Growing up on the autism spectrum, it was difficult to find representation of myself and others like me in media. The few shows and movies featuring an autistic character I have seen showed them as young, elementary school age boys. While not the worst thing, I couldn’t quite find too much in common with these characters. There weren’t enough shows featuring autistic teens or adults. Recently, Netflix announced a new show- Atypical, which is about a teenage boy on the autism spectrum. I watched the trailer and was somewhat disappointed by what I saw.
For starters, the lead character, Sam, is a cisgender white male. I’m aware plenty of people from these categories are autistic– I myself am cis and white– but there are just as many people of color, trans/nonbinary, and/or female people on the spectrum. While there are POC in the show, they serve as side characters.
Looking up the main actor, Keir Gilchrist, I did not find anything about him being on the spectrum. I understand there aren’t many known autistic actors, but it would’ve been nice to have someone on the spectrum– or at least someone who knows about it personally– to play Sam.
The premise of the show circulates around Sam trying to find a girlfriend. He tries school, nightclubs and other places to pick up girls. I know from experience that people on the spectrum have their interests, and they can become obsessed with them. But, really, Netflix, you couldn’t have found a better thing for him to be interested in?
From what I can see in the trailer, Sam’s disability is portrayed as simply a quirky personality trait, consisting of awkward dialogue and other stereotypes. I can’t tell if Netflix is trying to make this entirely humorous and lighthearted, but if that’s the case, I am disappointed by this. People may be able to find autistic traits funny portrayed in fiction, but some of these same people may be those I’ve encountered in the past who’ve found me annoying and weird. To this day, as a matter of fact, “autistic” and “ret*rded” are still words some people use to describe something they find annoying or irritating.
Since Atypical is not yet out, I can’t truly judge how the show will turn out. It could surprise me, and provide better representation or important life lessons. If it’s exactly what the trailer shows, however, I will yet again find myself disappointed in Hollywood’s poor portrayal of people like me.