Netflix has recently released a new television show called, “Atypical.”
What is it about?
“Atypical” is about an eighteen-year-old boy with autism. The story revolves around him navigating high school and hormones. He is a super intelligent kid, who has social awkwardness and obsessions. The show also includes other storylines around the kid’s family, especially his sister, a typical girl who is a year or so younger. The boy’s sister is his best friend. They have a terrific relationship, one that is stated in the show…”My sister doesn’t let anyone bully me. She does it, though.”
When did I see it?
The show was just recently released. Since it’s on Netflix, and the eight shows are short (30 minutes, except for the pilot which is a bit longer), it’s easy to binge-watch.
What was my experience?
First, I want to mention what I had heard about Atypical before watching the show.
I had read two critiques of the show.
The first one discussed the show in terms of how worked on it. The person was questioning the lack of people with autism actually working on the show, even though I believe this person is one who is on the spectrum and was an advisor on the show. However, this person was trying to point out that maybe the show should have cast a person with autism to be in the lead role (Sam). He felt the show fell short because they didn’t do this.
The argument was that Atypical is a TV show. Actors play characters all the time. A straight actor plays a gay character, a non-disabled person plays the role of a disabled person, etc.
Without having seen the show, I was certainly understanding of both sides. Yes, actors on the autism spectrum should be considered for jobs, all jobs, but this is a TV show. I’m sure the creators wanted to cast the “right” actor. (Once I saw the show, I was very pleased with the casting.)
The second critique I read discussed how quickly Sam learning to talk to a girl, as a girl out on a date, and even get his first kiss. (This progression happening within the eight episodes.)
The author of the critique was concerned that even though the show (in the author’s opinion) does a decent job of dealing with all-things-autism, it was hard for this author to watch the lead learn things so quickly. The author wanted it known that people like his son would normally take years to learn the tasks and social steps that Sam learned in eight episodes.
Again, I wasn’t too worried about this critique because I know that this is a TV show. Things have to happen faster because it’s entertainment. It’s not a documentary. A TV has to entertain and move the story forward. That’s the job of TV shows and movies.
What did I think when I watched it?
I think the show is very well done. I almost immediately acknowledged some similar traits between Sam and my own son. I understood the home situation (at least enough to have believability for me) as well as the struggles of teenagers with autism.
And, the show entertained me. I laughed. It had drama and heart, and strange, funny situations, many which I got because some is in my own life.
I got it, and enjoyed it.
I was not offended when Sam seemed to pick up new traits or change his old habits quickly. It’s a TV show, and some kids are more adaptable than others. And, I figured, maybe it’s an age thing. Sam is eighteen, an adult. He’s learned a lot along the way.
I liked all of the characters, too. My favorites were Sam and his sister, Casey. The parents were a little predictable, but I also understood what those characters were going through.
The show had some more predictability, like having bullies. But, it was refreshing that the bullies didn’t go after Sam, they were bullying another girl at school (and, Casey stepped in to help her).
Another thing about the show that made my ears perk up was it brought up the topic (widely debated in the autism community) about the terms “autistic” verses “person with autism.”
I have previously stated that I don’t believe there’s a difference in these terms. I don’t believe using one over the other is as harmful as some people believe. Most of the time, using the word “autistic” is just a short-hand (one I use in my writing at times). I don’t believe anyone does it to harm someone.
A “person with autism” is simply a bigger mouthful, if you will.
With that being said, I recently asked my own son about it and he said that he didn’t mind either term, however, if it were possible, he would prefer being termed a “person with autism.” Yet, he did repeat that he didn’t mind being called, “autistic.”
For me, the show, “Atypical,” was a better slice of high-school life than “13 Reasons Why,” which I felt discussed a very important topic (suicide in young people), but I questioned the storyline and the believability of the story.
“Atypical” seemed more accurate, it was informative, and it was great entertainment.
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