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05/10/2019 20:56:50 •••

Painfully Typical

I remember a specific scene. The (autistic) main character's parents go to a support group for parents of autistic people.The father, not a usual member of the group, makes a comment, and the group facilitator interrupts to tell him to use person-first language. Really simple, almost nit-picky stuff. Notably, though, the facilitator has it wrong. It's pretty easy to find out that a whole lot of autistic people prefer identity first language. But this character, presented as educated, instead uses the language that neurotypical parents prefer. And the show never shows how she's wrong. It's a pretty good metaphor for Atypical. It's not for us, and it couldn't be bothered to do the research on our voices.

Sam's voice-overs do give us insight into his head, and I'll give some credit for that. But he's still largely the joke of the show. We laugh at him, not with him. And it happens a lot, more to Sam than with any other character. The other characters also make jokes. Sam doesn't. He's funny because he's weird, not because he's witty, the show says.

For a show that's supposed to be all about autism and has such a large parent support group, it's strange that we only see two autistic people. So much could be corrected if the show dared to give us more than one view of what autism is. It doesn't. Those two characters? Male and nerdy, the same basic type that's shown everywhere. We don't see female. We don't see emotionally aware. We don't see any interests you wouldn't expect. "Anger issues" are mentioned, but we don't see angry. Or, at least, we don't see justified anger. Being autistic, and being discriminated against and bullied don't seem to bother them, or at least, there's no anger at the people doing it.

Which brings us back to the support group. Sam's autism makes life hard— but it's mainly shown to be hard on the people around him. Elsa, the mother, needs a whole support group, and an affair, just to deal with Sam. Sam himself? He gets a therapist, but not peers in his condition and community, like his mother gets. The other characters blame their pain and poor decisions on Sam's autism. Sure, it's not his fault, but it hurts them. That's a toxic attitude. Shouldn't the person actually diagnosed autistic be the one most affected by autism? This show, like so many depictions, says no, it's the mom. In 2017, in the USA alone, at least 8 autistic children were murdered by their parents for the crimes of being autistic. Commenters sympathize with the murderers. So I think I can say that the myth that autistic people are burdens has a body count. It's also linked with abusive therapies. A lot of Atypical actively promotes the burden myth, and even when they try to dispel it, the attempts aren't lasting or meaningful. And that's just so typical.

Best show out there? Maybe. But that just says we live in a sad, sad world.

05/10/2019 00:00:00

I thought the person-first mom was shown as being in the wrong (or at least not being able to see the forest for the trees), and IIRC was a fairly unsympathetic character anyway.


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