Greetings Earthlings 🙂
Today I’m going to explore the most recent portrayal of autism on screen- the pilot episode for the new ABC drama ‘The Good Doctor‘.
So what’s it all about?
Well the name is fairly self explanatory- the series follows Dr. Shaun Murphy (played by Freddie Highmore- can’t believe he’s all grown up!), a surgical resident with autism and savant syndrome (Really?Again! 😛 ) as he sets out to save lives.
You can watch a trailer for the show here- but word of warning, it’s a bit spoilery for the first episode so if you’d really like to watch it- maybe skip the trailer 🙂
But how does it’s depiction of autism fare?
Granted, this was merely the pilot, but so far the show has portrayed some of the classic symptoms very well- repetitive movements, truthfulness, literal thinking, awkward gait, eye contact issues etc. Like ‘Atypical‘, the show strives for subtly in Shaun’s idiosyncrasies rather than highlighting the obvious differences to his surgical peers. For example, Shaun struggles to open a ribbon, a simple, subtle struggle that few would associate with autism. Why just this evening I had to ask my housemate to open some freezer bags for me as I just couldn’t seem to crack it!
Unlike other portrayals of autism, I felt that the acting was far more natural, as if I were encountering a real person and not another hyperbolic autist.
For the first time, I felt like I could identify with Shaun as he awkwardly went about- I particularly identified with his descriptions of smells and how he uses different scents for recall (I’m notorious for using unusual identifiers to recall memories!).
However, as the title character is a savant, once again we are seeing an over-representation of a rare autistic trait. Nevertheless in the context of this series, it makes sense that Shaun has a brilliant mind and excellent recall- skills which are essential in the medical field.
The pilot also touched on a very important issue- the struggle for autists to gain employment. Following the decision to hire Shaun, the hospital held a meeting to debate the validity of his candidacy as a surgical resident given that he is autistic. This meeting largely focused on all the areas where Shaun may fail, with little attention given to how he might succeed.
Given my own struggles to break into the world of employment this past year, one has to wonder if similar debates were held when I left the interview.
Why is it automatically assumed that we will not be capable, or that we will struggle in a job? Would such a meeting have been held for any other equally capable doctor in Shaun’s workplace?
Thousands of undiagnosed autists have successful careers, and yet the mention of the a-word could see them doomed to failure.
Companies are not allowed to discriminate on the basis of gender, age, educational background etc., so why does it have to be different for autism? How will you know if we are capable if you never give us the chance?
All in all, I really enjoyed the pilot and will be very interested to see how this show progresses 🙂 I would highly recommend it- but be warned it may not be for the squeamish (I’m not particularly, but there was one moment during that episode where I physically recoiled! 😛 )
Have a good weekend everyone! 🙂