What Atypical Got Wrong about Autism – Part 2

In the first part of our Atypical review, we discussed the accurate ways Netflix portrayed autism spectrum disorder in their hit show. There were some notable missteps though that are important to correct for autism awareness. Here are a few critiques about Atypical, courtesy of our autism testing and treatment center.

What Netflix Missed for Autism Representation

Here are some aspects of Atypical that aren’t fully accurate:

  • Supportive and proactive parents. Unfortunately, many children and teens on the spectrum do not have the strong family support system that Sam has in
  • Losing track of time. People with autism are known for being punctual. There are several scenes where Sam arrives late to something because he got sidetracked or wasn’t properly prepared. In real life, his character would likely take extra steps to ensure this didn’t happen.
  • No portrayal of “autism burnout.” Because many people with ASD spend their days trying to “be normal,” they may experience something called autism burnout. The mental and physical exhaustion from constantly adjusting their thoughts/behaviors leads to a hefty crash at the end of the day. This is not showcased in the show.
  • A lack of educational advocacy. The show implies that the parents did much of the work themselves to get Sam to his current level of development (never going on dates because they were absorbed with Sam). It also shows Sam acting independently for many academic challenges, but many autistic students have support systems and accommodations in place at school. See Special Education Plans: IEP versus IEE versus 504 Plans.
  • Autism as the butt of the joke. Several of Sam’s symptoms and coping mechanisms become the source of comedy for the show, with over-the-top reactions from other people in the scene. This perpetuates stereotypes about autism and doesn’t accurately depict how someone may react in real life.

Keep in mind, this is a TV show. It is designed to be entertaining with a dash of education thrown in. It may not capture every aspect of ASD, but it gets enough right to get a positive review from us.

Are the Actors in Atypical Actually Autistic?

Keir Gilchrist, the actor who plays Sam in Atypical, is not on the spectrum. However, there are other cast members that are. In part of the show, Sam has a peer support group that consists of 8 actors with autism. The writers introduced them into the show after the first season because they received criticism for a lack of autistic cast members.

Autism Diagnosis and Treatment in the Real World

Consider Atypical the tip of the iceberg when it comes to autism representation. It captures some experiences accurately but may not resonate with everyone.

With regards to how autism is diagnosed and treated in the real world, we have an entire series on Autism FAQs. You can learn about autism symptoms, cures, support, and more. CNLD Testing & Therapy is a leading provider of autism testing and treatment in Michigan. We provide comprehensive solutions, including educational advocacy and executive functions coaching. We even offer teletherapy! Contact us at (734) 994-9466 to schedule a consultation with a licensed clinician who specializes in autism diagnosis/treatment.