After watching one episode of "Atypical" on Netflix, I really want to gather a group of people together and have a good old fashioned conversation discussing the entire series!
I can't totally get outside of my therapist-been-in-the-field-for-several-decades lens. And yet, I wonder if the uninitiated in the world of autism would glean some helpful and perhaps even some accurate depictions of autism after watching the show?
I actually study autism in the media as part of my day job and I can tell you, accurately and authentically portraying autism is no easy task (Cardon & Kelley, 2016; Kelley, Barrio, Cardon, Brando-Subis, Lee, & Smith 2018; Kelley, Cardon, & Algeo-Nichols 2015). For the most part, major components of autism are often left out. Typically, characters in narrative fiction novels are too one dimensional and the focus on the sensory aspects and/or repetitive behaviors is really all that comes through.
So I was fascinated watching Atypical and all of the social communication behaviors they were able to portray. Some cringe worthy moments in the first episode reminded me of actual interactions I have had or witnessed. Other moments seemed too contrived and still others had me questioning why his therapist sent him into the world of “dating” with no preparation (mentioning you want to have sex with someone is really not the best first date material!). Was it a perfect depiction of life on the spectrum? Of course not, but then again, we are always reminding people that autism is a “spectrum” disorder and Episode One of Atypical portrayed one perspective of one person on the spectrum.
I thought the relationship portrayed with his sister was very interesting! I have a sibling on the spectrum and can totally relate to how protective you feel one moment and how frustrating it can be at the same time! I am also very curious to see how the parent’s relationship develops. Thus far, I was pretty disappointed with some of the parent themes portrayed in the first episode. Very stereotypical from my perspective, but then again, maybe they are stereotypes for a reason? I will have to watch and see if my perspective changes.
As I type this, I am designing several new research projects in my head and I can't wait to watch the entire first season of Atypical on Netflix. While it isn't perfect, we have come a long way since the days of Rainman!
Cardon, T., & Kelley, J. E. (2016). Fictional Narratives about Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Focus Group Analysis and Insight. Reading Horizons, 55 (3).
Kelley, J. E., Barrio, B. L., Cardon, T., Brando-Subis, C., Lee, S., & Smith, K. (2018, accepted for publication). DSM-5 autism spectrum disorder symptomatology in award-winning narrative fiction. Education and Training in Autism and Developmental Disabilities.
Kelley, J., Cardon, T., & Algeo-Nichols (2015). DSM-5 Autism Spectrum Disorder Symptomology in Fictional Picture Books. Education and Training in Autism and Developmental Disabilities, 50(4), 408–417.