by Chelle Jackson
The first season of “Atypical” appeared on Netflix this year. The show follows Sam (Keir Gilchrist), an 18 year old with autism and his family.
The focus of “Atypical” is of course Sam and how he is different from the “typical kids” due to his autism. While the show is generally well meaning, it overdramatizes and even insults those on the spectrum. For example, Sam craves a sexual-romantic relationship with his therapist. However, according Dr. Jeanne Burth, EdD, this is not a common situation with teens who have autism, particularly to the degree that was expressed in the show.
Another issue debated on the show was the idea of “people first language”, which refers to saying “person with autism” instead of “autistic person”. This has been a major debate recently, and many advocate for the use of people first language.
Dr. Burth is one of these advocators, stating “They’re just kids… they’re kids first”, in regards to the individual coming before the diagnosis.
The title of the show, “Atypical”, refers to Sam, the teen with autism. However, this could possibly be taken in an offensive manner, particularly when one realizes how high functioning Sam is. If they are referring to him as “Atypical”, one could question how they might refer to a nonverbal person. Dr. Burth spoke out on this, saying that while it is a clinical term used in child development, “exceptional may have been a better term.”
There were some great things about this show, however. For example, the representation of self-harm with an individual on the spectrum was spectacular. Also, they showed coping mechanisms, and a family dynamic rather well. The younger sister, Casey (Brigette Lundy-
Paine) portrayed an extremely protective, but still antagonistic character in relation to Sam. This was a very accurate representation of having a sibling with autism.
Overall, “Atypical” was solidly put together with a phenomenal cast, and an engaging plot. While it did not always capture a realistic picture, it is a television show.