Sam, a teen with autism, in a car with his mother

'Atypical,' Netflix’s New Comedy Series About Autism, Premieres This Summer

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Netflix’s new original series about a boy with autism spectrum disorder, “Atypical,” will be streaming this summer, the video streaming service announced on Friday.

The eight-episode series follows a high school senior named Sam (Keir Gilchrist), who navigates dating, school and family as a teenager on the autism spectrum. The show also follows Sam’s parents Elsa (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and Doug (Michael Rapaport) as they try to determine how to parent their son now that he is a young adult. So far, no one in the cast is confirmed to be on the autism spectrum.

The show’s creator, Robia Roshid told USA Today that while they cannot exactly reflect the life of every person with autism, they hope that they can unify under a common idea and broader story about family and coming of age.

While creating the show, Rashid said she consulted with a California State University professor who worked at UCLA’s Center for Autism Research and Treatment. Leigh, who plays Sam’s mother, added to Rashid’s statement about authenticly representing autism, telling USA Today, “Keir is really perfect. He never gets cute with it. … You feel like he’s very much in Sam’s shoes.”

“Atypical” joins the growing number of shows representing disability on major networks and streaming services. ABC’s “Speechless” follows J.J. DiMeo, a young man with cerebral palsy who uses a letter board to communicate. It stars Micah Fowler, who lives with cerebral palsy in real life. Last month, ABC announced it will renew “Speechless” for a second season.

Also joining ABC’s line-up is “The Good Doctor,” which features Shaun Murphy (Freddie Highmore), a doctor on the autism spectrum. Similarly to “Atypical,” it does not appear as if any cast members are on the autism spectrum.

All episodes of “Atypical” will be available to stream on August 11.

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How Routines Involving Medicine Impact My Son on the Autism Spectrum

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This past winter was especially hard on my 7-year-old son. Subzero temperatures combined with coughing and sneezing classmates proved to be too much for his young immune system to handle, and more than once we found ourselves in the waiting room of the neighborhood clinic or, even worse, in the emergency room dealing with asthma related issues.

Each upper respiratory infection, bout of vomiting and nausea or asthma flare-up came with its own set of routine procedures that needed to be done to manage symptoms and alleviate discomfort. After so many times of having the same illness, my son quickly came to know what to expect.

“Yellow medicine, inhaler and apple juice please,” he’d say just before bedtime every night in anticipation of what was to come.

As his troubling symptoms subsided and his strength and playfulness began to return, his medication schedule changed. When it was apparent he had gotten over what was ailing him, I stopped giving him medicine altogether. But, like clockwork, he’d make the same requests for medicine he had made each night he was sick.

Sometimes, he’d ask with such determination that it seemed he indeed needed his medicine but when he asked with a big grin on his face or while jumping up and down on the bed and appeared to have no symptoms of illness at all, it became clear I needed more information about what he was feeling physically.

After asking him if his belly, throat and just about every other part of his body hurt with the help of pictures and feelings chart and getting a solid “no” from him every time, I knew he wasn’t sick but stuck in a routine that was no longer serving him.

My thoughts were confirmed by his special education teacher. She said children on the autism spectrum can often become attached to routines because they bring them comfort and can help them make sense of their world.

Instead of giving my son medicine when he asks for it, I’ve learned to pay attention to his body language to understand what’s happening to him.

If he is laying down more than usual, appears tired or doesn’t want to play with his favorite toys, these are strong signals he may not be feeling well. If he’s coughing, wheezing or has a runny nose, he may be at the beginning stages of a cold. I also listen to what he has to say. If he says “my belly hurts” I know he’s not feeling well.

Routines that involve giving my child medications are necessary but require me to use a great deal of caution so I don’t give my son the wrong medications or over-medicate him accidentally. Thanks to the guidance of experienced professionals, I’ve learned how to assess my son’s condition so he can get the treatment he needs when he needs it.

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My Boy Is Not Naughty, He Is On the Autism Spectrum

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To the elderly man at the supermarket last week who took it upon himself to growl at my son and then tell him he was a very naughty boy, do you realize how sacred you made him feel?

To the mother who openly ignored my child as he was trying to say hello to you and your child, and who then said to a mutual friend, “he doesn’t have autism, he is naughty and his mother can’t control him. Period.” Do you know how much you deflated his self-confidence by ignoring him?

To the mother who glared at me when my son was having a moment and then told her own son, “I don’t want you to play with that boy, he is very naughty.” Please, do not call my boy naughty.

Do not judge my son’s behavior based on your one chance encounter with us. You saw my son when he was at his most vulnerable, and you have judged him on that.

My son is not a naughty boy, he has autism.

