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MaxE
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11 Jul 2021, 11:08 am

Is it really about autism any more?


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MaxE
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17 Jul 2021, 8:59 am

Anyway in this (the final) season I think it's more about Casey than about Sam. Which may explain why nobody on WP seems especially eager to discuss it.


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17 Jul 2021, 9:50 am

Atypical Fell Short as Both Autistic Representation and Entertainment. At Least It Was Eclipsed During Its Own Time - Sarah Kurchak for Time

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The year 2017 was a great one if you were in the business of TV autism. The Big Bang Theory, a show which never explicitly identified its main character as autistic but consistently played stereotypical traits for laughs, was the No. 1 show in the United States. Young Sheldon, its spinoff which trades on the same caricature, was a top-10 show. The Good Doctor, ABC’s medical drama about an autistic savant who works as a surgical resident, premiered that September and became an instant hit.

It was a far less fortuitous time to be an autistic person in the real world. In addition to an ongoing lack of meaningful resources, representation, understanding and acceptance, we had President Trump carelessly floating anti-vaxx conspiracy theories, claiming there was a “tremendous amount of increase” in autism diagnoses, and declaring it “really a horrible thing to watch.” Reports of vulnerable autistic children being killed by their parents continued to hit the news. We still struggled—often in vain—for meaningful inclusion in policy, science, news and entertainment relating to our lives. Almost none of the affection that non-autistic audiences felt for the Sheldons and Dr. Shaun Murphys was extended to us.

In its initial eight-episode season, Atypical was indistinguishable from its autistic TV cohort. It was yet another story about a cisgender, heterosexual, white autistic man seemingly made with a largely non-autistic audience in mind. In terms of inclusion, it very meekly nudged the status quo by hiring one autistic person for the supporting cast and one for the social media team, but that was the extent of autistic inclusion in the show’s autistic story.

Outside of the neurology of its lead, Atypical failed to live up to its title. It was standard white middle class family fare with an increasingly standard depiction of autism at its center.

I wasn’t surprised by how poorly Atypical fared as both representation and entertainment, but I was still disappointed. At best, Sam was a wasted opportunity. He often appeared to me as more of a collection of stereotypes and repetitive physical movements than a person. Perhaps he would look like an autistic person from an outside perspective.

The most positive thing I could say about Atypical as autistic representation is the most damning thing I can say about its entertainment value: Sam wasn’t treated that much differently from any of the other characters. Usually autistic characters are the only ones who are handled from external and distanced perspectives and come across as not-quite-human, but everyone was a little hollow here. Their big moments often felt forced.

I was similarly not surprised but disappointed by the response that Atypical received. Most of the professional reviews I read praised the show in ways which belied how underqualified the critics were to address autistic stories. At least one outlet actively recruited autistic sources—including me—for an Atypical-pegged article on representation. But at least one other major outlet hired a non-autistic parent of an autistic child to write about what the show did and didn’t get right about autism. (This happened again, inexplicably, pegged to Season 4.) I had a lot of non-autistic people tell me that they loved the show. I even had a few try to explain to me why I was wrong, saying that the series had expanded their understanding of autistic people, when I tried to explain why many of us were not fans. (By the way, Autistics are not a monolith and I am in no way a singular spokesperson for 1 in 54 people, so I would like to acknowledge that some autistic people do enjoy Atypical.

In a small mercy, enough criticism of the show’s abysmal autism inclusion did force the production team to make some small changes. The Journal of Best Practices author Dave Finch came on as a consultant before the second season. The show worked with Exceptional Minds, an organization that provides training and employment services for autistic people in animation, to hire animators and VFX professionals. They also created a support group that season and, with the assistance of the neurodiverse performance program The Miracle Project, cast actual autistic actors to play Sam’s peers. This move managed to contribute a tiny fraction to the racial and gender diversity that is so desperately needed in autism representation and give the series its better moments.

