Photo from left to right of Bridget Lundy-Paine, Kier Gilchrist, Michael Rapaport and Jennifer Jason Leigh

Netflix's 'Atypical' Renewed for a Second Season

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“Atypical,” a new Netflix original series centered around autism, has been renewed for a second season. Its renewal comes less than a month after the show’s premiere. 

The show centers around Sam, an 18-year-old high school senior on the autism spectrum, as he navigates first-time love and other aspects of life. The show also depicts the lives of Sam’s family and how Sam’s autism affects their lives.

“Atypical” was met with mixed reviews from the autism community. There were parts of Sam’s character — played by Keir Gilchrist, a neurotypical actor — that people found stereotypical, while others liked certain aspects of his portrayal, like stimming.

Robia Rashid, the show’s creator, previously told The Mighty the show did its best to have people in the autism community involved, noting, “We have several crew members who are parents of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). We had an autism researcher and expert on staff who read every outline and script and watched every cut to give notes. It’s something we feel very strongly about and are always working on.”

However, some people on the autism spectrum believe the show did not go far enough, as “Atypical” only features one autistic actor, Anthony Jacques, who had a small speaking part.

Season two will have 10 episodes.

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Why I'm Giving 'The Good Doctor' a Shot as Someone on the Autism Spectrum

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Full disclosure: After only one episode, I have no idea what the future is for “The Good Doctor,” which will premiere September 25 at 10/9C on ABC. What I can tell you; this show has all the makings of an ABC smash-hit.

Let’s begin with the cast. Freddie Highmore (“Bates Motel,” “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”) stars as Dr. Shaun Murphy, an up-and-coming surgeon who also happens to have autism and savant syndrome. This is a very difficult role for anyone to play given how broad the autism spectrum truly is. Some criticism has occurred as many TV productions and films try to address autism issues.  There is no “one size fits all” in attempting to define characters on the spectrum. This list in recent years has included characters such as Walter Hill in “Joyful Noise,” Billy in the new “Power Rangers” Jane in “Jane Wants a Boyfriend,” and most recently Sam Gardener, a teen with autism in Netflix’s “Atypical.”

There seems to be an obsession with autism political correctness in some autism-related projects. Producers strive for realism in portraying these autistic characters, with the danger of not clearly understanding the individuality of each person on the spectrum. It’s a razor’s edge, trying to avoid producing “inspiration porn” but also making the programming meaningful to those in the autism community. “Atypical,” which received mostly positive reviews (77 percent rating from critics and 97 percent rating from audiences on Rotten Tomatoes) also received some criticism for not hiring an autism consultant who was on the spectrum to help bring a realistic portrayal of the role. To be fair, “Atypical” had a full-time consultant in the fabulous Michelle Dean along with help from Exceptional Minds, a computer animation studio and non-profit digital arts school for young adults on the autism spectrum. Exceptional Minds worked on some shots for “The Good Doctor” team as well.

I feel “The Good Doctor” does a fine job of navigating this razor’s edge. Freddie does well in his debut, showing several characteristics that can accompany an autism diagnosis. These characteristics include things such as social awkwardness, lack of eye contact, playing with his hands during stressful situations, etc. That last one is still something I do to this day as an adult who is on the autism spectrum. I believe Freddie’s take will resonate with many in the community. It will be interesting to see
how his character evolves moving forward into the season.

What really stood out to me, though, was the discussion during one scene where they are deciding Dr. Murphy’s fate and someone says people with autism lack empathy, so how can they be sympathetic to patients and their families? It was refreshing to see Dr. Murphy disprove that harmful myth and have the opportunity to show his ability to care for others. When asked point blank “Why do you want to be a surgeon?” he shared a traumatic event in his history. I had to pause the show because I was sobbing like a baby.

As for the script, there are several plot lines I believe will intrigue audiences, and the direction from Seth Gordon couldn’t be crisper, along with the writing by David Shore, creator and Director of “House.”