You just happened to notice his  behavior when he was overwhelmed by his surroundings and had entered into sensory overload.

Did you know autism is called autism spectrum disorder (ASD)? Did you know ASD encompasses many different attributes but not all individuals diagnosed will present with the same traits?

Did you know that my heart breaks every time either of my children are so over stimulated from their surroundings that they enter into a sensory meltdown? Do you know how mentally, physically and emotionally exhausting a meltdown is?

Do you know the difference between a tantrum and a meltdown?

Do you know what sensory overload is?

Many individuals on the spectrum also have sensory issues and these can affect how they process the environment around them. Sensory issues can make noise, lights and sounds seem much more intense to an individual on the spectrum. And at times, the only way that they can communicate how they are feeling is through a meltdown.

Every time they leave their home, their “safe haven,” they are entering an unfamiliar, ever changing territory where they can no longer control what happens.

We have learned how to minimize the impact of such environments for my son, but at times, he still struggles. The one thing I can’t protect him from is ignorant comments from individuals.

So on behalf of my son and others like him, please don’t make a comment or pass judgment on their behavior.

We need support, not your negativity.

A smile or nod that you understand means more than you can imagine.

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Thinkstock image by MariaDubova

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Teen on the Autism Spectrum Excluded From Her High School Yearbook

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Getting your high school yearbook is a time-honored tradition among graduating seniors across the country, but for Amanda Paeth, receiving her senior yearbook was not the highlight she expected it to be.

According to Connecticut news channel WTNH, Paeth, a senior on the autism spectrum at Mark T. Sheehan High School in Wallingford, Connecticut, was omitted from her yearbook.

“This is not right. You guys got every other kid but me. I basically gave the teacher my book and I walked out of school. You guys could keep it,” Paeth told the news network. Neither her senior photo nor her baby pictures were included in the senior yearbook.

The school’s yearbook is put together by students and then checked by faculty, Paeth’s mom, Jeanine Kremzar, told WTNH, questioning whether or not her daughter’s exclusion was intentional. “She was singled out of a lot of things and she missed out on a lot of things because of it because people just did not understand, administration didn’t understand, peers didn’t understand. Nobody took the time to get to know her.”

After repeated calls from Kremzar and WTNH, the school told the family Paeth’s omission from the yearbook was just an unfortunate oversight and that faculty members were more concerned about spell checking and making sure the quotes submitted were acceptable.

In response to her missing picture, the school has made stickers of Paeth’s photo which students can stick in their yearbooks. Since the yearbooks have already been distributed, Paeth’s is the only one with the fix so far.

“[People on the autism spectrum] still function like you guys,” Paeth said. “We still do clubs. We still do sports. We still go to classes like you. We still learn. That’s really it, it’s just that one small thing.”

Thinkstock image via LightFieldStudios. 

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The Difficulty of Working in Places That Don’t Consider Autistic Employees’ Needs

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One of the many aspects of me being on the autism spectrum is often a difficulty in holding down long-term employment. Some employers are biased in favor of those who are not on the spectrum and have a general lack of understanding of autistic individuals in the workplace.

Some employers like people who fit within the corporate box, often just like themselves. Have you ever tried to squeeze yourself into someone else’s box? They are restrictive, uncomfortable and generally fit someone else better than you. This is what it feels like working in a place that does not take into account an autistic person’s needs.

 

Maybe they think they do and then treat you like the rest of the staff, forgetting; not caring the badge on their corporate material and the shop door claims their positive attitude to disabled people. It would be nice to see compulsory training on how to treat and speak to autistic employees; maybe employ a few autistics and let them do the job. That would probably work far better.

It would be nice to have a complete CV/resume done some time. I did put one together once for the Disability Employment Advisor at the local job center. I had so many past employers that it surprised the person at the job center.

I do not claim to be an expert on employment law. It would probably be safer to say I do not know very much at all. However, I can claim to be something of an expert on employment, especially from the perspective of an Aspergian. (I like that word.) It would be nice to point out now that finally after many years of not knowing, I finally received my official diagnosis of Asperger’s and possible ADHD. Having official recognition of this does not mean I now have a job, but I have had a couple of employers offer me a job dependent on background checks. Waiting is tiresome, but at least things are going somewhere now.

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How My Life With Asperger's Is Like an Overstuffed Burrito

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I generally don’t get symbolism; I’m just wired that way. Tell me something and I’ll think you actually meant what you said. Art and literature usually don’t cause any emotional stirring within me, regardless of how much I want them to.

But music… music can move me. On rare occasions I’m even temporarily gifted the ability to see deeper than the words in a performance, and I feel touched and enlightened.

