Saturday, August 12, 2017

Atypical: A typical Hollywood presentation of autism

Right before atypical came out on netflix, I thought I’d watch it and write a blog post about it.  A hot commodity in the autism blogosphere and cyberspace, I knew it was bound to generate some controversy.  Those who have read my blog for the past nine years know I seem to thrive on controversy, or at least jump into the forefront of it, either intentionally or unintentionally.  However, I got sidetracked by the shock of watching the first few moments of the opening first scene of the first episode, noting Sam the protagonist doing a behavior called “twiddling” a form of self-stimulation similar to the identically named activity I do that I’ve written about from time to time.  His therapist next asked him if he wanted to donate his brain of science, mirroring the NPR show “morning edition” which I appeared on,  discussing my donating my own brain to science, in which I discussed my twiddling in words close to identical to what Sam said.  It seems improbable that this is a coincidence, but I suppose there’s a middling to fair chance Robia Rashid listened to my NPR interview while doing research for her show. 

Now that I’m over my initial shock, I’ve decided to do what I’d originally planned to do and give my $.02 worth take.  I suspected that the irascible ND’s would take umbrage to this show, and I was not disappointed.  This show is bound to generate some controversy in the next few days. 

There are some things to like about the show.  As I wrote in my previous post, celibacy is a problem for many autistic people that gets very little play in the media or in literature and other entertainment mediums.  I’m glad that the show takes up this theme, but there’s a downside, but more about that later.  Amy Okuda, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Brigette Lundy-Paine are attractive actresses who add some eye candy.  (At my age, 55-year-old Jason Leigh is attractive, though possibly not to younger viewers).  The show has a certain intensity and conflicts between the various characters that adds some intrigue.  Also, each episode has an old Sidney Sheldon style “cliffhanger” ending that may compel at least some viewers to watch more.  The end of the eighth and final season episode is particularly intriguing in this regard, but I won’t spoil it for anyone.  It appears Rashid planned to make more episodes and hook her viewers further.  Lundy-Paine’s character is fleshed out and provides some intrigue to the show.  The episodes do show some (though not much) of the angst of living with autism.   

However,  the pros stop there and are inundated by the plethora of cons.  I was prepared to possibly refute some of the hostile remarks about the show the ND hatemongers would inevitably make.  However, I found myself nodding in agreement with their take on Sam Gardner as a sort of cardboard one-dimensional character who represents a conglomerate of autistic symptoms, rather than a believable autistic person.  He wears headphones to eliminate sensory noise, despite being mildly autistic enough to work part-time, go to a mainstream school and get A’s.  This is much more common in lower-functioning kids such as Judith Ursitti’s son than in someone with mild autism.  It shows him on a job not having any problems with co-workers or job performance, particularly intriguing when he’s working in a store and it involves customer interaction.  He also has a ‘typical’ friend who is Pakistani and probably an alter-ego of Rashid herself.  He develops a crush on  his therapist, a 26-year-old clinical psychologist.  Someone that young already having a ph.d., finishing their internship, and being an adjunct professor seems over-the-top. 

The protagonist’s mother appears to be intentionally presented as one of the most unlikable characters you could imagine.  She is overprotective of her son, invades her children’s privacy and commits adultery and then blames her boyfriend for having an affair with a married woman.  Why the show’s creators would not want to make the mother a sympathetic character seems baffling.  Other episodes seem way over the top, including his nearly hooking up with a girl he scares off initially, being insensitive to other girls and people and then being easily forgiven.  One of the most over-the-top things was a sensory dance where the entire school accommodates the protagonist by having a silent dance without a band where the students can listen to music on optional head phones while they dance. 

While the show is billed as the protagonist having women problems, there seems to be a bait and switch tactic where he is actually successful with at least one girl who seems to have some behavioral quirks which might place her on the spectrum, but this is not mentioned explicitly. 

