A Neurodivergent View of Netflix’s Atypical

I did it! On a long car ride across Texas, David at the wheel, I managed to sit through the entire first, 38-minute episode, of Atypical, titled Antartica.

Let me start by saying that Atypical is a show about autism. It is not made to be a show for autistic people, despite autism being the main theme of the TV show.

Netflix’s new show Atypical has been creating quite a stir in the online autism community. The story is supposed to be told from an autistic person’s perspective, but many people are upset with the show’s apparent lack of neurodiverse representation both on and off screen.

Autistic advocates were most frustrated over the autistic main character, Sam. Many expressed wishes for autistic characters to be portrayed by autistic actors. As expected, Sam’s character is basically just a DSM checklist of every possible autistic stereotype imaginable.

In the first episode, I am already put off by the complaining from the mother character. Hopefully, she’ll take responsibility for her own actions, stop holding her son back, and quit complaining about how much of a burden autistic people are in future episodes.

We’ll skip past all of the completely unrealistic, WTF moments, such as the “brain donation question”, the “sex with a random older female stranger”, and the illogical “bedroom assault”. (Nothing about that first “sex scene” is even believable.)

Atypical is a painfully typical coming of age comedy. It has a very basic family teenage drama dynamic, complete with predictable plot lines focused on teen sex and surviving high school.

Every show needs comic relief and the writers of Atypical have managed to do a great job placing autism front and center as the butt in most of its jokes, because it’s fun to laugh at other people’s difficulties.

Between the poor representation and the bad acting, the first episode of Atypical was one of the most cringeworthy things I’ve come across in a very long time. One was enough. I’ve got no plans to watch another episode any time soon.

Sorry Netflix, that is a big “NO!” from me.

What do you think? Did you like Atypical? Should autistic characters in film and TV be played by autistic actors?

Check out the tag #actuallyAtypical on Twitter for more autistic opinions on the show.

24 responses to “A Neurodivergent View of Netflix’s Atypical

  1. I haven’t seen it! But at your question at the end….

    “Should autistic characters in film and TV be played by autistic actors?”

    If you ask me, I’d say both yes and no. The right actor for a role is the one who plays it the best! If an autistic actor kills the audition and does it the best, he/she should get it. But if a non-autistic actor does it best,the role should go to him/her. My reasoning is two-fold: First, I don’t believe in so called positive discrimination. Second, a series or movie is best served by having actors that do as good a job as possible – and your prowess as an actor is not dependent on whether or not you are autistic. So just as autistic actors should be cast as non-autistic characters if they nail the performance, the opposite also has to be true. Equal rights from all sides ftw!

    Liked by 4 people

  2. I’m on episode 7. I actually like it. I think they do one thing reasonably well which is to show the main character’s perception isn’t defective, just different.
    As for the identity of actors it’s an absurd issue. Acting is not about being a character, it’s about being able to portray a character well.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. It’s my intent to use their marketing — attach many versions of #atypical to it – and encourage others to do the same. I identify as #atypical and pretty sure I have something creative I can do to express that.

    Piggyback on their ad $ to get heard. Incorporate their hashtags into your #actuallyautistic work. That’s my approach. They have the eyes and interest of general population — I can stand in my soapbox all day shouting and never find that kind of interested attention — so go where there at and start seeking allies and others who do want to know the real stories. Start sharing what it’s like for the rest of us to be #atypical too. some thoughts.

    And some of the humor I just lmao. Hollywood spin and extreme — yeah, comedy does that.

    Some of the parenting stereotypes were so accurate if felt — NT parents with Autistic kids and the huge disconnect because we’re expected to be like them? Anyone get that feeling? I mean, Autistics who got these kinds of parents. Others, we’re not living large like that with family that tries to support.

    Realities of homelessness in adulthood are extreme for our population. Abuse, employment supports, housing supports, mental health services, exclusion and otherness. I wonder how they are going to address this later on.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Sam’s mom is the problem. She is every mother who creates a helpless mentality in their children. She holds her son back, so he cannot learn from his word around him for himself. It is extremely disturbing how accurate her character is – the autism Mom. This show is about autistics but it’s definitely not FOR us.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Ugh. I am an Autistic mom to autistic kids so some of this to me is like, NT parent’s care about that? Or why is that a big deal? Trying to figure them out — meeting youth and transitional-age Autistics coming out of NT homes right now — the stories are horrifying. I’m going to have to watch the show to figure out stereotypical patterns of these types of parents. I find the isolation of the boy character in the show to be sad. It doesnt have to be that way.