These words are the beginning of one of those experiences for me:

“I can’t fit my hand inside a Pringle can.”  —Bo Burnham

A lament for our time, found within the closing performance by Bo Burnham during his Netflix special “Make Happy.” As he asks “If you feel me put your hands up,” hundreds of hands are lifted to the sky and Bo proclaims: “Look at all these hands that are way too big to fit inside a Pringle can. Pringles listen to the people! Just make them wider!” Such wisdom from a young man of 25.

OK, maybe it’s not that profound. However, as often happens with people on the spectrum, Bo’s performance got stuck on a loop in my head, and I ended up watching it over and over. Fair warning, “Make Happy” isn’t for everyone. Bo’s sense of humor would offend the majority of my acquaintances, but for me, the loop I got stuck in helped me find meaning in his words.

My life with Asperger’s syndrome is a lot like trying to get Pringles out of a can that is too small for my hand.

In certain situations, no matter how hard I try to fold myself to conform to a standard determined by someone else, if I try to follow my own logic, what I want is just beyond my reach. Since “my way” of thinking can’t work, I get overwhelmed and just dump everything out and pick-up what I can, hoping I’ll be able to clean up the messy crumbs when it’s done. More often than not, I just leave a small disaster in my wake.

Sometimes I literally end up dumping things around me out to get to things I need because I end up overwhelmed by the process. More often it’s not something physical, it’s the frustration of trying to communicate in a way other people understand, which results in me spitting out a whole lot of words. Sometimes it hurts people around me… I get the feeling people don’t like Pringles crumbs spewed all over them. I often wonder how I get myself into these situations in the first place.

“I wouldn’t have got the lettuce if I knew it wouldn’t fit. Wouldn’t have got the cheese if I knew it wouldn’t fit. Wouldn’t have got the peppers if I knew they wouldn’t fit.” –Bo Burnham

Bo continues on to tell of a time he went to Chipotle and got a chicken burrito. Going down the line, he added ingredient after ingredient. When he got to the end, the guy tried wrapping it up but half the stuff spilled out, thus defeating the purpose of a burrito.

Why didn’t the expert warn him he was getting too much? Did the expert think it was obvious that you can’t put everything in a burrito? Did he think Bo was the one giving instructions, so he must know what he wants? Did it cross his mind that a little warning or advice could have made things better? Did he intentionally withhold the information because he gets a kick out of people’s burrito misery?

Regardless, the burrito expert stayed silent, and Bo was left with a mess. If only Bo had known, he wouldn’t have got half of what he did. The mantra cried over and over. “I wouldn’t have got the lettuce if I knew it wouldn’t fit.” And there is a huge part of my life with Asperger’s summed up in a silly song.

Life often feels like a series of mistakes made because no one told me what to them was obvious. And since no one explained to me how to behave, I’m stuck feeling foolish with a messy burrito spilling everywhere. I think many people can relate to that situation. But for me, and perhaps others on the spectrum, it goes beyond people not telling me how to behave. Often I’ve been told. I should know better, but I simply didn’t have the capacity at the time to link that information to the situation in which I found myself. I don’t always have the ability to know what is going to fit a given situation, and that can leave me stuck looping over where I went wrong after the fact.

I wouldn’t have talked so much about my interests if I knew how to read the “obvious” social cues that you want to end the conversation.

I wouldn’t have stayed silent to the point of it being awkward if I knew this was the part where I was supposed to participate, since you made a tiny pause indicating you were looking to me to speak now.

I wouldn’t have talked over you if I knew my pause for breath told you to begin speaking.

I wouldn’t have answered your question honestly if I knew the correct thing to do in this situation was to be polite and validate your point of view.

I wouldn’t have sat in a corner secretly plugging my ears because it’s too loud and too much is going on if I knew of a socially acceptable way to deal with being overwhelmed.

I wouldn’t have tried to fit my hand in the Pringle can.

I don’t think I can handle this right now.

I know everyone gets overwhelmed and plenty of “normal” people have problems trying to fit in. It’s not just an Asperger’s or autism thing, and I don’t want to diminish anyone’s experience. While Bo is relating his own struggle of trying to deal with life and fitting in, the song resonates with me. If you want to really “feel” the internal conflict I think many people on the spectrum deal with every day, take the last 60 seconds of the video or so and then loop it… for an hour or two.

Not the most uplifting post, I know. But that’s the thing — life isn’t always about happiness and being uplifted. We feel sad, angry, disgusted, or afraid sometimes, and often more than one of those at a time. “Can’t handle this” transitions from talking about our problems to those conflicting emotions we find while trying to “Make Happy.”

But is “making happy” really the point to all this?

I guess we’ll have to find out.

Follow Jeff’s writing on LinkedIn.

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