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‘Covert Affairs’ Star Opens Up About Son’s Autism

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Just a few years ago actor Christopher Gorham didn’t know much at all about disabilities. Today, however, he’s front and center on USA Network’s “Covert Affairs” (Tuesdays at 10/9 central) as Auggie Anderson, a CIA agent who lost his sight while on assignment. And in real life the father of three is no stranger to the disability community either. Gorham’s son Lucas, 10, was recently diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome.

Ahead of the season premiere of “Covert Affairs,” Gorham spoke to Disability Scoop about what it’s like to portray a character with a disability and his personal experience learning about his son’s diagnosis.

Christopher Gorham plays CIA agent Auggie Anderson on "Covert Affairs" airing Tuesdays on USA Network.

Christopher Gorham plays CIA agent Auggie Anderson on "Covert Affairs" airing Tuesdays on USA Network. (Robert Ascroft/USA Network)

Disability Scoop: What’s it like to play a character who’s blind?

Christopher Gorham: It’s very challenging, but I think that’s what makes it so rewarding. When I auditioned for the part I didn’t know any more about the blind community than most people do. I showed up with sunglasses on for my audition and the first thing they told me was, “can you please take those off?” So it was very much a learning experience for me.

Disability Scoop: How did you prepare for the role?

Christopher Gorham: I started with a phone call to an organization in Toronto called the Canadian National Institute for the Blind since we shoot the series up there. They’ve been just incredible, teaching me basics like mobility — how to walk with a cane, sighted lead — and then introducing me to people who’ve lost their sight. We go out to dinner and just see how they live their lives.

Disability Scoop: Do you feel a special responsibility to the blind community?

Christopher Gorham: Yeah, I do. The nice thing about this part is that it’s a type of person that you just don’t see on television. Not a lot of people know someone who’s blind and because of that, people don’t know how to act around blind people. They start doing crazy things. I’ll go out to dinner with a blind friend and watch the waiter just make these crazy facial expressions trying to communicate with me for some reason. I want to say, “it’s okay, you can talk to him. He’s blind. He’s not deaf. Go ahead, ask him what he wants to eat.” People don’t know what to do. So it’s satisfying that I have the opportunity to (show what life is like for those who are blind) and I hope that people see that I take it seriously.

Disability Scoop: Personally speaking, your son was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome not too long ago. What was that like?

Christopher Gorham: We got a diagnosis fairly late. He was 9-years-old, which is kind of the blessing and the curse of that diagnosis. Because he’s very high functioning we didn’t really know that something was off until later. It’s upsetting to hear that something is wrong with your child. At the same time, it’s a relief to know what’s wrong with your child because if you know what’s wrong then you can start to take steps to help them.

Disability Scoop: When did you first notice that something might not be right?

Christopher Gorham: Second grade was when we really knew we needed to start investigating and finding help. What we were doing didn’t seem to be working and things were getting worse and he was just getting further and further away from his peers. (He was) not understanding the subtleties of socializing, not getting sarcasm, not understanding the difference between someone who’s really being nice to you and someone who’s actually making fun of you, not understanding that all attention isn’t positive. It’s really hard for a parent when your son comes home and tells you that his best friends are the two or three kids who are actually the meanest to him.

Disability Scoop: How has this new diagnosis changed your family’s day-to-day life?

Christopher Gorham: You get the diagnosis and then instead of just taking the kids to Taekwondo after school, now suddenly you’ve got occupational therapy and you’ve got speech therapy and you’ve got the psychologist and you’ve got the behavioral specialist. Your week is filled with therapies to help support him and it becomes so hard to find the balance.

Disability Scoop: How do you manage it all while shooting the show?

Christopher Gorham: My wife is a superhero because I’m only home for a couple of nights every week or week and a half. She’s got to juggle this all on her own. We hired an assistant to come in and help out, but it’s just not the same. It’s really hard and most families don’t have available to them what I have available to me. They can’t go hire a full-time assistant to go grocery shopping. Lots of them can’t afford to have even one parent at home. I know how difficult it is for us and my heart goes out to the other parents and especially the parents whose kids have much more severe disabilities than my son has. We’re very lucky.

Disability Scoop: What made you decide to go public with your son’s diagnosis?

Christopher Gorham: I didn’t see the point in hiding it because it’s not something that we’re ashamed of. At the same time, I’m not going to make it the lead story about me and my family. I don’t plan on trotting him out in front of the cameras or having him talk about it or be the face of whatever. But I’m open to talking about my experience, what it’s like as a parent.

Disability Scoop: How is your son doing now?

Christopher Gorham: He’s just about to finish third grade and we’ve put him in a school that’s geared toward kids on the autism spectrum. It’s been a big help.

