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.
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.