There's been lots of hoopla over the new TV show, "The Good Doctor" which uses the cliched trope of autistics as supermen. Apparently, in the good doctor's case, M.D. should stand for Magical Deity. Though I watched all eight episodes of "Atypical" I decided to take a pass on "The Good Doctor" as I find the premise of autistics as supermen offensive, was bored and unable to follow the plotline in "The Accountant", and felt the premise of the show was also not compelling. Therefore, I suppose I can't completely comment on the show without having seen it, so I'll end my comments about the actual show here.
But one of the interesting questions that has come up due to the publicity the show has received is whether or not an autistic could actually be a competent physician in real life.
In John Elder Robison's book, Switched On, he states that one of the other Asperger's research subjects of the Harvard TMS group is an orthopedic surgeon.
Neurodiversity activist Sara Luterman, writing for NOS magazine, claims there are lots of autistic physicians and medical students. I did not check out her link, so I can't really comment on how valid this claim is.
In a Scientific American Blog an author who I think may be savantism expert Darold Treffert (but I'm not sure) stated that it's plausible that an autistic savant could be a gifted surgeon.
But it's an interesting question. Even if an autistic is so mildly on the spectrum or can overcome his/her disabilities to such an extent they could get an astronomical GPA in college, get into medical school, have the ability to work with patients during their third and fourth year of medical school, would they be able to perform the functions of a physician effectively?
The reason that it's such an interesting question is that there is one known case of this I've written about previously where the answer appears to be no This is the case of a physician alleging to have Asperger's syndrome named Martin Jakubowski who began a primary care physician residency in a hospital in Ohio. Though he scored high on his medical knowledge examination, he scored poorly on the emotional intelligence exam. Supervisors noted his weak interpersonal skills and began to question his ability as a physician. He had difficulty with instructions to patients, interacting with other physicians and speaking on the phone when doing his job. Because of all these problems, the autistic physician was fired.
He attempted to appeal his firing, claiming that his disability should be accommodated because of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Jakubowski lost his case in Federal court because the court agreed with the hospital that Jakubowski's impairment prevented him from being able to perform the job with or without reasonable accommodations. The "good doctor's" request for the accommodation of "understanding and awareness" was not deemed reasonable. He also asked that a doctor be assigned to him to monitor his activities. The court agreed the hospital had the legal position this was not a reasonable accommodation as it would cost the hospital too much money and time to do this.
Keeping patients safe is certainly a requisite, so it is certainly reasonable not to allow an autistic physician to continue in their residency if their disability prevents them from being effective in their job.
Very few people who have watched and commented on "the good doctor" will ever be aware of who Martin Jakubowski is and the irony that life didn't imitate art in at least one instance.