Atypical is a coming of age story that follows Sam (played by Keir Gilchrist), an 18-year-old on the autistic spectrum as he begins his quest to find a girlfriend or as he would have it – to at least see boobs. With a desire for dating and further independence, the show also follows Sam’s parents Elsa (Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight) and Doug (Michael Rapaport, Boston Public and Prison Break) as they try to determine how to parent their son as he becomes a young adult; navigating themselves and their marriage through the challenges of having a son that they do not relate to much less have anything in common with.
As a teacher I see that autism as well as many other exceptionalities are part of the everyday in today’s classroom. Teaching a class community as well as parents how to be patient, empathetic, discrete and socially responsible in order to maintain the personal dignity of all is part of an on going conversation. Something that may seem like common sense but continually needs to be revisited as much gets lost in translation, especially for those with autism.
The show does an excellent job at keeping us laughing while weaving between the cute and more serious characteristics of a person on the spectrum trying to date. Traits such as being extremely honest. When a potential girlfriend asks Sam if her nose is too big, he replies with “yes, but the rest of your face makes up for it” to his use of noise cancelling headphones and his love of rules. To the more serious mannerisms of repetitive/self-stimulatory behaviours (continually flicking an elastic band), difficulty socializing, persistent preoccupations (Sam knows every fact related to Antarctica) to not picking up on social cues or phrases. His dad explains that he should try or want to marry his best friend to which he questions – “you want me to marry Edison, my turtle??”
The recently launched 8-episode series comes at a time when more networks and streaming services are picking up shows that represent characters with disabilities such as ABC’s soon to premier “The Good Doctor” about a doctor also on the autism spectrum. Hopefully the trend will continue and we will see more representation of what life on the spectrum looks and feels like. Atypical’s stand out moment for me comes when Sam says he just wants to be normal to which his best friend Zahid reassures him that “dude, nobodies normal.” Case and point, we all learn to accommodate each other in some form or another, autism shouldn’t be seen as any different. If anything, it’s possibly less confusing than the way most neurotypicals act these days. Have you tried dating on Tinder? People be Cray.