While many in the autism community may tune in for Dr. Murphy, autism is only one component of the show that will draw viewers. Based on statistics from the Department of Labor, a majority of those with disabilities in the U.S. today are unemployed. Discussing the hiring of someone with a disability highlights its importance. Other important topics include relationships in the workplace, safety and different types of ways people learn. For example, Dr. Murphy thinks in pictures, as can be seen on screen when he’s visualizing the human body or trying to remember a definition of a specific word.

I believe this show has staying power, and I can only hope the creators of the show, along with Sony and ABC, will continue to include voices of those on the spectrum as the show continues. I’d love to help in a consultant role.

When I travel the country speaking, I tell audiences “Autism can’t define me. I define autism.” Shaun and I are not defined by our diagnosis. Dr. Glassman, who first met Dr. Murphy at 14, said it best during a Board of Directors meeting in the episode:

“Aren’t we judged by how we treat people? I don’t mean as doctors, I mean as people. Especially those who don’t have the same advantages we have. We hire Shaun and we give hope to those people with limitations that those limitations are not what they think they are. That they do have a shot. We hire Shaun and we make this hospital better for it.”

I hope we as a community can give this show a shot, and if we do, I believe we will be pleasantly surprised by the results.

Kerry Magro is an international speaker on the autism spectrum. A version of this article originally appeared here.

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Asda Introduces Visual Shopping List for Children on the Autism Spectrum

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Asda, a U.K. based supermarket chain, has introduced an interactive shopping list for children on the autism spectrum to use while their parents shop. The list, titled “Happy Little Helpers,” lets kids help out during shopping trips in a visually engaging way. 

The shopping list is made up of pictures of common food items as well as velcro to stick each picture under a “what we need” column. Kids can then put a smiley face next to each product as it is found in the store.

The idea came from Jenny Barnett, an Asda employee whose son, Charlie, is on the spectrum and is nonverbal. The project, she said, was inspired by Charlie’s teachers, who use symbols and pictures to help him communicate.

The Happy Little helpers scheme, which encourages young children to get involved with shopping, is being introduced into Asda stores next week. This picture shows Asda colleague Jenny Barnett who came up with the idea of the list with her five-year-old son Charlie

“When he was younger, Charlie used to throw himself to the floor when he was in a big shop. It was clearly too noisy and too crowded for him,” Barnett told Metro. “By creating the shopping list, it takes the pressure away and helps children concentrate on a task which in turn reduces stress.”

After a successful run at its Middlesbrough store, Asda will provide lists to more than 300 other locations across the UK.

“It’s such a nice feeling that I can walk into an Asda miles away from Middlesbrough and see another child benefitting from my idea,” Barnett said. “It’s going to help so many children which is great.”

This isn’t the first initiative from Asda to help make shopping better for people on the spectrum. It has incorporated a quiet hour into at least one of its stores. Asda also features inclusive bathroom signs, highlighting invisible illnesses.

Photos via Asda

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Girls Can Have Autism, Too

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As an autistic female, I am fed up with the media’s portrayal of autistic characters. The way they talk about us, laugh at us and speak for us. All of the shows about autism are about us, not for us. Most of them use autistic characters, whether they identify as autistic or not, as comedy. We are a joke to them. I’m sure they did research, studied our ways and came to some conclusion they had an understanding of our culture. They would be wrong. Every single thing I see about autism is incorrect and does not represent us or who we are as a community.

We are not here for you to use in your comedies to get a cheap laugh. We don’t burst out sex talk at the kitchen table. We don’t all sound like robots and get into hilarious, awkward situations on a daily basis. Most of the struggle we have is internal, unless it’s a meltdown, which is often visible.

The spectrum is as diverse as the rainbow, yet it seems the focus is on white males. Autistics come in every race, color, and gender. It’s a slap in the face to many of us every time we see a skinny white boy doing funny things for a laugh on television. If we ever expect society to get this picture out of their heads, we need to change these expectations.

Girls have autism too. About 1 in 68 children have been identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) according to estimates from CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network. ASD is about 4.5 times more common among boys (1 in 42) than among girls (1 in 189). ASD is harder to diagnose in women and girls because we often mask our symptoms better than boys. We are able to develop coping mechanisms and hide our autism. If we altered stereotypes and offered more support to girls coming forward with an autism diagnosis, I believe these rates would change.

