Autism Representation (the Good and the Bad) in Netflix’s Original Show, Atypical

Image Source: Rotten Tomatoes

As National Disability Awareness Month begins in March, it is important for all of us to remember that disabilities are both physical and mental.

National Disability Awareness Month was first recognized in 1987 and calls for people to provide understanding, encouragement, and opportunities to people with disabilities in order to help them lead productive and fulfilling lives. 

Disabilities come in many forms and should all be respected individually. However, even to this day, disabilities in the media are not portrayed nearly as often as they should be, and if they are, it’s often not done in an authentic light. 

On Netflix, there is a show I have enjoyed watching that portrays a mental disability in a rather accurate way. It’s called  Atypical, and the show follows a teenage boy, Sam, who is on the autism spectrum. Throughout the show, Sam learns how to navigate high school life and a budding romance. 

According to critics, the show itself has been positively reviewed as being an overall authentic representation of what a person on the autism spectrum deals with throughout their everyday life. 

Some things that the show represents correctly when it comes to autism is Sam’s fixation on specific information. People on the spectrum do often find themselves stuck in a “thought loop,” where they aren’t able to focus on anything other than a specific thought in their mind.

A few other things that are represented accurately in Atypical are the autism therapies that Sam undergoes during the show, family adjustments after an autism diagnosis, self-abusive behaviors whenever Sam is stressed–such as hair pulling or banging his head–and Sam’s obsession over something that he is extremely passionate about. His passion is penguins, but for other people on the spectrum, this obsession could be with another animal, a specific movie/tv show, their favorite singer/celebrity, etc. 

Because autism spectrum disorder encompasses a large range of symptoms and severities, it can be very difficult to accurately portray it. However, as a whole, the show does a good job of showcasing the difficulties that a teenager with autism may endure.

It has also been noted that Sam has what is labeled as “high-functioning autism,” meaning that his struggles may be much more extreme than that of other people on the spectrum. It is important to note that some people on the spectrum may heavily relate to Sam, while others may undergo a completely different experience.

However, even with the good representation of autism in this show, there are a few things that could’ve been improved upon to better showcase this disorder. A few of these things include supportive and proactive parents, Sam losing track of time, and no portrayal of “autism burnout.” 

I would consider Atypical as the tip of the iceberg when it comes to autism representation in the media. The show captures most experiences accurately and is an interesting program to watch if you haven’t yet.