“Atypical” raises questions on portrayal of autistic community

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Ava Seccuro staff writer

 

The first season of Netflix’s “Atypical,” which aired in Aug. 2017, gained a popular following, leading it to be renewed for a second season. This most recent season aired on Sept. 7, with 10 new episodes depicting the struggles and triumphs of Sam Gardner (Keir Gilchrist), a high schooler with autism spectrum disorder.

During this season, Sam is now a high school senior who must cope with surfacing family issues and navigate high school alone since his younger sister, Casey Gardner (Brigette Lundy Paine), transferred to the affluent Clayton Prep.  

In general, the acting was outstanding in each episode, influencing the audience to truly empathize with the characters and be more than willing to invest hours of their lives watching the life of the Gardner family play out. The portrayal of Sam as a highly functioning individual with autism sent a message that people like him can definitely achieve the same things, maybe more, as neurotypical people.

The second season tackles a larger variety of issues than the first did. These include key plot twists such as Elsa Gardener’s (Jennifer Jason Leigh) affair, Sam’s college application process, and Casey’s questioning sexuality.  As the plot thickens, it moves quicker than the first season did, with a new concept or problem introduced at the beginning of almost every episode, engaging viewers more effectively than a long, drawn-out, character conflict.

As “Atypical” addresses more than a few prominent topics in the realm of school, friendship and love, it also manages to confront the touchy subject of sexuality. Later in the season, the writers allude to the fact that Casey might be bisexual with the change in chemistry between her and her best friend Izzie (Fivel Stewart). Although this plotline never goes into depth about how much she really questions her sexuality, the LGBT representation connects with those viewers who identify as such and capture their curiosity in a relatable way.

“Atypical” is bound to be controversial because of its portrayal of Sam. As some people do not have the knowledge or direct experience with autism, they do not know whether Gilchrist is accurately conveying every aspect of autism. Considering the fact that Gilchrist himself is not autistic, it raises questions about how he prepared for the role, and if it actually reflects the general gist of what autism entails. Someone who is not familiar with autism may automatically assume that people with autism act the way Sam does. “Atypical” portrays other autistic characters who act just like Sam, which is understandable considering that there are distinct signs for this disorder, but it does not address the fact that every case is different.

Additionally, Sam does say some hilarious things during the show, but considering the circumstances, one wonders whether it’s okay to laugh at these punchlines. “Atypical” seems cautious enough that instances in the show are never make a mockery of Sam, but rather utilize compulsive behavior aspect of autism for humorous purposes.

Despite the question of whether or not the director’s vision captured the essence of the autistic community, “Atypical” handles the potential disputes that arrive from covering such topics with the heartfelt and raw humor that make the show so intriguing and enjoyable.

Highlights would rate “Atypical” an eight out of ten.

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