There is no one telling him he should find an autistic girlfriend which happens to us so typically.  Perhaps I should excuse Robia Rashid’s ignorance about the problems that celibacy presents for many autistic males, but it seems a writer should be more aware of a subject they choose to tackle. 

In essence, there is not much compelling about “atypical” and as is typical (ironic use of the word) as it presents a very warped and optimistic view of autism that does not ring true or jibe with real life, seemingly par for the course of Hollywood depictions.   

I was not sure I would watch all eight episodes but I ended up doing so, compelled mostly by the controversy and apparent borrowing from my life in the first scene. This show seems to be getting so much press and traction, I suspect it may be one of Netflix’s golden eggs and there will probably be more episodes but I don’t think I will be watching them and I don’t recommend to my readers that they do so either.

20 comments:

Seeing Clearly Media said...

I am opposing that show, It is a big fail (an abomination) on many fronts.

First of all, It is misleading, it promotes autism acceptance and is also over sexualized.

It makes me want to puke.

PonderingMind said...

Jonathan, it's Adam!

I watched every episode of Atypical and it appears there's a good chance the twiddling behavior and offer from the therapist to donate his brain was based off you. Why would these two things be added to the story- not just one? It only increases the probability it's true.

However I'd have to say the most likely answer is that it's just a coincidence. Autism research is already being done by studying autistic brains
and you can't possibly be the only one who twiddles. The producer would have contacted you. It's not like anyone from ND made the movie and wrote its script. Only someone from ND would do that.

Besides the dating and relationship theme being true to an extent with individuals on the spectrum, I found it interesting to note that the protagonist was the older child. Although my brother never treated me the same way his sister, Paige, did, the feelings of resentment and jealousy she has about her autistic brother were revealed in one of the episodes like my brother expressed when he was only in first grade. While my brother did his best to be helpful, I always felt uncomfortable sharing my opinions or speaking up in certain situations for fear he really knew what he was talking about and my parents taking his side. Like Sam, the protagonist, he'd never speak up or acknowledge he knew what he was doing, or there wasn't a need to help him out with stuff (i.e.- what to add on his dating profile online). I mean she told him to write he likes sports, but plenty of girls hate them, especially when guys get all hopped up on all the games and men who drink beer and watch football every Sunday. Maybe there is this one girl who will care and love Sam for who he is, but he didn't stand up for himself by expressing this to Paige. I'm not saying my brother and I got into the same situations, but due to my Mixed Receptive-Expressive Language Disorder, he'd correct me whenever I'd talk about what happened in the matches on this show that lasted for two short seasons when I didn't think I was making any mistakes. When I'd re-watch an episode I recorded and told him, "See, I told you that's what happened," he'd tell me that's not what I said, or I could tell him what happened and be right while he was wrong. Then there were scenes where Paige would tease him and say things to him like, "Nobody cares!" in response to the statistics he mentioned about girls in his high school compared to other schools with their name starting with an N. Well in my case, certain responses or remarks made by my brother that he made at a young age and even as he got older when I'm sure he wasn't trying to be rude and just didn't understand the complete concept of my problems would offend me.

PonderingMind said...

One thing you need to keep in mind, especially a wide variety of people on the autism spectrum, is that the show cannot cover all the problems a specific person has. Now I understand some people want others to be educated about their real-life condition(s) to reduce ignorance in society, but here's the problem: Do I want a show or movie about someone who walks, talks and acts exactly like me, only for others to complain that it doesn't represent them? Hell no! Others also need to realize if they had their own characters added on, they would likely be offended and complain they were being "mocked" for the way they process information and behave in everyday life. That's why people don't know everything about people's disabilities and mental illnesses. I have a friend who happens to be on the spectrum and he's schizophrenic. He doesn't hear voices and experience hallucinations. He basically gets confused due to his mind being disorganized and reacts to things slowly from time-to-time depending on his medication and other factors as he makes regularly scheduled visits with his therapist. Would putting him on the show satisfy anyone else with schizophrenia? Why would he be obsessed with wanting to have a TV or movie character exactly like himself? He doesn't worry what society thinks about him.