There is no cure for autism, and most of us wouldn’t want one anyway. Autism allows me to have special interests. These are areas I am hyper-focused in and I can learn with savant-like abilities. I read five times faster than your typical college-educated adult. I had read Shakespeare and Tolkien before I was in middle school. I taught myself every single subject in school because I couldn’t learn from my teachers. I spend countless hours engaging and talking about my special interests.

There are two books I believe every autistic person and those looking to learn more about autism should read. The first is “Thinking in Pictures” by Temple Grandin. This book describes how many of us see the world. We are different, not less. The second is “Look Me in The Eye” by John Elder Robison. I identified strongly with the themes of growing up poor and having a bad home life. Yet through special interests, a strong force within many autistic people, he was able to become the successful person he is today.

These books are written by two different individuals on the spectrum. They support the saying in the autistic community: If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism. That’s why it’s called a spectrum; we come in a wide variety of flavors. We are 1 percent of the population and very frequently misrepresented by the other 99 percent.

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Thinkstock photo by Sam 74100. 

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To My Future Self With Autism

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Back on Christmas of 2016, I was very down. I wanted fame and fortune more than anything. I just had a relationship end a month before; a girl I really liked moved away. My first attempt to publish a book failed. All of that got me down and I thought I’d be a loser in my life. So to hopefully get my spirits up, I wrote a letter to myself pretending that me at age 40 could see me living my life at 25. This is what my future self wrote to me.

Dear Louis,

I know you’re down right now. I know you want to be famous. I know you wish you could be that girl’s boyfriend. I know she’s moving and you’re going to miss her. I know you always feel your siblings have it better than you. I know you’re frustrated with your book and I know for sure you want everyone to like you. But I have a few things to tell you before you hit the age of 40. When you hit 40, you’re going to look back at all this and laugh out loud. You’re going to remember that the girl never went out of her way for you. You’re going to realize you were better off without her. I know it doesn’t seem that way right now but believe me, you will.

You’re also going to realize you want to be famous for all the wrong reasons — that girl being one of them. That’s not the way you should want to live your life. There are plenty of women out there who are going to love you and want to date you. You’re so young, you’re going to have plenty of shots to date attractive women. Enjoy life; you’ll be OK in the long run even though it doesn’t seem like it. You’re going to marry a beautiful young woman who will be so lucky to have you, and you’re going to look back and wonder why you ever worried this much.

You’re going to look back at the things you did because you thought your career was in jeopardy over a few failures. I promise you by the time you’re 40, you’re going to have the career you want. You’ve got time. You have a best buddy, you still have your family who love you, you’ve got other friends who admire you so much and she even told her friends about you.

I want you to do something, and you’re going to be glad you did before you hit 40. I want you to stop putting so much pressure on yourself. You are an inspiration to this world, and you’ve done so many things most people can only dream of. There are people who look up to you, even if you don’t see it. You don’t need to be famous for people to like you. You shouldn’t want to be famous for people to like you. You just need to be yourself and do the best you can. Shania Twain wouldn’t want you to put pressure on yourself, so you shouldn’t either.

You need to start being more proud of the things you did, because you did so much at such a young age. If you never think you’re good enough, you’re going to be miserable for the rest of your life and life is too short. Don’t compare yourself to others. Don’t focus on tomorrow as much as today. You are somebody and you need to start seeing it that way. One more thing, by the time you’re 40, you will have a good job, a good place to live and be married to a woman who will be so lucky to have you. Until then, enjoy life, Louis. I promise you’ll be OK.

— Louis Scarantino at 40

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Hispanic mother and daughter.

Examining Why Autism Is Under-Diagnosed in the Hispanic Community

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The quickest growing population in the United States has the lowest autism diagnosis rates, according to several studies, and the big question on everyone’s mind is: Why?

Well, according to pediatricians across the country, the primary reason for low diagnosis rates in Hispanics is due to the confusion of the questions on the screening questionnaire.

The solution presented to this is a verbal Q and A between the doctors and the parents of these children. Yippie for future kids on the spectrum!

But Wait, What Exactly Does that Mean?

