When a tv-show meets the autism

The Atypical season 3 is finally back! After few days on Netflix, we are here to talk about this tv show.

What is true and what is not about autism, according to Atypical?

Today autism is a topic very much “in”, and it is also permissible to see it as funny as well as a condition that can make things difficult and challenging, not just for those who have it but also those close to those on the autism spectrum.

We all know what’s this story talks about, but for whom who don’t know the plot, here is a little recap: the show’s central character is Sam, an 18-year-old American high school student who longs to have a sexual-romantic (in that order) relationship with a female, a quest that acts as the show’s main plot engine. He has a sister, who loves him and also likes to do lots of jokes about him, and they both live together with their parents, a family who deals with the every day life problems, plus a child with autism.

From a psychological point of view, Sam illustrates the triad of impairments. He talks in a monotone voice (demonstrating atypical verbal development), can’t understand social cues and takes everything very literally (social and emotional difficulties), and has obsessions (imaginative restriction or repetitive behaviour), which manifests in his case as an all-consuming interest in Antarctica and the Arctic and all the fauna of those environments, especially penguins.

The things he says are often amusing, largely because he doesn’t realise they’re funny, and this is something that could happen in a real situation. Sometimes kids with autism don’t really care about the people and the environment because they don’t develop the same capacity, as we do it, to understand the world around us.

The show has an autism consultant, Michelle Dean. The writer itself said that “she came and talked to the cast on set and answered questions, and then she read every script and watched every cut, so her contributions were so helpful. They weren’t story contributions. It was more letting us know when language was incorrect or something didn’t seem realistic.”

Something that reflects the reality in the show is the brotherhood and sisterhood relationship between the Sam and Casey.

There are lots of studies with positive results using the Positive Behaviour Support. This support involves a commitment to continually search for new ways to minimise coercion. This does not mean that parents should be judged too harshly if they occasionally resort to yelling. We can tend to fall back on patterns of care giving that have worked for us in the past, especially when we are challenged by difficult behaviour. PBS (in this case) means that we have recognised when we have resorted to coercion, and continually seek to find alternatives that we can use next time challenges occur.

I will finish this post with at thought that is similar to mine, and comes from an article I read on the Guardian.

“As laudable as it may be to come across a show that’s gone to such trouble to do its homework about the condition it depicts, even to the extent that it avoids calling it a disorder at all, and all the pains it takes to give the character with autism agency, humanity and multiple dimensions, some might still wonder why nearly all characters with autism in film have to be, like Sam, lovable, good-looking, funny ha-ha as well as funny peculiar and, above all, high functioning. I get it that it may be more of a challenge to write stories involving characters who might be non-verbal, but does that kind of autism have to be so invisible?” (Link)

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