Finally if you have good generalization skills, you should be able to see how the behaviors and things he says and believes in relate to you. Anyone who complains that Sam is nothing like him/her may not be able to apply how the character really has a lot of the same problems such as taking things literally and not knowing certain rules.

jonathan said...

hey Adam, good to hear from you, hope you've been well all this time. Did you listen to the NPR show I was on that I provided as a link to in the post, done aired four and half years before atypical? You might want to listen to it If you do, you'll notice that the wording that I used and Sam's dialogue in atypical are nearly identical, so it's highly improbable it's a coincidence, but you can believe what you want. There is no reason Rabia Rasheed or the producers would have contacted me just because they used something from my life as part of their show. My radio interview is probably not a piece of intellectual property that is subject to copyright laws. I really did not care much for the show myself, felt the episodes were over the top and did not ring true. but interesting you felt it related to your life a bit.

PonderingMind said...

I'm good. Doing well now that I'm in a new therapy program known as DIR (developmental therapy for adults, floortime for kids).

My bad, when I read this following paragraph earlier:

"His therapist next asked him if he wanted to donate his brain of science, mirroring the NPR show “morning edition” which I appeared on, discussing my donating my own brain to science, in which I discussed my twiddling in words close to identical to what Sam said. It seems improbable that this is a coincidence, but I suppose there’s a middling to fair chance Robia Rashid listened to my NPR interview while doing research for her show."

As soon as I read the show mirrored what you said in the NPR interview, I interpreted to read that it wasn't likely because your next sentence stated, "It seems improbable that this is a coincidence [...]" I processed it like you were saying it likely wasn't something they borrowed, but there's a middling to fair chance Robia Rashid listened to your NPR interview while doing research for her show. I mean you used a turnaround word (but) and it was a lot to read. You really write well! You always have.

Based from what you're telling me, I would attempt to get a hold of Robia Rashid and ask. After all, Mozart and the Whale had a character based off you, and that wasn't considered breaking the copyright law, so there's a good chance it was all borrowed from you, even the idea of Sam wanting a girlfriend. So there you go. These facts increase the chances!

I agree with you that the episodes went over the top. Perhaps it symbolizes some of the dysfunction families of individuals on the spectrum have due to stress (i.e.- Sam's mother having an affair)?

You want to know something else I can relate to since I replayed part of the beginning of the first episode last night? When Sam's sister, Paige, says he's easy to boss around after he responds "okay" to his mother telling him he's not going to donate his brain when he clearly expressed to his therapist that he wanted to. Ok, so maybe he really had made up his mind when he explained to Paige that he doesn't care what happens, but things like that really have happened to me. It's true that my mom has tended to dominate me throughout my life. My brother would even make remarks like, "yeah right," when it turns out it's because he's always been able to see where my problems are and feels bad for me, though some of it he didn't understand completely until he got older. My slow processing in conversations and zoning in and out is where I can end up in this sort of situation.

jonathan said...

Yeah, you've seen my twiddling, and you saw how similar Sam's thing was to mine and if you listen to the NPR show I was on, you will hear him using dialogue nearly identical to mine, so it can't really be a coincidence, though I won't get any fame out of it. Very few people will know they borrowed the very first scene of the very first episode of my life. But I guess I should get over it and not be so superficial about wanting fame and publicity. I understand you have a disability that makes it difficult for you to process things. I hope your therapy program helps. Though I think you're doing better than most autistics, including me since I retired at 51. You're working and making a semi-decent living. That's quite an accomplishment compared to what most autistics can do. You can also drive and you're pretty much independent. You're still young enough where it could get even better and I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors and maybe we'll have a phone chat again someday.

jonathan said...

*of my life* should read from my life

PonderingMind said...