While Atypical had to be dragged a short distance from its suboptimal starting line, autistic people were finally starting to see some improvement elsewhere in television. Even The Good Doctor managed to add slightly more autistic creative input into their mix. Australian comedian Hannah Gadsby started openly discussing her recent autism diagnosis in the wake of Nanette’s success and made autism a key focus of her next show, the hilarious and poignant Douglas. The delightful Everything’s Gonna Be Okay, which features autistic actor Kayla Cromer playing a queer autistic character, premiered on Freeform in January 2020. Creator and star Josh Thomas was later diagnosed as autistic himself. The new season of Special, the Netflix series about a gay man with cerebral palsy starring and written by Ryan O’Connell, features an autistic love interest played by queer autistic actor Buck Andrews. The finale also features a throwaway joke in which the main character’s clueless colleague tells him, with patronizing sincerity, “I just binged Atypical and I feel like I finally get you.”

The quality of autism-themed TV and the extent of actual autistic representation to be found therein is far from the most pressing issue that autistic people face. And 2021 isn’t measurably better for us than 2017 was. We’re still fighting for resources, genuine acceptance and meaningful representation in all aspects of life.

Pop culture cannot fix any of this. But art and expression are parts of the human experience, and making more room for our own stories—and ensuring we have a say in the stories that other people tell about us—does play a small role in the fight to have our complete humanity recognized and celebrated.

Coverage of these shows still has its problems, too. But the small victories that we’re experiencing matter. Even this piece, this opportunity that I have as an autistic writer to explore the impact of Atypical as more than a laundry list of what I think it did and didn’t get right about autism, is a sliver of progress.

I won’t forget or entirely forgive that it was made at all, nor that it was as well-received as it was. But to see Atypical become eclipsed in its own time, to the point where it has become the butt of a joke in a show made by a disabled artist, is so much more than I could have hoped for when it debuted in 2017. Ideally, it never would have existed. Or someone in charge would have considered further course-correcting in the face of significant negative feedback from the very people they were claiming to celebrate. But in a world where it does and a world where they didn’t, I will consider this an acceptable legacy.

I do not subscribe to Netflix therefore have never seen the show and thus can not comment on her review.

What I can say is being a person who was not diagnosed until age 55 does seem to give me a different perspective about how much progress has been made. I agree that far too many times autism representation is cringe inducing and frustrating. I can not agree that her writing a review for Time is a “sliver” of progress. I have been posting about autism representation since I joined here in 2013. At that time with the exception of Parenthood the producers of mainstream entertainment were too afraid to mention the character was autistic. If you wanted an autistic perspective on representation you had to go to wrong planet or some blog. Now I am posting autistic reviewers writing for mainstream media all the time. Now if the actor is not autistic some of the supporting actors and consulting people usually are. There was little or none of that in 2013. To me that is not a sliver that is Wow!!.

The above does not in anyway negate the just plain wrong and offensive stuff. Our anger that so much is left to be done should not make us unappreciative of the progress that that has been accomplished. Sarah’s article is appreciative. As said in the beginning the difference in how me and Sarah is a matter of degree.


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MaxE
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17 Jul 2021, 12:19 pm

I don't want to try to parse the entire review, but I take issue with this statement from new the beginning:

Quote:
It was yet another story about a cisgender, heterosexual, white autistic man seemingly made with a largely non-autistic audience in mind.

I don't see where there's a problem with the character being cisgender and heterosexual. I won't comment on the character's whiteness, but in my experience there are noteworthy challenges to being a "straight" autistic man and if you read the description of the show from Netflix it's something along the lines of "an autistic teen decides he wants a girlfriend" and that is exactly the experience of the majority of male "aspies" AFAIK i.e. I would be genuinely surprised to learn that most cisgender males on the autism spectrum are queer. And yes, most people in general are not on the autism spectrum so that's the bulk of the audience. Deal with it.

Now regarding casting. I can see some value to casting an autistic actor in the lead but in reality it has more to do with writing and directing, and the actor's talent, then whether they are autistic IRL. To contrast, in Freeform's "Everything's Gonna be OK" they cast an autistic actor to pay a female autistic character but I don't think the character behaves the way the actor does IRL. When I've seen her interviewed, I see very little in her demeanor that shouts out "autistic" although of course I'm aware of how masking works. But that actor could just as easily play a neurotypical character if she's any good at her profession.

