Slipping under the radar of nearly everyone I know who works in the autism field, Netflix debuted their show Atypical a couple of days ago. I literally stumbled upon it thanks to an ad before a YouTube video. So today, I watched the first few episodes.
First, I was happy to see that the lead character, Sam, kicks off the series with the decision to get himself a girlfriend. Often in media depicting autistic individuals, they are presented as either asexual, child-like, or something far more sinister. It was nice to see a teenager on the spectrum in media who thinks like a teenager…because, you know, they do that.
Second, it is rare to get a slightly more realistic look at the dynamics of the family like this. This is a bit more raw. You see the mom who is terrified that neither the world or her son are ready to meet each other, the dad who is trying to find his place in his son’s life (and to some extent, his wife’s life as well), and the sister who is embracing her inner Daria while still showing sibling love (and annoyance) for Sam.
Third, we get to see the world numerous times through Sam’s eyes. This is becoming more common in these kinds of narratives. When he gets hurt because of teasing, he doesn’t immediately emotionally react because he is trying to temper the sensory input, which is growing out of control for him. A hurtful sentence (that the girl seemed to think was defending him instead of hurting) pauses the sensory long enough for him to see what’s happening and bolt. I don’t have these sensations, so I don’t know if they nailed it, so to speak.
Fourth, the mom reminded me of so many parents I have met. I’m going to be honest here, just to warn you. On the one hand, I felt annoyance at first because (to me) she was dismissing her son’s desire to be in a relationship by insisting that he wasn’t ready. On the other hand, I still get it. A mom’s job is to love and protect her children, and this mom is trying her hardest to do just that. I could see both sides, and that made the episodes I watched all the more interesting and endearing.
Finally, debate has already started on whether or not Atypical really caught the essence of the life and times of an autistic teenager. So, short review so far: Do I think some things are played up for entertainment purposes? Probably. Does it represent every autism experience? Of course not, nor should it try to. Is it perfect? Nope. Could it be a great dialogue starter? Yes.
I’ve put the trailer for the show below. I would love to hear other’s thoughts about it (the show, I mean). I do plan to continue to watch it, and we’ll see if it gets a second season.