So, I finally jumped on the bandwagon. I watched all the episodes of The Good Doctor so far and I found it entertaining. Before I started watching it I had to remind myself that it’s not a documentary on Autism. The lead character in the series just happens to be on the Autism Spectrum. That’s what we all need to remember.
I have an 8 yr. old son who is Autistic. That does not make me an expert on Autism. That simply makes me someone who experiences autism more closely than others. I know what my son’s autism looks like and I know that since this is a spectrum, someone else’s autism might look very different from my son’s. So when watching The Good Doctor I knew that this not my son’s story.
Let’s talk about what it got right -
I did notice how Dr. Shaun talks in a monotone - the lack of expression in his tone as well as on his face is pretty evident and even if he might not have perfected the tone he certainly is doing a good job of it.
Poor eye contact - a common characteristic of Autism -is another thing that the actor has made sure he sticks to. In almost all of his conversations, I’ve seen him avoid eye contact and look away from the other person, something you would notice several autistic people do as well.
From what I’ve watched so far, Dr. Shaun’s social awkwardness is also well depicted in the series and I can relate to it to a certain extent, given what I see with my son.
Dr. Shaun has also been shown to be unable to understand social cues and that perfectly fits with what I know about autism.
My son is on the opposite end of the spectrum from where Dr. Shaun is. So to be honest I’ve no experience of what a so called high functioning autistic individual is like. However, from what I’ve read, heard and seen and from my personal experience with my son, the series does paint a fair picture of autism as far as some common characteristics are concerned.
Now let’s get to the part that I don’t think works for me . I don’t think a majority of autistic individuals are able to display even the limited range of emotions that the protagonist of the series displays. When he reads a book to a boy who looks like his dead brother or when he explains why he wants to be a surgeon or how he cherishes a gift that his brother gave him as a child - I believe those are complicated emotions for an autistic individual to possess or exhibit. I’ve seen my son being completely oblivious of my pain even when I cry. He simply cannot empathise or is unable to show it if he does. So for me it was hard to digest that aspect of Dr. Shaun’s personality.
So far we’ve only seen 5 episodes so I don’t know what lies ahead but I’ve not seen him have much of an OCD either which seems to accompany autism in a majority of the cases.
I also feel that for the uninitiated, this series might do exactly what Rainman did for Autism - create a misconception. For those who are not be familiar with Autism, what they might assume is that this is just a condition where a person is extraordinarily gifted but has social awkwardness. They will miss out on the “inconvenient truth about autism” - the meltdowns, the stimming, sleep disorder, seizures, sensory processing disorder, the emotional disconnect, the speech delays, the almost complete social isolation and a ton of other visible and invisible challenges that not just the individual but the family of an autistic person faces.
Any series that tackles a condition like Autism for which there is very limited awareness and acceptance needs to also assume the responsibility of familiarizing it’s audience with those aspects of the condition as well that do not look as glamorous or entertaining as the ones that is being shown on the screen. A disclaimer explaining that autism is much more than what is being shown, or maybe an episode or two that incorporates these unaddressed sides of the condition could really do the Autism community a favor.
Considering the fact that Autism is a spectrum and as they say “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism”, it would be extremely unreasonable to expect one single character to depict the entire gamut of symptoms, from being non-verbal and having poor cognition to being gifted and verbal though socially awkward. So let’s suspend our expectations and enjoy the show just like a lot of surgeons and doctors out there must be. it is, after all, just a show.