I asked God what I should do and God said, “Just believe it, what can it hurt?  Ryan Murphy didn’t control what you believed about Cal.  You just decided Cal is going to be OK and used the Glee Project as evidence of that.  You did all that yourself.  Ryan Murphy and the show was just what you picked as evidence.  Decide Cal is OK and will be OK and pick other evidence.  You decided it before and can do it again and I’ll help you.  You won’t have to do anything.”

So this is why autism is cool.  I know I can decide how I want to view the world — good or bad.  Its up to me and I’m going to use God to help me whenever I want.  Before Cal, I didn’t realize how much control I have over how I feel and what I believe.  Also, I didn’t use God that much.  Now, I use God a lot.  Thank you Cal for that.



  1. My darling Penya,Remember that whatever happens is not as important as the fact that you and Eric created a family of LOVE! Your dad and I did the same, as did your sister. Families of LOVE can overcome anything, “with a little help from your friends”, “team Cal” and of cause God. I love you beyond and your beautiful family and am thrilled you’re writing in your blog again.
    can’t wait to see you all,

    Comment by ellen sandor — August 9, 2012 @ 3:02 pm

  2. Dear Penya,I watched the season one Glee Project, week to week, felt their pain, sorrow, heartbreak, and went back the following week for more. The only uplifting moment for me in all of Season one was in the end when they gave 3 children, oops, actors a shot on the show, instead of eliminating 2 … I was in tears, good tears. It was exhausting — they were all so young and vulnerable.

    Each week I was amazed at the talent, drive and maturity of all contestants. I was also impressed at the determination to pursue such an incredibly competitive and difficult field … the performing arts is not a career choice, it has to be a passion.

    So instead of watching this season, week to week, and becoming emotionally drained, I have decided to wait until they run the entire season, back-to-back all on one day so I can watch it all at once and know the outcome all at once and perhaps spare myself some of the emotional angst … just get into the last episode which is full of joy, relief and celebration.

    However, from my Season 1 obsession I do recall that the final 14 were selected from 40,000 applicants …. 40,000. So, to me, even becoming one of the final contestants is a win. Each week that goes by without being eliminated, another win.

    Charlie is a winner.

    But I am writing to thank you. Thank you for sharing your story of “The Whiz” and thank you for reminding me to ask God for help. Buried under mountains of yellow to-do sticky-tabs, appointment books, e-mails, dockets … I feel frenzied but think I am in control ….. as I fly out of control.

    I found peace and power in your blog. Thank you.


    Comment by Yoko Jablonski — August 10, 2012 @ 7:27 pm

  3. Thank you Yoko, you write the best comments!Comment by SiteAdmin — August 10, 2012 @ 8:08 pm
  4. Thanks Mom for your support and love.Comment by SiteAdmin — August 10, 2012 @ 8:09 pm
  5. I think it’s so interesting how we can invest in the outcome of television shows — both reality and fictional. I crave to see intelligent, cute, functional couples on TV but as we know, the screwed-up relationships get so much more airplay (yes, I’m talking to you Chuck and Blair). I agree that the point is to remember you can’t over-invest in those television shows. And you can always hope that some diversity will somehow sneak its way in.Comment by Julie — August 10, 2012 @ 10:56 pm
  6. thanks julie — i love you!Comment by SiteAdmin — August 11, 2012 @ 8:15 am
  7. Hi Penya, It sounds like Cal is definitely a soul mate, that person who brings you closer to God. It is great that you decided that Cal is ok and continue to hold that vision for him. I have 4 typical children and holding that vision that they are ok is not always easy but I know it is the greatest gift a mother can give. I will hold that vision for Cal also!Comment by Jeanette Sandor — August 11, 2012 @ 2:52 pm
  8. Hi Penya,I’m friends with your mom — we met through a project and have stayed in touch through Facebook since. My son and I both have Asperger’s Syndrome, so your post especially touched my heart. Even though I have made a good and successful life without a diagnosis, I worry about the ability of my son to achieve all of his dreams with one. What I tell myself is that he will carry the love we have given him wherever he goes — that it will light his way. There are so many different kinds of challenges kids face, from AS to cancer to abuse to poverty to whatever. AS is his challenge, but it’s also the source of many gifts. I am sure that your son has many gifts of his own to give and that your love will light his way.

    Kelly Searsmith

    Comment by Kelly Searsmith — August 11, 2012 @ 9:57 pm

  9. thanks so much jeanette!Comment by SiteAdmin — August 11, 2012 @ 10:15 pm
  10. kelly, thank you so much for your thoughtful comment — i really appreciate it!Comment by SiteAdmin — August 11, 2012 @ 10:16 pm
  11. Thank you for sharing your story!Comment by Paul Nadler — August 12, 2012 @ 1:48 am
  12. paul, that’s very sweet. thanks.Comment by SiteAdmin — August 12, 2012 @ 9:39 am
  13. Your writing style is so smart and accessable. I feel like Nora Ephron is back.
    I didn’t watch the Glee Project, but I suspect all types of candidates were eliminated. The autistc person was the same as everyone else. That’s a good thing.Comment by Cheryl taub — August 15, 2012 @ 12:32 pm
  14. I watched the back-to-back episodes and final show this week — Charlie was incredible! I really love the way he phrases songs, making them his own, extremely creative, a unique talent (one, by the way that made Frank Sinatra, Frank Sinatra) … and, what a good looking kid.Once the entire season played out, I’m not so sure his elimination was about the autism, I think they knew all along they were going to pick the conservative kid, who was so milk toast I can’t even remember his name.