        Liked by 3 people

  4. I don’t think anyone should pass judgement unless they’ve seen the whole series. That’s like judging all autistics based on knowing just a few.
    The series does get better. We’re all very different, but I recognised myself in much of what he says, although as a female much of it was kept inside my head.
    If you keep going, there’s a meltdown sequence that I found realistic and touching. I’ve never been as severe as that in public, but I have at home. I wish someone would treat me the way the mother does at that point.
    I also think the series does a reasonable job of educating NTs about autism. Come on, I bet it took most of us some pretty intense research, at the special interest level, to learn fully about autism in all its wonderful colours and hues across the spectrum, but we had a very strong motivation to do that research. The average NT has no such motivation, so let’s at least get the message across anyway we can. Although the main character is autistic, and male, the whole series addresses the reactions of the other family members and while every family is different, I didn’t think they did all that bad a job. It’s fiction after all and they have to make the most of the few characters they have. It’s going to be slightly melodramatic, it wouldn’t hold anyone’s attention if it was totally and boringly realistic, because let’s face it, we like our lives fairly unpredictable. Same breakfast, at the same time, walk the dog every day along same route, same time, and I like having work uniform, as it’s the same every day. Most of us will also go out of our way to avoid sensory overload, so not much exciting is likely to happen anytime soon.
    As for an NT actor playing an autistic character, that’s more than fine by me. Are you saying that autistic actors can only play autistic parts? Hmm, that means they can’t even apply for 67 out of every parts available, and does that also apply to gay and straight actors? No, I’m sorry, the point of the job of an actor is to become someone else and do it convincingly. And I thought he did a pretty good job.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. outrageous… my son is an out of work autistic actor – but he’s have refused to have anything to do with the show. He is a one woman man and that’s that. I hate the way people make fun of autism. It is not bloody funny, it is me, my life, and I like being me and don’t deserve to be laughed at, laughed with yes, laughed at – get lost… Without autism the world would be devoid of most of its genius and we’d still be living in caves and defecating in our drinking water…

    Liked by 2 people

    • Have you watched the the show drricksbotanicalblog? It doesn’t laugh at him at all I thought. It’s gently humorous in places, but there are no laugh out loud moments, except, and I emphasise this strongly….. At moments of strong self recognition. I found it to be very honest about the autism actually and its definitely not making fun of autism. If you haven’t watched it, then I recommend you do, then base your opinion on what you see. As for the one woman thing, I think I know what you are referring to, but actually it’s a demonstration of the analytical mind of many autistics, breaking it down into practice and the real thing. There is no such thing as a perfect portrayal of an autistic character, because we are all so different, for example I hate Christmas and fairy lights, especially against a dark background. The contrast is too much for me, and too many people in one room is also a nightmare for me. But I can probably tolerate loudish music better than the character can. If you’ve seen it, you’ll know the scene I’m talking about. That doesn’t mean I don’t think it’s an accurate portrayal of an autistic person, because it is. It’s dramatised up a bit to make it more watchable, but it’s not inaccurate.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Thank you for your considered response to my knee-jerk! I don’t have Netflix and don’t watch much TV so I should probably not have posted. My son would not play any role involving any kind of sex scenes as he would see that as betrayal of his lovely girlfriend so this role would be a no no for him. I have been laughed at too many times to enjoy even gentle humour about how the world views autistic people, so I guess that I am not really the target audience for such a show. From both the post and your responses I’m not sure it would be at all easy to find an autistic person to play the character. For me, such a show would only really work with an autistic actor, script writer and director, then I think you’d get a genuinely autistic spectrum view of the situation. This, the show appears not to have. It sounds like other shows and films where non-autistic people have tried to peer into ‘what it is like to be autistic’. I have seen Rain man and some episodes of The Big Bang theory, which I found painful, (though my kids love the latter) so it may be that my strong reaction comes from being raised at a time when being ‘different’ was seen as a bad thing and so I was both laughed at and beaten to try and make me ‘normal’… Once I had gained a PhD I was finally free to do what I liked doing and did it very successfully without so often being laughed at…

        Liked by 2 people

        • Thank you for your response. I was worried you might be upset by my reply, so thank you for the way you have responded. As for sex scenes, that’s why it’s advisable to watch before passing judgement. There are no sex scenes involving the autistic lad. He only talks about it. Honestly, it’s a lot more respectful than some people are saying. And so far, almost every negative comment I’ve read is from someone who hasn’t watched the entire series. I wasn’t so keen on the first few episodes, but I felt it improved. I think the problem with all dramas is that there is a rush to introduce as many characters as possible in as short a time as possible, so the story arc often doesn’t get going until episode 3 or 4.
          Don’t get me wrong, it’s far from perfect, but it’s no where near as bad as you fear. And I’m sorry to hear about your experiences growing up. Been there with the bullying. It was awful. I think schools are places of torture quite frankly. However, my sister is a head teacher of a primary school and she has listened to me, with her senco (special educational needs coordinator) and they have made adjustments that anyone in the school can take advantage of, diagnosed or not. The main one that I approve of is opening up the library area at all free play times, with adult supervision, so that any child can go to a quiet area, without having to have a diagnosis to access such “special” accommodations. It costs money, in staff time, but that alone would have made my time in school a little less intolerable. It’s what we need everywhere.
          I’m glad you have found your niche in life though, well done you!

          Liked by 1 person

  6. My therapist recommended this to me and my husband today as a form of “cinema therapy” the idea of seeing things happen from the outside so you can understand them better when they happen to you….haven’t watched it yet.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I haven’t watched it, and probably won’t, but you expressed all the thoughts/fears I had when I first saw the trailer :/ It’s unfortunately something very…typical.


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