Autistic Representation in the media – The Good Doctor.

Autism in the media heavily revolves around stereotypes. We either see an autistic child screeching and becoming a parent’s worst nightmare, or they seem to have an obsession with trains (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Even in 2018, Autism in the media suffers from the same issues we’ve had before. However, with the exposure of the internet, things are slowly changing.

One example of this is an American drama series called The Good Doctor. I got recommended this show and was a tad sceptical at first, As previous shows I’ve heard of or seen usually use the same autistic tropes. This show is based on a South Korean show with the same name.

First let’s look at the positives…

First of all, The shows hospital scenario can be seen as more realistic compared to shows like House and E.R. It’s quite refreshing. It’s also a show that doesn’t rely on shock value (Game of Thrones or True Blood for example) but it does tug the heartstrings and waterworks. Trust me, I’ve bawled a few times. The first episode, one of the supporting characters actually says the words “he’s not Rainman”. Referring to Shawn Murphy, the main character who is a Savant Autistic. That Rainman comment make me smile so much! Shawn, who is autistic is portrayed as both a superpower and a difficulty. He can “mind-palace”  his way to figure out people’s problems by visualising their internal anatomy. It’s a bit cheesy but it works. His difficulties include being blunt as hell and having odd ideas that neurotypicals think are crazy. Another example I’d love to say but I will be brief because of spoilers, is that Shawn can get things wrong and can make mistakes. His autistic mindset and extensive look into detail can come at a price and can miss the big picture. Some of his mannerisms can relate to various autistic people. Some of his symptoms are more “severe” than mine but even I could relate to Shawn at points. His lack of eye contact and his fragile reserved hand movements remind me of myself.

Overall, His traits are universal yet limited for an autistic audience simultaneously.  I do like it when they delve into Shawn’s character and how he lives, instead of just being in his workplace. The neurotypical characters of the show are strong. Even the minor side characters (patients) who make comments over Shawn’s “condition”. Some sceptical and negative, some positive (mostly by kids). There’s also a special guest one episode where one of the patients is actually autistic and likes to harmfully stim himself by punching himself. I won’t spoil but the contrast with him and Shawn is a good example on how different each autistic person can be. This is why I prefer to see autistic people as a “case by case” basis.

The problems with this show is that can be interpreted as “inspiration porn”. The lead is also a male character so once again, female autistics are not promoted. The savant trait is used once again, so autistics are more of a superpower rather than a person. Others take issue that the lead actor isn’t actually autistic. I can understand why, but the actor who plays Shaun (Freddie Highmore) actually does a good job and has clearly done some research. Shaun has a personality but I feel that it’s still bare bones and that the portrayal seems like he’s more of a “walking diagnosis” rather than a person. I hope they progress his character more in Season 2.

Overall, I’ve enjoyed the series, and at times, I can relate to Shaun personally. I’d give this show a go, but expect some tropes that have been used before in other TV shows. This show is one of the better examples with autistic representation, but it still needs improvements. Still, baby steps!

What does everyone think of this show? If you have seen it. Feel free to comment below!

-Oni

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3 thoughts on “Autistic Representation in the media – The Good Doctor.

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  1. I’ve never seen it, but I have to say that the entirely unrealistic “superpower” you described would turn me off completely if I had a tv. Not only is the idea of autistic superpowers becoming a dangerous and unrealistic stereotype, there is no way that a doctor would be able to diagnose a condition by visualizing internal anatomy. The resort to sheer fantasy and the promotion of one more stereotype does nothing to promote understanding of autism.

    Liked by 1 person

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