As for my previous comment, I should point out (for anyone who's seen this) that the writers seem to take a great deal of interest in the relationship between the two lesbian characters whereas the relationship between Sam and Paige is used for comic relief, which is unfortunate because I would really want to see an exploration of how that relationship can be made to work (which matters a lot to me personally) but I don't get the feeling that the writers really care much about "straight" relationships.


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Lost_dragon
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01 Aug 2021, 4:22 pm

Quote:
The new season of Special, the Netflix series about a gay man with cerebral palsy starring and written by Ryan O’Connell, features an autistic love interest played by queer autistic actor Buck Andrews. The finale also features a throwaway joke in which the main character’s clueless colleague tells him, with patronizing sincerity, “I just binged Atypical and I feel like I finally get you.”


I've seen Special and I remember laughing at this scene. Personally I preferred the dynamic between Ryan and Henry (Buck Andrew's character) compared to Paige and Sam from Atypical. Simply because Sam doesn't seem to care about Paige. Whereas, Henry is considerate and their relationship is never played off as a joke. I know that Sam is supposed to be selfish and that is his character flaw, but I struggle to see why Paige is still interested in him with the amount of times he shrugs her off.

MaxE wrote:
Anyway in this (the final) season I think it's more about Casey than about Sam. Which may explain why nobody on WP seems especially eager to discuss it.


I noticed this and I know people who just watch the show for Casey and Izzie. Personally, I was hesitant at first with this pairing, because it started by using tropes I dislike. However, as the show went on, I ended up liking the couple. I prefer them over Sam and Paige, simply because I don't like Paige...I especially hated how she tried to restrict the amount of times Sam could talk about his interests when she was first introduced. She's controlling and I struggle to understand why they like each other.

MaxE wrote:
I don't see where there's a problem with the character being cisgender and heterosexual. I won't comment on the character's whiteness, but in my experience there are noteworthy challenges to being a "straight" autistic man


Unfortunately, I rarely see this type of story presented in a compelling way. Well, with the exception of Rachel and Abed from Community. I can't speak on the accuracy of such a portrayal, but I did like their relationship together.


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IsabellaLinton
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01 Aug 2021, 4:32 pm

Quote:
It was yet another story about a cisgender, heterosexual, white autistic man seemingly made with a largely non-autistic audience in mind.


I hate that some people want to cancel the experience of white, autistic men. It's a huge overreaction and it's very sexist to say that their voices shouldn't matter. Yes it would be nice to see other representation, but it doesn't mean white men (or men in general) shouldn't be heard. They're already facing enough alienation as autistic men in today's society.

I loved Atypical in the first few years. Sure it was campy but I enjoyed it for what it is -- a fictitious story about one make-believe character, with one set of autistic characteristics which don't necessary match every other autistic person. You know what they say. If you've met one autistic person, you've met one autistic person.

The mother drives me mad with the helicopter parenting and her questionable morality. I can't stand her but I suppose she's representative of some parents of autistic children / teens today. I hate Paige too actually. She comes across as being more developmentally delayed or socially challenged than Sam even though she's not autistic. That's fine, but I think she ends up seeming like a parody because many audience members seem to think she's the one who's autistic, or that she represents autistic women. We know that's not the truth but she takes away from the real story which is supposed to be Sam.

I adore Casey. I love her to bits. As the series goes on I'm tired of Sam's storyline and I only care about hers. She's a really well developed character who single-handedly keeps the show alive.



Starlight2001
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16 Aug 2021, 8:11 pm

Did they ever make Sam not a misogynistic creep? I heard there was an episode where he broke into a woman's room and watched her sleep. I've avoided the show entirely due to this.



CubsBullsBears
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06 Sep 2021, 11:33 pm

Starlight2001 wrote:
Did they ever make Sam not a misogynistic creep? I heard there was an episode where he broke into a woman's room and watched her sleep. I've avoided the show entirely due to this.
He didn't watch anyone sleep but he did go to her house late at night(or middle of the night)to ask his therapist out(Yeah. His Therapist). His dad made him leave once he realized who it was he was trying to ask out. And the dad willingly brought him there WTF?



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14 Sep 2021, 2:48 pm

It's a good show but they seem to be raising more awareness about the LBGTQ than the autistic community. Still, I like Casey. She's a good character. Izzy is annoying though.