Promotional image for "The Good Doctor" featuring Freddie Highmore

ABC Adds Show About a Doctor With Autism 'The Good Doctor' to Fall Primetime Line-Up

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ABC’s new show, “The Good Doctor,” set to premiere this fall, tells the story of Shaun Murphy, a young doctor on the autism spectrum, who has savant syndrome.

The show is based on a South Korean show of the same name and is described on IMDB as:

A young surgeon with Savant syndrome is recruited into the pediatric surgical unit of a prestigious hospital. The question will arise: can a person who doesn’t have the ability to relate to people actually save their lives?

Freddie Highmore plays Murphy, the show’s lead character. So far it does not appear as though any of the cast members are on the autism spectrum. The Mighty reached out to ABC to see if people from the autism community were consulted in making the show and will update when we hear back. 

Initial reactions to the show, so far, are mixed. While some people are thrilled that autism is getting more recognition, others say the show promotes dangerous stereotypes about people on the spectrum.

“I’m thrilled to know that there’s finally a character on television who functions like I do. It means the world to be seeing media presence take note of those of us with perceived impediments that actually strengthen and aid in our development,” one commenter wrote on the show’s Facebook page. “I hold three licenses in the Medical field and am seeking my Bachelor’s in Science for Emergency Medicine. Being diagnosed with Autism or Asperger’s isn’t a death sentence. It’s a blessing.”

This is not ABC’s first disability-oriented show. Last year, ABC introduced “Speechless,” a 30-minute comedy about a family with a teenage son who has cerebral palsy. The show stars Micah Fowler, an actor with cerebral palsy, as the main character. On May 12, it was announced “Speechless” will return for a second season.

“The Good Doctor” premieres this fall, Mondays at 10 p.m. ET on ABC.

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How an Adult Diagnosis of Autism Helped Me Find Myself

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As a child, I was never invited to birthday parties. I wasn’t even aware this was a “thing” until I had children of my own. I was the child who felt somehow different, who found social situations confusing and who would stim and make strange noises. The signs were there but were dismissed by family as something I would grow out of and by teachers as eccentricities. I was of a generation where autism was still in the early days of being fully understood and all but the most obvious of cases were overlooked or, in some cases, misdiagnosed. I managed to get through childhood and early adulthood with a mixture of copying my peers and the fact that I was completely unaware that not everybody experienced the world in the way I do.

By chance, I found myself reading about autism in my early 40s and quickly realized that many of the signs applied to me, both as a child and now. Not only the main signs of autism but also many of the common co-morbid conditions. Throughout my life I’d baffled doctors with my constant stomach problems and severe vertigo and light sensitivity. I’d had decades of tests, medications and even psychiatric counseling but nothing seemed to help and nobody could find a root cause. How obvious it now seemed, researching autism and finding all the pieces suddenly fitting together.

After a couple of years of researching autism on a daily basis, I finally decided to visit my GP. My doctor looked through my medical history in light of my findings and agreed that it warranted investigation, and so I was placed on a waiting list for assessment. Eventually, after a series of appointments and tests with both myself and a family member, a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder was confirmed. I had just turned 45, and it really feels that it was then that my life truly began. The sense of relief was enormous. A huge weight was lifted off my shoulders, and I really had a sense of who I was. For the first time in my life, I could be “me.”

I still mask (it’s a hard habit to get out of when you’ve been doing it for so long) but I no longer needed to hide who I am. And you wouldn’t believe just how exhausting masking actually is. Everything finally made sense, and I was slowly able to forgive myself for a lifetime of my own perceived failings. Yes, I had been happily married for many years with happy, successful children, but I had always struggled with everyday life when others didn’t seem to. Social situations, sensory differences and many other challenges were all something I’d just lived with without explanation. Now I knew I am autistic.

For me this revelation was huge and certainly nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed about. I’ve discovered many times that autism only seems to be seen as this terrible condition that can be a devastating diagnosis by some people. For myself, as an autistic person, it is no such thing. It is rather the lack of understanding from others that is the real cause of problems. I am not neurotypical and so I see, feel, hear and experience everything differently in a world that is not built for me. However, armed with my diagnosis and this knowledge, I can accept and understand these differences.

Since my diagnosis, the world has opened up for me. I am now doing things I wouldn’t have even considered attempting before I was diagnosed. I know my limitations, but I also now know my strengths. Would I rather I’d been diagnosed as a child? Of course. I spent a lot of time wondering what my life would have been like with that knowledge. However, I will be forever grateful for my diagnosis, no matter how late in life it came. I finally know who I am. Autism is part and parcel of who I am. I am autistic, but I wouldn’t change that even if it were possible.