Whoops! Sam's sister is Casey. Paige is his girlfriend. I couldn't even get the name right.

Yeah, I'm making a semi-decent living only because Best Buddies found me the job. I work in the warehouse with my other co-workers who do most of the work. I still live with my parents and don't make enough money yet to live on my own.

All my life I've looked semi-decent on paper, but deep down I struggle.

jonathan said...

Yes, you definitely have a disability that has impaired your life and made things difficult compared to non-handicapped people. I meant compared to most autistic people, including me, you've been fairly successful, but that's all relative. I realize compared to a non-handicapped achiever you have not done as well, but sometimes we have to relish what achievements we've made, as I do with the fact I was able to work a fair amount until I turned 51, etc.

Seeing Clearly Media said...

Hello Jonathan, my deepest gratitude to your hard work and effort in sounding the alarm on the hypocrisy nonsense of the "neurodiversity" movement a.k.a cult.

I apologize for past low quality comments I have made on your page in the past, I will try to avoid doing that from now on.

If you consent I plan on working with you to bring one message and that is that disability is neither a good thing or a beautiful thing that we are blessed to have overall.

Thank you for your hard work and your welcoming platform

---- Seeing Clearly (For Truth)

PonderingMind said...

Yeah, you're right, but I have a feeling I'll advance with the therapy I'm in, and ONLY because of it. If I ever have a girlfriend and even get married, it'll only be because of the DIR, which is kind of pathetic. In a way, being single is good so I'll have all the time I need to enjoy myself outside of work. I'm probably better off that way. I'm not good with kids so I wouldn't want children. It's all too much of a responsibility. I didn't even have a normal childhood so I need the rest of my life to make up for it, and I need time to make friends and hang out with them on the weekends. How am I supposed to be committed to a relationship when the majority of my time is spent at work? It's not like when we were kids and had time during and outside of school to spend time together. Now I'm an adult trying to get on with my life and wanting to improve it, but single women in their 30's are pretty much getting their careers started and just want casual dating because they don't want to be alone, and you have to deal with being flexible and engaging in small talk. I want someone who's obsessed over me and I'm just as obsessed about her as she is, and for us to be twins where we know what we're thinking and want to partake in the same activities everywhere we go. Not someone like Stephen Shore's wife who's pretty much at home while he's out working and traveling. To me, that's like having a female friend who's sharing a house with you. Now obviously that's Steve and his wife's business, especially since they met while in college, but I want someone who I don't need space from who doesn't need space from me. Anyone on the spectrum who needs space from his/her spouse doesn't really love him/her. I mean the way Sam from Atypical had feelings for his therapist, Julia, is the way any other autistic should love his/her spouse. That's what many autistics are naive about when it comes to finding a boyfriend/girlfriend.

Actually I've managed to live a decent life all thanks to having had speech therapy just before I was two years old. I made it through school and college due to the IEPs and accommodations I had. Everything I've been able to coast through was due to help, and many autistics act like we're all special and don't need help when we most certainly do.

PonderingMind said...

Sam is also pretty lazy. He does nothing all day outside of school and working part-time. I can relate to that. At least he appears to be a better student than I was and isn't in special ed.

PonderingMind said...

So aside from obsessing over penguins and Antarctica which there isn't much to know about in the first place, he has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do and talk about, and that's the truth and bottom line when it comes to certain individuals on the spectrum!

Sam really wants a girlfriend, but how's he going to come up with things to say when he's pretty much ignorant about everything else and can't even have a conversation and do small talk? He says he finds it hard to understand people around school, but it's really more than just that one environment; he can't even relate to his sister and find things to partake and engage in with any of his family members. Yeah, he can talk to his family and share his feelings toward his parents, and they are there to provide for him (emotionally and physically), but he can't talk to his dad about sports.

In my case, I should get into more sports besides football and weight lifting, but my autism makes it hard for me to do; although to be fair, I never got cable at my house until 2008 once I was done with college, so it would have been impossible for me to watch basketball, hockey and baseball.

