‘Atypical’ shows first hand experience of Autism


Courtesy of Netflix

Sam Gardner (Keir Gilchrist) gives the audience an inside look of someone on the spectrum, often not talked about on T.V. shows. ‘Atypical’ exposes what it’s like for a person with Autism to do everyday things like go to school, work a job, interact with their family and more.

Katie Dwyer

The Netflix original, ‘Atypical’, is an eye-opening show that tells the story of a teenager living with autism, something that often isn’t talked about in the cinema industry.
The show features Sam (Keir Gilchrist), a high school senior with autism, and the struggles he faces daily. His life takes a turn when he decides that he wants to start dating, thus spiraling into numerous unexpected events. 
But Sam’s dating life isn’t the only thing that changes. The show also highlights the many shifts in family life and how that can affect someone in his shoes. Throughout the show, Sam’s mother, Elsa (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is caught cheating on her husband (Michael Rapaport), causing her to move out of the house. The show highlights Sam’s experience with this and accentuates that feeling of loneliness.
This loneliness comes to a direct halt when Sam finds himself a girlfriend, Paige (Jenna Boy). Paige is almost a clone of Sam when it comes to interests and likes Sam for who he is, which he hasn’t experienced in terms of dating.
Though, Paige is not his only friend. Working with Sam is Zahid (Nik Dodani), a nerdy, girl-crazy, boy who tries to teach Sam the important things in life, or at least his own definition of the important things. Zahid allows Sam to test out things that would be a difficult first experience with him. For instance, Zahid and Sam have a “test sleepover” before Sam’s first just so he knows what it feels like to sleep somewhere outside of his own home.
A common aspect of autism is the fixation in one particular hobby or topic. In Sam’s case, it’s Arctic wildlife. Sam constantly compares his life changes to different arctic animals like penguins or polar bears. These random nature facts are almost used ironically throughout the show as comic relief but also draws the parallels from nature to humans, and exemplifies a coping mechanism that could be translated to the real world. 
With such a challenging role to tackle, Gilchrist did an amazing job portraying what autism may look like. Gilchrist not only nailed the role but did so without playing the Autism ‘stereotype,’ but by rather showing the truth behind the mindset of people on the spectrum.
People with Autism show up in T.V. shows mainly as a side character or someone to provide comic relief. It was enlightening to finally see a show that featured a person with Autism as the central character. 
However, the show has received some lash back because of Sam’s character. Many have argued that the show unrealistically portrayed Autism because Sam was higher functioning on the spectrum.
Overall, the show has provided much insight into the mind of someone on the spectrum. Sam’s experiences are both heartwarming and heartbreaking. ‘Atypical’ is truly a wonderful show that tells a sweet story of a boy trying to cope with a constantly changing world.