That’s not to say I don’t struggle. I do on a daily basis. Sensory differences are especially a big problem for me and also the anxiety and panic attacks, more common amongst the autistic population, are something I have to live with daily. I don’t find social situations any less confusing or overwhelming than I did before my diagnosis, but now I have an explanation. There’s a big difference between an explanation and an excuse. Whereas before I would make excuses to avoid situations I couldn’t cope with, now I have and can offer an explanation. But one of the biggest challenges I now face is the lack of understanding and acceptance from others, now that I’m open about being autistic. On the whole people are keen to learn and understand, but there is a lot of work still to be done. I now give talks around the country about my experiences, and the rewards and the sense of fulfillment are enormous. Slowly people are beginning to listen to autistic adults and gaining insights that can’t be found elsewhere. This can only be a step in the right direction.

Seeking diagnosis as an adult will always be a personal decision, but speaking for myself, it was all positive. You will often read about adults realizing they are autistic after their children receive a diagnosis, but for me, the opposite happened. It was due to my own diagnosis and realization that many of what I thought were my own characteristics and traits were actually indicators, that I recognized the signs in one of our daughters. As girls tend to present a lot differently to boys, without my diagnosis and the knowledge I had gained we probably would not have picked up on any of the clues that were there.

Were there any disadvantages to my diagnosis? For balance I’d like to say yes, but in reality, in my case, not many. There were the annoying and ill-informed comments that many adults face such as “You don’t look autistic” or “I’d never have known.” Well-intentioned remarks perhaps, but they still appear to the one on the receiving end as belittling your struggles and differences. Or “you’re nothing like my autistic child.” Of course I’m not, I’m a middle-aged man! But I may well have been like your child when I was a child myself but again, maybe not. We’re as different from each other as everybody else is and we’ll experience things just as differently. The key is to ask us. I’m by no means the only autistic adult talking about it. There are loads of us and the people who take the time to listen (and many are) are learning so much more and gaining insights that they simply couldn’t get otherwise. There is no “epidemic of autism.” Knowledge has increased, and as a result so has diagnosis. We’ve always been here, but once upon a time some of us were locked away in institutions. Fortunately now we’re being given a voice. We want to help you better understand not only us but your children, your friends and those with voices but who aren’t being listened to. I only wish that growing up there had not only been more knowledge but also more autistic adults being given the opportunity to be heard. Long may it continue.

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What I'd Like Educators to Know About Teaching Students on the Autism Spectrum

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As a therapist and a person on the autism spectrum, I feel I’ve learned a lot about what works (and what doesn’t work) with individuals who have autism spectrum disorder (ASD), both in the classroom and in one-on-one educational settings.

As a child, my teachers were often frustrated by my off-task behaviors. I was highly distractible, and I wanted to talk about anything and everything besides the lesson. I suppose they may have thought that because I’m on the spectrum, I couldn’t recognize outward expressions of frustration, or maybe they didn’t think I cared? Either way, I noticed. I was well aware of every eye roll, sigh and groan they made in response to me. It made me believe that they thought I couldn’t learn, and it affected my already limited efforts during work times.

As an adult, I see how harmful and unnecessary that is. Can teaching be frustrating? It absolutely can be, regardless of who your students are! However, if an educator or caretaker is feeling particularly frustrated, it is advised that they step away to take a few deep breaths, and then return once they’ve recollected themselves. If the frustration continues, they may want to rethink how they’re going about the lesson or situation. Remember that if you’re frustrated, your student most likely might be feeling that way as well.

Another thing I see often is a lack of positive reinforcement for appropriate behaviors. Too often children are told, “Stop that” or “Calm down!” We need to make sure they know what they’re doing right! Even on a tough day, you can always find something to praise a child for. Even if it just, “I like the way you’re sitting right now,” or “Thanks for walking with me, you’re doing great!”

I think that frequent praise or other forms of reinforcement would’ve not only improved my work ethic, but my self-esteem as well!

Lastly, educators need to understand that sitting at a table all day isn’t what’s best for all children. Many children need to move to remember certain concepts. Table time is something required of most children, however, in many cases, it can be best to keep it fast-paced and short. This means making sure you’re keeping your student engaged and giving breaks frequently. Breaks can improve focus, even if they only last two minutes.

As a therapist, I provide behavior-specific praise at least 15 times an hour. This is both during break time and work time! I keep work times short and as fun as possible.