Meanwhile, Sam has to navigate through life and find out things from others, who already have the innate ability to know about those things, such as wearing different clothes every day, just as born visually impaired people who need help with everyday tasks get caught not washing their hands thoroughly.

It's these reasons as to why speech therapy for pragmatics and social-communication skills is worthless, and DIR is the way to go. You only end up being a robot programmed to learn things from the speech therapist just to give the impression you're contributing and fitting in our society when you're not getting the opportunity to show who you are inside, and the therapists don't understand where someone like myself is coming from when attempting to correct the way I process and communicate my thoughts. My DIR therapist does. Many of us could use DIR but we all can't afford it unless one finds a therapist who's willing to charge less and/or take health insurance. Otherwise you'll never get anywhere in life unless you're extremely high functioning, aren't significantly impaired, or you're content with yourself and managing your life just fine regardless of functioning level.

Anonymous said...

"Yeah, you're right, but I have a feeling I'll advance with the therapy I'm in, and ONLY because of it. If I ever have a girlfriend and even get married, it'll only be because of the DIR, which is kind of pathetic."

It could be even more pathetic. Some people without social skills get married by having matchmakers guilt-trip other people into marrying them (and into having sex with them because sex within marriage is still sex). For example, "son, I don't care if she bores you, she has a graduate degree so you should marry her" or ""granddaughter, I don't care if my other son's son scares you, a match between cousins is a match made in heaven so you should marry him".

You're not doing that in the first place - not pressuring someone to cave in to sex with you even though she doesn't want to have sex with you. This is principled, not pathetic, and should be respected!

Anonymous said...

BTW, your blogroll includes http://www.hatingautism.blogspot.com/ but have you read it lately? The most recent bunch of posts are all ranting about people whom the blogger thinks deserve to be killed. Is this going to be like that thing at Wrongplanet where someone ranted and then killed someone?

jonathan said...

@ anonymous 9:41 no, I haven't read it lately. Though I have never defended a lot of the nasty behavior of the blog's author, the two situations are very different. To the best of my knowledge, he has never killed anyone or even actually threatened to kill someone, even though some neurodiversity proponents fabricated the lie that he had threatened someone with death. On Wrongplanet, William Freund actually publicly threatened to harm people and he ended up carrying out that threat and killed two people. Another individual Hans Petersen sp? who frequently posted on wrongplanet.net murdered his dermatologist. Someone else on wrongplanet actually threatened to carry out a mass shooting.

If you can give me any examples of where the author of the hating autism blog either killed someone or threatened to kill someone I'd be interested in seeing that. But in the meantime, I'd state the two situations are very different.

Seeing Clearly Media said...

Hello just wondering when are you going to post again

jonathan said...

When I have something worth writing and I feel the inclination to write it.

Seeing Clearly Media said...

Need help comment up with topics to write about? Talk about transablism or disability pride of the DSM and how it is not reliable or about the connections the environment has on the autism epidemic by us polluting it or something around that. Hate to see you age old it feels like you post once every 4 months when there is literally enough out there to post every day or every other day. You can have me or others willingly to write an article on autism and review it to see if you agree with it and post it on your blog without having to give me any credit if you wish it that way. Please do something this is the way we win. Autism acceptance movement continues to be in power spreading its cancerous nonsense.

jonathan said...

I don't need any help blogging or choosing topics, thanks. I can write my own blogs. I still blog, but not as much as I used to. You might consider checking out the archives of autism's gadfly to look at thinks I used to say when I was a more prolific blogger. Trying to do lots of other things and my disability makes it hard for me to concentrate and sustain an activity for a while.

If you feel so strongly about a lot of these issues, I suggest you start your own blog and write some of these posts yourself without having to depend on others. It's very easy to start a blog and does not cost anything, though you will be competing with many others.