Atypical, a Discussion on Autism Within Mainstream Media
I recently found myself, as I often do, mindlessly scrolling through Netflix hoping to find a new series that will grasp my attention and keep me entertained. While browsing the “Popular on Netflix” category I happened upon a show called Atypical. The cover photo featured an obviously uncomfortable looking teenage boy being hugged by a smiling teenage girl. Without reading the description I decided to watch the first thirty-eight-minute episode entitled Antarctica. By the next night, upon finishing all eight episodes I upsettingly realized there had only been one season created so far.
The show follows Sam, a high school boy on the autistic spectrum. This show is already raising widespread concern. Although the show navigates through some serious issues such as autism and how it may affect a family, it also brings a lot of humor to the table. Many are concerned that Sam himself and the way his disability causes him to react to typical teenage experiences is the main source of humor. They are concerned that because this is one of the first television shows that puts an individual with autism in the center it must be taken more seriously.
Now this is not one of the first shows that included a character with autism. One may remember the quirky character of Dr. Dixon on Greys Anatomy. On the few episodes she was included in the other characters poked fun at her unique actions. However, in the end, Dr. Dixon, admitting to having Asperger’s, brought the tone back to a serious one when she makes it known that she is aware of when she is being laughed at although she may not always understand why. The character of Sam in Atypical says a line almost identical to Dr. Dixons after a run in with some students at his high school. Even though autism has been represented on television before this show is one of the first that places an individual with autism directly in the spotlight. One may wonder why this is. The answer may not be one many would want to admit to but it is important in this discussion. Autism tends to make a portion of people uncomfortable. The show Atypical, instead of ignoring this, brilliantly uses that theme throughout the show. However instead of the whole season being episodes of awkward and uncomfortable conversations highlighting society’s inexperience with autism, Atypical manages to show how the characters overcome their feelings and learn to adapt to Sam’s needs. For example, Sam’s girlfriend Paige arranges the winter formal to cater to his specific needs by making it a silent dance. All those in attendance wore headphones so the loud music would not upset him.
It is not surprising that the show Atypical is being scrutinized by a large number of individuals as it is one of the first mainstream shows depicting a main character with autism. One must admit even if they enjoyed it or not the show has a vital job of involving individuals with disabilities such as autism into pop culture. The show, by bringing autism into the spotlight, allows for large discussions on the topic which will ultimately cause greater understanding of the condition.