If you’re an educator, or a caretaker, remember to keep your frustrations with students’ behavior to yourself. They’re watching you more than you may think. Let them know how awesome they are, and what specifically they’re doing right! I believe this is one of the best ways to ensure those positive behaviors continue.

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Why I Find Functioning Labels Problematic as Someone on the Spectrum

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Like many other autistic people, I grew up without knowing I am autistic. When I tell people I am, the reactions are always the same:

“You actually have Asperger’s, right?”

“But you’re definitely high-functioning.”

Which is not right.

I am an autistic psychology student. I was diagnosed at 18, by coincidence (I’m 20 now). And as such I know the term “Asperger’s” has already been erased from the diagnostic manuals (DSM-V and ICD-10) and professionals don’t use “high- or low-functioning” most of the time.

When I got into therapy, I went because of other things I was struggling with and even though I’ve known my entire life that I was different than everybody else, I would’ve never suspected this feeling to be real — meaning I never suspected to be autistic.

When I was younger, I was suspected to have AD(H)D. My parents, however, who realized I was what you may describe as a “gifted child,” refused to get me checked. I don’t know if it was because they didn’t want to acknowledge that even a “smart” child can be disabled or if it was just because they wanted to see me as “normal.” However, ignoring a problem doesn’t make said problem go away.

I was bullied for years, blatantly tortured even. The other kids wouldn’t stop calling me names, they would take my things and spread rumors about me until everyone treated me like I had some incurable disease you could catch if you so much as breathed the same air as I did.

I never understood why. I never understood what separated me from them. And no matter what I tried, no matter how much I changed myself, I could never get them to even accept me.

Looking back with the knowledge that I am autistic explained a lot to me. It explained why the other children treated me this way – because I talked too loud and too much without even knowing. I cannot stand silence around a person I do not know that well because it gives me anxiety – I don’t know what they are thinking and feeling if they don’t tell me. This alone always scared many people off, and it still does.

My diagnosis explained why every day is like a fight for me.

When I wake up, I put on a mask, a face for everyone else to see. I hold back many of the things important to me because I know other people don’t care or want to hear about them. I try to be polite; I try to reduce my honesty. I give my best to sit still in class, to keep silent and not talk to the person next to me. But most of all, I try to not give away how hard this is for me. How hard it is for me to not do all these “typically autistic” things, how much extra energy I have to put into sealing this side away and how much anxiety I have about being “found out.” Most of all, I fear people looking behind my mask and seeing who I really am only to cast me out once again because I’m “weird.”

I don’t talk openly about being autistic in the field I study and want to work in because of the many prejudices against autistic people. So each and every day, I try to push my autistic traits away in order to be taken seriously, to not be denied my ability to work as a mental health professional because of a disability I was born with without others even considering my individual abilities. I want others to judge me by who I am as a person and not the diagnosis.

In all the years of not knowing I am autistic, I learned to wear my mask perfectly. People notice something is “weird” about me — different, but not different enough to consider me autistic. Just different enough to consider me a person they would rather sometimes talk to than become friends with.

So when people tell me I must be “high-functional,” that I can’t be “that autistic,” because then I would’ve been diagnosed earlier or something else, they are dismissing all of my struggles.

They can’t judge how autistic I am or am not because they never see me how I really am; they just see what I show them. They don’t know that even the people around me always saw that I’m different but never knew a word for it and stopped me from finding out there is one. They judge me by the ability to act like one of them — an ability I only gained because I’ve been mistreated long enough for who I am.

Calling me “high-functioning” is nothing but judging me by my ability to act as if I’m not autistic, by my ability to pretend to be someone I’m not. Because if I would decide to put that mask aside, to only take one day off and be myself… they wouldn’t call me “high-functioning” anymore.

They would be surprised at how much I would avoid looking at their faces, how I wouldn’t initiate a conversation, how I wouldn’t hug them as a greeting. They would be terribly annoyed by my constant moving, constant talking and rambling.

The only thing that divides me from an autistic person who others may describe as “low-functioning” is that I wear this mask in front of others and shield them from seeing the immense price I have to pay for that. Because I am able to pass as “one of them” and because I am noticeably “smart.”

Calling me “high-functioning” is nothing but dismissing my struggles, dismissing the extreme effort I put into the smallest things to get as far as I got now. And calling others “low-functioning” is nothing but shaming them for being as autistic as they are, for not being able to or not deciding to put on the mask that I force on myself.

To be completely honest, I sometimes envy them for their bravery to be themselves. To be openly and proudly autistic. And I wish I were brave enough like them, too.