I don’t think of him as my son with Asperger’s. I think of him as my son. He’s not wrong. He’s not broken. He is who he is. We, as his parents, are going to do our best — as we do with all of our kids — to give him the best shot at having the best life he can.

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Comments (18 Responses)

  1. librarywizrd says:

    I appreciate your honesty about your son. Like you, I see my son and not the disability. I want my son to be as happy as possible and engage with people and the world.

  2. tjthurston says:

    First, great show! I followed it from the pilot. It is fantastic and Chris Gorham is fantastic; he plays the role of a blind person with dignity, poise, and humor. Great role model for those who don’t know how to deal with people with disabilities. Also, huge props for discussing your son with Asperger’s. My son, now 11, also has Asperger’s and, like Chris, got the diagnosis late (age 9). We had (and still have) huge challenges, like he described in the interview. Plus, my wife is bed-ridden with MS, so we have extra challenges. But it is extremely helpful and encouraging to have a TV star speak so openly about his experience as an Aspie parent. Thank you!

  3. DebCot says:

    Kudos to Christopher Gorham and his family for trying their best to provide their son with the tools he needs to live independently. The best kept secret across the country is the patchwork of Federally-funded Centers for Independent Living (CILs) program. With over 320 CILs provide information and referral, peer counseling, advocacy (self and systems change), and independent living skills training to people of any age and with any type of disability. Most of the services are free of charge, but can vary in location. Scoop readers can locate a CIL in their area by visiting this national directory: http://www.ilru.org/html/publications/directory/index.html
    I was thrilled to read that Mr. Gorham is working with people with disabilities to enhance his portrayal of a person who is blind. I am curious how he would tell people with disabilities who are trying to break into acting but cannot get hired. What does Mr. Gorham say to actors who are blind, for example, who are trying to get these parts. Rather than hiring “Normies” to pretend to have a disability (no offense), what can people with disabilities do to increase their presence in the mainstream media to help fight stigma? Some disability activists have likened this practice to the old days when producers/directors hired whites in blackfaces to portray blacks. With an Employment rate of 30%, work-age persons with disabilities would benefit from having this market place open up for them. Personally, as a stroke survivor at the ripe old age of 24, I love my job, but think a show about my WILD (Women Independently Living with Disabilities) friends and I would be hilarious and would have a wider impact on society.

  4. AddieWrain says:

    Christopher, Thank you for doing this interview. My son is now 18 and has Asperger Syndrome. He was not diagnosed until age 7. Your son is so fortunate that your heart for him is that he is who he is and that you think of him as your son first and want to give him the best life you can. I’m glad that you found a good school for him. My son has grown up into a very kind, good, and polite young man. He has a part time job, and is very happy. We did a lot of therapies to start and then it became clear at one point that he was who he was. No matter what comes up over the next years just do everything you can to have joy with your son. That will make all the difference. I know you and your wife will help him find his way in life to a place of happiness over the years. We are big fans of Covert Affairs…I’ll be keeping your son and your family in our prayers when we watch now. Thanks again for this interview!

  5. tmhfrank says:

    My youngest son is 16 and also has Aspergers. He was not diagnosed until he was nine as well. It has been a challenge and I would not trade anything in the world for all he has taught me. What little emotion he shows me is wonderful and I look forward to those times we can have together. We have a great relationship and enjoy spending time together. My other children had difficulties in the beginning because they were more embaressed by their brother but as they got older their outlook on their brother has changed. I love all of my children and I am proud of each of them. Jacob attends a special school for children with Aspergers and last year he had a 3.9 grade point average and he has asperations to attend college in Orlando Florida. Cherish every moment you have with your children. Thank you. Tina

  6. mary ashland says:

    Kudos to christopher for sharing this info. Just wonder if a school for people with Autism is the right placement for an Asperger’s person. My son with high functioning Autism is fully included in one of the best high schools in the country and finished out the year with a 3.5 avg. On the other hand it is often very difficult to get schools to provide the necessary modifications to makethings work.

  7. Beverly Dicken says:

    Chris – love your character on CA. My son was not diagnosed until he was 30, yet I always knew there was something going on. Good luck to you and your family.

  8. Linda D. Montalbano says:

    Is he classified under IDEA 2004 by the public school district? Is the school district paying for the private school? Ten years old is late to be diagnosed did the school district violate child find? All parents have to ask these questions because the Individual with Disability Education Act of 2004 is supposed to be implemented by the school district. It is the school districts responsibility to seek out children with disabilities and provided them with a free appropriate public education. From reading the interview it does not look like the school district did their job. I am a free special education advocate and only an e-mail away to answer questions Linda D. Montalbano urania32@hotmail.com

  9. Janice Shay says:

    Impressive. I am the stay-at- home mom for three kids on the spectrum and I wish I had superpowers. I consider getting through a day my superhuman feat. I love “Covert Affairs” when my kids let me turn off the constantly looping “Brady Bunch” reruns, and I find Mr. Gorham’s characterizations and insights refreshing. Go, Augie!