    Penya, I don’t think we have seen the last of Charlie … I certainly hope not, he is a unique talent — I could not stop watching him. I was cheering for Charlie because I thought he had the most talent .. he was awesome.

    I had an after thought a few days after I wrote my first comment: If this show did not exist, we would not have met any of these talented kids … just like on Project Runway (my reality show addiction) — some of the contestants who did not win the big prize — well, we have seen more of them than some of the season winners.

    I understand your POV and because you shared, well, you gave us beautiful, powerful, thought-provoking writing, thank you!

    I love your blog!


    Comment by Yoko Jablonski — August 16, 2012 @ 1:26 pm

  15. thanks cheryl,
    that’s the biggest compliment — i love nora ephron. that means a lot to me!Comment by SiteAdmin — August 16, 2012 @ 7:36 pm
  16. thanks for your thoughtful comment yoko, you have such great comments always!Comment by SiteAdmin — August 16, 2012 @ 7:37 pm
  17. Why is it we want to believe in chance and luck
    but really it’s not about chance but about
    hard effort, perseverance and “by the grace of
    G-D.” If you are ok, Cal will be ok. Your
    family will be ok. I don’t watch Glee but I
    understand the cause célèbre for having an
    autistic person on the show. How amazing for
    all of us to see and be given the opportunity
    to educate ourselves and our children that being
    different is ok. “Just imagine, if you find the strength
    and confidence you too can be in Glee!” What a teaching
    moment for my kids. It’s ok not to win, it’s ok not
    to be the best; what a proud child and family he
    must have. I’m sad I didn’t see the show. But Im blessed that i know you
    and have you and your family in my life! G-D works
    in mysterious ways!Comment by Eda — August 18, 2012 @ 2:10 pm
  18. eda, thanks so much for your comments — it means so much to me that you wrote to me.Comment by SiteAdmin — August 21, 2012 @ 2:36 pm
  19. Penya, I read your brilliant and beautiful blog post days ago and wanted to compose a response that was not scribbled in between the screams and kicks of three adorable boys. Now I have a quiet moment in the library, so I can tap away at the keyboard. I hear you, and I hear your emotions. I never took to television like you or Julie – or my husband, for that matter – so I’ve never watched “Glee” and I’ve never even heard of the “Glee Project”. But the profound sentiment in your wish – that I understand. We look around us for signs of what will be, grasping for omens that will inform us that “IT WILL BE OKAY”. And when they let us down, we are crestfallen. Every time I have to schedule an oncology three-month check-up, I pray that the day it falls on the Gregorian calendar will be blessed: a birthday of a family member, the day I got divorced (which was a great day), close to a Jewish holiday, some sign that promises me that I will be protected from another tumor growing in my breast. Heaven forfend that appointment should be scheduled for a regular day! I get looking for signs, I do. But Cal’s future stretches out far beyond that television show and the limited range of the people who “control” it. I do believe that God is listening, and I do believe that Cal will empower you even more than he has thus far. Your disappointment is real. And it sucks. I wish that they had chosen the Autistic Kid. But never mind. You’ve chosen the Autistic Kid, you’ve recognized his coolness, and you’re announcing it to the World. The world just has to catch up with you. And Cal.Comment by Ruth Ebenstein — August 23, 2012 @ 4:46 pm
  20. Dear Penya, I am so very proud of the woman you have become, and family you have built. You, Eric, Cal and Oscar are inspirations to us all. Just keep following your own thoughts and instincts. They will take you to beautiful places. I love you with all my heart. Dad P.S. Mom taped all of the shows and I am actually going to watch all of the back episodes.Comment by Richard Sandor — August 23, 2012 @ 6:14 pm
  21. thank you so much ruthie, your comment really moved my heart! loving you.Comment by SiteAdmin — August 24, 2012 @ 9:06 am
  22. thanks dad, you are so sweet! i love you.Comment by SiteAdmin — August 24, 2012 @ 9:06 am
  23. Dear Penya,
    It is so heart warming to read your blog. Cal and all autistic kids are so lucky to have you in their corner, and what a community of supporters you have developed through your beautifully written blog. Growing up good friends of my parents, who we spent a lot of time with had two autistic daughters, through them I learned so much about patience, affection, and innocence. There are lots of different kinds of OK and you are so right that we create our own “OK.” I really believe that because of you and parents/families who are as supportive and open, Cal and other Autistic kids are going to be OK.Cheers,
    From the Film Center, A friend of Ellen’s

    Comment by Jean de St. Aubin — August 24, 2012 @ 12:04 pm

  24. thanks jean, that is so wonderful that you commented. i really appreciate your words!Comment by SiteAdmin — August 25, 2012 @ 8:27 am
  25. Penya–I’m so glad to see you’re writing this again. Your deep honesty and your commitment to your children never fails to inspire me. I was also moved by your comments about how you personalized the results of the show and your recognition of that.It’s a reminder to all of us to be aware of the ways we are impacting others, both far and near. Much love to you and your family. I know Cal will be okay, but nor because of the tv guy–because of YOU!Comment by Melissa — September 9, 2012 @ 9:25 pm
  26. thanks melissa,
    that means a lot to me that you commented and what you said!