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Why I Believe My Autism Wasn't 'Picked Up' Earlier

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Usually, when you hear of someone being diagnosed with autism, it’s a young child. I was not diagnosed until just three years ago, when I was 31 years old.

“Why was it not picked up earlier?” you may ask. Well, I think one of the main factors for me is I have always been very social. The trouble with autism stereotypes is that they are just that: stereotypes. There’s this notion that all autistics are not social beings and won’t look people in the eye. That couldn’t be further from the truth in my case!

Since I was little, I’ve known no stranger. I would go up to anyone and strike up a conversation. Eye contact has never been an issue for me. Yet, I’m still autistic. How is this? The answer lies in the way I communicate. For example, most kids of 9 wouldn’t go around asking everyone their shoe size. While I love to chat, I often don’t pick up on nuances. Jokes fly over my head in most cases. Hidden agendas? Forget it. I can’t spot a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

The next time you find yourself meeting someone seemingly socially proficient whom you find out is autistic, don’t be surprised! We come in all types and forms. While some of us are shy, others are not. After all, when you’ve met one autistic, you’ve met one autistic!

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8 Mistakes I Made as a Mom of an Autistic Child

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Before my son’s autism diagnosis, I had never even heard about the condition. No one in my family was familiar with it, and I knew of nobody who had this diagnosis either. So I started with a blank slate, with absolutely no idea what to do, how to deal with the challenges, who to reach out to or where to start. I had no clue if what I was doing was right or wrong. Just as my successes were my own, so were my failures. We, as a family, learned along the way as we experimented with different things. Over the years we’ve perfected a few things, or so we think, and there are some we are still trying to figure out. Here is a list of my top eight mistakes:

1. Trying to hide his diagnosis

For a few years after my son’s diagnosis, I would avoid discussing his condition to anyone, family or friends. Every time someone asked about his delays, I would evade that discussion or just give a vague answer. It took me three years to say my son is on the autism spectrum. It took another few years for my husband and my family to accept this. What caused this turnaround? It was the realization that talking about it is the best way to increase awareness and encourage acceptance. If I won’t discuss my son’s autism, how can I expect others to accept him? If I have a problem talking about it in the open, people may talk in hushed tones behind my back. I’m proud of my son, not in spite of his challenges but because of them. My change in attitude led to others looking at him in a positive light too. As I educated people about autism and the challenges that my son faces every day, they began appreciating him more and avoiding him less. This, to me, was the first and the most significant step in our journey with autism. With us embracing our son’s autism, the journey became easier. I know there will still be people out there who would not understand our journey, but then not everyone is supposed to.

2. Insisting on age appropriateness:

The phrases “40 is the new 20,” “age is just a number” and “young at heart” sound so good, but suddenly when it came to my son I was obsessed with making sure everything he did was “age appropriate.” I was not comfortable with the fact that he was 7 and still watching nursery rhymes so I kept pushing him to watch other stuff and try different things, but he would invariably walk away. We noticed when he was watching his rhymes, he was happier and more aware of his surroundings. It was then I realized it’s more important that he connect with something than try being someone he is not ready for. The day I stopped trying to impose social standards on him and met him where he was, I found we had more things to do and enjoy together. We were both happy when I accepted my child for what he is rather than what I wanted him to be.

3. Trying to “fix” him all the time

During the initial years of my son’s diagnosis, all my hubby and I did was research the internet for that magic potion that will “fix” his challenges. There never was one. It probably was us who needed fixing. Instead of enjoying his childhood and letting him be a kid that he was, we tried to pack his days with supplements, protocols, therapies, exercises and more protocols. He hardly had time for himself. We hardly had time for him. We were busy ensuring he was like every other kid out there. His uniqueness made us anxious. Eventually, as we came to terms with our reality and at peace with his diagnosis, we realized our son was not a work-in-progress. He was our joy. It’s OK to try and encourage him to reach his maximum potential, but it’s not OK to be obsessed about trying to make him someone he is not. We now have more time during the day for him. He loves going to waterparks and riding roller coasters. He enjoys the wind on his face and rolling down a hill… and we would have never known that had we spent all our time turning our little boy into a project that needed a repair.