  10. Sandra says:

    I have 4 children, including a son with autism and a son who is legally blind. As a mother, I am so impressed with how Mr. Gorham handled this interview. I know how tough it can be to talk about the day of diagnosis, even when we have those mixed feelings of “my poor child” and “thank God we have a dx so we can work on it.” We need more celebrities out there speaking about our children. I have to admit knowing a child was 9 before dx horrifies me, my son isn’t Aspie’s but he still wasn’t dx’d until 3, despite me hounding doctors, and even that was an awful late age for therapies to begin.

    Gorham does a pretty amazing job playing a blind man on his show, I was pretty skeptical about it when I first heard about it lol. When my youngest was a baby I participated in some teaching children with vision impairments seminars. My son never met a stranger so he was a great hands on baby, and I got the opportunity to meet teachers and therapists from all over the state while learning amazing stuff. One of the things we did was to wear these goggles that either made you completely blind or extremely visually impaired – and then had to let other guide us around. While wearing the goggles we learned what the visually impaired already knew – it’s hard to have to trust someone to lead you around, to learn to use your other senses. .and that most people forget the craziest things. . like “curb, step up” or “pot hole” lol. Then there’s the other side of the coin, leading someone around and realizing all the stuff you ignore that are vitally important to someone who can’t see them. I’d recommend everyone try these exercises out, you never know when you might need to be someone’s guide, or if for some reason you might need to be guided.

  11. Nana says:

    Mr. Gorham, I’m the grandmother of an autistic young woman. Her challenges are very much like what you describe for your son. I went with her to see “21 Jump Street.” In that movie, “autistic” was used as an insult. She turned to me and I could see the hurt on her face. I would like to see more stars who have children with disabilities speak out on the need to provide more positive role models in the entertainment industry. When young people see their favorite stars in roles that include insulting dialogue, they think it’s fun to mimic that behavior.

    Thanks

  12. Gary says:

    wow that is so sweet… the sentiments and statements of chris about his son. He’s really as smart and balanced as the character he plays on covert affairs. I’m even more impressed reading this beyond his role as augie anderson. Plus he is really hot and totally sexy.

  13. Trina K says:

    Thank you for sharing we need more people in the public eye to share their stories so we can help our children and bring out more awareness – anything you do publicly is so truly appreciated buy the parents of kids on the spectrum – we are eternally grateful.

  14. Jackie says:

    Thank you Christopher Gorham!!! We had the same problems in 2nd grade even though our son had been diagnosed when he was 6. Your life does change as it revolves around therapies and I love the compliments you gave to your wife!! I am so glad you have found a good school, our son also attends a school for kids on the spectrum and it was the best decision we ever made!! Thank you again!!!

  15. Angela Woods says:

    WELCOME TO OUR WORLD!!!!!!!!!!! God bless you and GREAT SHOW!!!

  16. PAT CAMP says:

    DUE TO AN UNSUCCESSFUL EYE OPERATION,I WAS BLIND FOR 3 MONTHS , SO I DO KNOW WHAT IT IS LIKE TO BE BLIND.VERY FRIGHTENING.THANKS TO ANOTHER OPERATION MY SIGHT WAS RESTORED..AS YOU SAY,PEOPLE SHOULD REMEMBER THAT YOU ARE NOT STUPID & CAN HEAR,,JUST CANNIT SEE !!
    ANY DISABILITY SHOULD BE TREATED WITH DIGNITY FOR THE DISABLED PERSON.AS WE STILL HAVE FEELINGS.

  17. Pamela Wiley, Ph.D says:

    I applaud you for your strength and compassion. Having a diagnosis of any type is not easy for a parent.At the end of the day, all parents regardless of their circumstances want the best for their children. I have worked with these kids and others with special needs for several years and I tell my kids autism is just a label. It doesn’t define your potential. My kids as I affectionately call them are now teen agers and participating in my pre-vocational program. They get it! It’s about seeing the glass half full vs. half empty. Thank you for sharing.

  18. Susan says:

    Diagnoses late?? Wow things have changed. My son is 29 years old with high functioning autism (previously known as Asperger’s Syndrome. The first time the diagnosis was mentioned, my son was 18. The DSM whatever had not listed this syndrome until 1994. Lots more can be done at early ages when a diagnosis established and is understood.

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