Netflix’s Atypical: Debunking Myths About Asperger’s Syndrome

May 28th, 2020

Debunking Myths About Asperger’s SyndromeBullies, and homework and acne, oh my! Individuals who struggle with disorders such including down syndrome, autism and dyslexia, are often ostracized for their differences.

It seems like more and more children are being diagnosed with developmental or learning disabilities, and the issues they face have become more prevalent in the news, and on television, which is a definite step in the right direction towards inclusion of all.

Atypical is a Netflix show that documents the life of Sam, a sweet, intelligent and in some ways, quirky young man who is navigating his way through the ups and downs of high school and adolescence.

According to The Guardian, the producers of the show “clearly want to help the world understand what it’s lie for those on the autism spectrum, and to deliver that lesson with comedy and warmth. The show is unequivocally a ‘Good Thing’ in and of itself, and it’s hard not to applaud both the intention and the effort.”

Despite Sam’s inability to maintain “normal” relationships with those he encounters in life, and his obsession with penguins, he is extraordinarily gifted and is admired by his parents, teachers, counselors and friends. The producers of the show seem to have done their research on Asperger’s syndrome, “and extracted, intensified and simplified all the most obvious autistic behaviors.”

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, Asperger’s syndrome can be described as “an autism spectrum disorder that is characterized by impaired social interaction, by repetitive behavior and restricted interests, by normal language and cognitive development but poor conversational skills and difficulty with nonverbal communication and often by above average performance in a narrow field against a general background of impaired functioning.”

Sam is extraordinarily gifted at math, and science, but falls short when it comes to maintaining appropriate relationships with his peers, and counselors. He speaks in a monotone voice, which demonstrates impaired verbal development, and cannot understand social cues.

He takes things extremely literally and has obsessions, which in his case, manifest in an extreme interest in penguins, their habits, and their behaviors. Sam keeps a journal where he documents his interest in Antarctica and the Arctic, he sketches and labels different species of penguins and their unique characteristics.

Even though he can communicate effectively and can tell his family, teachers and counselors what’s on his mind, he has the inability to possess natural and appropriate relationships with others. He witnesses other kids in his school dating their significant others, and wants to try to fit in, so he contemplates asking a girl out.

Sam wants to relate and connect with his peers, but he tends to gravitate towards those who are older than him, such as his therapist, Julia. He not only likes Julia…he loves her and tries to get her to break up with her boyfriend so that the two of them can pursue a relationship.

Sam doesn’t see why this is “wrong” and continues to hint at Julia that he feels romantically attracted to her. It gets to the point where Julia decides she can no longer meet with him and encourages him to see another therapist.

Despite his inability to have appropriate relationship with his peers and authority figures, Sam is extremely close to his mother and the two share a strong bond that is some ways, unlike relationships between neurotypical teenage boys and their mothers. Sam’s overprotective mother, Elsa does whatever she can, to help Sam navigate throughout a very unpredictable, and in some ways, scary world.

She advocates for her son and stops at nothing to make sure he feels safe, loved and heard by others. She is clearly a loving mother — and Sam, although he might not be able to say, ‘I love you,’ appreciates all that she does to ensure his safety and happiness.

Overall, this show does an adequate job at portraying a typical boy, in an atypical world. It does a good job at pinpointing the struggles that individuals on the spectrum face, and at showing, rather than telling, the ways in which Sam copes with the events that happen, and the emotions he feels in high school.

The show is comical, real and bittersweet and does a great job at capturing what life can be like for someone who doesn’t necessarily “fit in.” Atypical is a show that is inspiring viewers to view all they encounter with dignity, love and respect.

The original article can be found here.

You can read similar articles here.