4. Thinking he is not “smart enough”

Since my son could not talk, most of the time I assumed he did not know. One of the days while I was teaching him his alphabet and phonetics, I whimsically decided to go on beyond our usual A through E, and I was pleasantly surprised to discover he already knew much more than what I thought he did. There have been several instances after that have proven my smug notion of my son not being so smart was completely unfounded. I have come a long way from there. I’ve noticed flashes of his brilliance in so many things he does. I believe in his abilities much more, and I know his inability to express verbally does not equate with his cognitive skills or intelligence. My son has learned so much by just observing, listening and watching than I thought he was capable of. Every time he proves me wrong, my heart swells with pride a little more!

5. Assuming that all meltdowns are behaviors

Autism is commonly characterized by behavior challenges and so it’s not unusual for parents to believe that every time their autistic child has a meltdown, it has a behavior component to it. For a very long time I was that parent. More often than not when my son had a meltdown, I would insist it was a behavior and that we need to ignore it. That’s exactly what I did. Ignore him. I believe this to be one of my biggest mistakes. When he needed me to understand him, I ignored him. I thought by not paying attention to his behavior I would be able to discourage and eventually eliminate it. Where I went wrong was in believing all meltdowns are just bad behaviors. As I educated myself more I realized I need to be more attentive to my son’s cues. A majority of the time, there is a function to his behavior. It’s not to throw tantrums. It has a very specific reason for its occurrence. For instance, my son would have some phases during the year when his behaviors would increase. He would roll on the floor, and cry and bounce and be really irritable, grinding his teeth, banging his head. I had no clue initially until we realized his behavior peaked during allergy season. He was trying to tell us that his allergies made him extremely uncomfortable. He just didn’t have the words for it. Once we figured that out and took the necessary precautions, we saw a drastic fall in his meltdown. There are many similar examples where we were eventually able to identify the reason for his meltdown, and that really helped us help him. I believe it also helped build a level of trust between our son and us .

6. Thinking he is always in his own world

I learned to think my son is always “in his own world” wasn’t true. I was at a party where all the kids were taking turns performing and singing while my son was in a quiet corner stimming on his favorite toy. After all the kids were done singing we thought of letting our son give it a shot too. He watches a lot of nursery rhymes but we’ve not really heard him sing those unless we prompt and sing most of it while he fills in a few words. As I handed him the microphone, I did not expect much except some mumble. He floored me with not just singing (actually humming… but what matters is that he did it) the same rhyme a little girl had sung just before him (which means he was listening to everything going on in the room) but also after the huge round of applause, he got up, walked up to his audience and sang two more rhymes. It shattered my belief that he is always oblivious of the world around him. What might look like his indifference is not always what it actually is. He might not show it in the most obvious ways that he is observing and absorbing, but he certainly is. I learned never to underestimate him. He might  sometimes wander off into his safe zone, just to take his sensory edge off, but he is very much where he should be… learning and adapting… even though we might not feel it.

7. Sweeping everything under the “autism umbrella”

I’ve, for a very long time, and sometimes even now, done things for him I know he can do if given a chance. One day I watched a motivational speaker with none of his limbs talk about how his parents never treated him any different from his other siblings. He talked about how that helped him become a stronger, more confident person who has achieved some of the most difficult feats like climbing Everest. That was an eye-opener for me. I realized I would not let my son try new things because I was scared he might fail. Now that I’ve stopped sweeping all his skills or the absence of under the umbrella, he is blooming into a more independent kid. I can see the change in him. He explores more and he tries more often. I still help him but not until he has tried enough.

8. Expecting everyone to understand all the time

After the diagnosis, I was in denial for a long time. I had no idea how to react to this new situation. Over the years I’ve learned to live in harmony and enjoy everything my son is. However, even now when I hear about a parent receiving the diagnosis, I’m not sure what to tell them. When I am still struggling with how to best support another parent in such a situation, why should I expect everyone else to be understanding and supportive all the time when they have not even walked a single step with me on this journey? I would initially get upset over people not getting what I was going through, but it finally dawned upon me that maybe they were not supposed to. It’s not their journey. It’s mine. People can be clueless when thrown into a situation like this. A lot of the times they just don’t know what to make out of our situation or how to react to it most appropriately. I think it’s not unusual for someone to be ignorant about something they have not encountered. What I can do is spread awareness. That I can do. I can help people understand autism better so they can be more accepting… I’ll be glad if they do, I’ll work on it if they don’t.

My mistakes taught me where I should have gone and where I went instead. They pushed me to try better and harder in trying to understand my son. My mistakes helped me get a clearer insight into my son, and they helped change my perception of autism for better. My journey is unique because my son is. It will probably take a lifetime to understand him and his challenges, and I’ll probably make more mistakes along the way, but what is important is I learn and evolve so I can be a better parent for my son.

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