Being atypical isn’t easy. Trust me, I know from personal experience. Very personal experience, too personal to get too much into details here.
So, when Netflix announced their new show Atypical, created by Robia Rashid (The Goldbergs, How I Met Your Mother) and Seth Gordon (also The Goldbergs, as well as the recent Baywatch movie), I was intrigued and eagerly awaited its arrival. As a mom with few outlets and connections to a world that is very personal and quite complicated, as well as incredibly lonely, I was eager to see how TV would portray a boy on the spectrum. I had seen an autistic child portrayed on NBC’s “Parenthood,” but that was before my own experience with this world was apparent.
The show revolves around Sam (played by Keir Gilchrist), an autistic high-school senior , and his experiences and interactions in a main stream school and in the world. His family has developed strategies to help him cope. His sister, Casey (played by Brigette Lundy-Paine) is protective and looks after him at school, and his parents (played by Jennifer Jason Leigh and Michale Rappaport) work together mostly as a team, not always, to give him the tools they need. The show reveals the intricacies and hardship that his issues have on others, as well as its beauty and ability to teach each of them something new about themselves and the world.
His dad has never truly related to him, and is trying by going to group therapy with his wife (which doesn’t go that well – I hope he goes back). He has hidden Sam’s diagnosis from a colleague. For me, it was touching to see him come around and accept that autism is a large part of who Sam is. There is often a lot of denial amongst parents with kids on the spectrum.
Sam’s mom has absorbed herself in Sam’s issues over the years – so much so that she is now drowning from having lost sight of herself. She worries about his future and wonders what her own life will be like when he leaves.
Casey is offered an athletic scholarship at a private school which at first her mom thinks isn’t an option as she’ll be leaving Sam behind. The sibling of an autistic child is often left behind and neglected, with attention and emphasis always going to the autistic child. When it’s her time to shine, the lack of support and cluelessness of her parents is disturbing…and very realistic.
The bottom line: it’s all about Sam. This is not unrealistic in the slightest. The reality is that autism gobbles up the family dynamic. In real life, being atypical is lonely, not just for the person but for the family. There’s a deep desire to be typical on all accounts, and that desire further complicates the family dynamic. Sam is different, he is unusual. He can’t sit on a bus with his back touching the wall. He’s impulsive and shouts at strangers. He wears headphones whilst talking to people to block out sound, even on dates. He has few friends. He misinterprets his therapist’s intentions, interpreting them for affection and while trying to get the attention of other girls, he can’t get her out of his mind. He’s obsessed with penguins and the Antarctica, and he works in a technology store – tech is clearly another obsession. He is extremely attentive to detailIn my experience, these qualities or attributes of autism are not off base.
Watching this show gave me a sense of relief. I breathed in several times, just seeing these kinds of things happen to someone else, which helped me feel less alone, which I feel all too oten. Whether it’s a character on a show or someone I know in real life, seeing a similar dynamic is reassuring.
Disclosure: I am a member of Netflix’s StreamTeam, but all opinions are my own.