Autism Portrayal in “The Good Doctor” and “Atypical”


Shaun from “The Good Doctor” is shown on the left side while Sam from “Atypical” is shown on the right side. The whole picture is a collage made by me.

Abby Allen, staff writer

The sound of sirens blares through the air as an ambulance races down the road. A person needs medical attention, but when the paramedics get to the scene, they see a boy named Shaun haas already treated the injured man.

On the other side of town in the local high school, a boy named Sam sits alone in a hallway blaring loud music in his headphones as he does his homework, alone.

These two scenarios are taken from two shows that have their main character on the autism spectrum. While “The Good Doctor” and “Atypical” both have the same idea of a main character, their portrayals of autism are very different and reviewed by a variety of people, the accuracy of them being the top of people’s questioning.

Autism is a complex developmental disorder that affects how a person communicates and interacts with others. Some behaviors commonly associated with autism are sensory sensitivities, delayed learning of speech, and difficulty making or holding eye contact. There is no known cause but increased awareness and early diagnosis help improve the outcome.

On the other hand, Savant syndrome is a rare condition in which people with serious mental disabilities, including autism, have an increased intelligence level which is an out-of-place contrast to the overall handicap. As many as one in ten people on the autism spectrum have this remarkable ability in varying degrees, although Savant syndrome also occurs in other disabilities or injuries as well.

In “The Good Doctor,” Shaun illustrates how someone with autism and Savant syndrome can be successful. The show starts with showing Shaun saving someone at an airport with only the information he learned in his life so far, unlike the Netflix show “Atypical” that shows how someone with autism can find love like any other person.

“The show [Atypical] goes so far in making Sam seem as autistic as possible that he winds up being nothing like an actual person with autism,” says John Hugar, a reviewer on The A.V. Club website. “All the traits on the spectrum are turned up to the absolute max, to the point of parody.” In other words, the show took most of the attributes of autism and made them the predominant traits in Sam, when in reality autism is hidden and only shows in some behaviors or actions.

While “Atypical” is getting bad reviews, students here at Vista that are on the autism spectrum are giving “The Good Doctor” great reviews. Autism affects a large amount of people, and Vista is a school that accepts students on the spectrum and helps them become successful individuals.

Blake Allen, a freshman, agrees. “Yeah, [Shaun] portrays [autism] accurately.” He thinks the show does a good job of showing how people with autism act but is too busy to watch the full show himself.

When asked if Shaun from “The Good Doctor” accurately portrays autism, Jared Sheetz, a junior, is on the fence about it. “Yes and no. It depends on where you are on the spectrum.” Is there anything the show could do to improve how Shaun acts and make him more realistic? “I don’t know. It was pretty good honestly,” Sheetz asaid

Overall, the show “The Good Doctor” is the show to watch if you are looking for something that accurately displays a person with autism.