It means the answer to why Hispanics don’t have higher diagnosis numbers is because of language barriers and semantics. As great as this new research is, it does open the door for a whole mess of questions, especially for teens and adults on the spectrum.

Right now the statistic is 1 in 68 kids has autism, up from 1 in 100. That doesn’t mean there is an epidemic, though. We’re just getting better at recognizing it. Low Latino diagnosis isn’t limited to the United States though. Currently, diagnosis numbers range about 1 in 115 children in Mexico. Compared to 1 in 68, this is quite a gap.

Undiagnosed kids still grow up to be autistic adults, and a lot of them get married and have babies. In fact, many adults learn about their own autism when they’re raising their children and their children are diagnosed.

The autistic adult world statistics are distressing, with 1 in 63 newly diagnosed adults having suicidal thoughts. Finding out about autism as an adult makes for a complicated life story, filled with revelations about one’s own childhood experiences and misunderstandings.

So what about the undiagnosed autistic Hispanic teens and adults who are past the age for a verbal screening for autism? If there are verbal misunderstandings in autistic patients and cultural barriers in regards to language and semantics preventing a diagnosis of autism, then what happens when autistic Hispanics who don’t know they have autism… go to the doctor?

How does it feel to be undiagnosed?

As a teen and young adult, I lost many friendships because my responses were taken the wrong way or I said something too foolish for them to think it wasn’t on purpose. I got better at catching offense on my feet, but I hated living with the anxiety of knowing I might say something offensive at any given moment, and having to be socially prepared for my own “stupidity”. I wanted so desperately for people to think I was a nice person, but I was just known as bitchy and bossy, and you could only see my “care” if you knew what it looked like. I will say this about myself though: I hate being misunderstood. Even if it took a fight for you to understand me, I made people understand me, because I wasn’t coming from a bad place and to me, people had to know that.

I was a Hispanic child with no diagnosis and a whole mess of weird issues. I knew I was different from the kids at school, because I was always lost on social situations. But I was book smart, and I would read six fiction books or so a week. I learned so many different words for so many different feelings I always had, but I didn’t understand social nuance in a way that allowed me to communicate anything unless I was upset or frustrated. Once I got mad enough, the words would flow, and I didn’t have the emotional maturity to tailor myself or sometimes even feel apologetic. Once I got out how I felt, the anxiety of trying to get all my words together went away and I felt ten times better. Most of the time, I wasn’t even mad anymore. I didn’t know anything about mental health disorders.

How Do Hispanic People on the Spectrum Fall Through the Cracks?

My parents never took me to a psychologist. I was too much like other family members, so I was given coping mechanisms, not medicine. I appreciated this so much, because it made me stronger, but I can’t help but wonder what would’ve happened to me if I got my diagnosis sooner instead of later. Would I have realized my talents sooner in life, accepted myself sooner, loved myself sooner, instead of wasting so much time trying to fit into a world that wasn’t made for me?

My parents didn’t take me to a psychiatrist because life is hard and they were divorced. They both just corrected my terrible social skills as I messed up. And although they handled that very differently, they loved me for who I was.

Being Undiagnosed as an Adult and Going to the Doctor

I went through a summer before I was 20 where I felt nauseous every time I ate and a lot of times I would threw up. I went to the doctor, and tried to explain my symptoms to him. He said I had irritable bowel syndrome. Irritable bowel syndrome is a disorder that affects the large intestine, with symptoms including diarrhea, constipation, cramping, bloating and gas. There is no known cause. I was confused as to why he thought my problem had to do with my large intestine when my primary reason for visit was vomiting. From my stomach. I did my homework and found out that a diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome is basically a doctor hack for giving up on why your belly aches, because it is actually an imbalance of gut neurotransmitters. Eventually a nurse practitioner diagnosed me with GERD and a hyperacidic stomach.

Another time, when I was around 24, I went to the doctor because I was having trouble eating. Even the thought was making me nauseous and a few times I threw up. When he asked me what I ate that day, I answered, “A bag of chips.” For some reason, he thought that meant I was anorexic instead of the host of other things it could’ve been. In talking with a nutritionist, it was uncovered that I was experiencing quite a bit of stress that was exacerbating my previous GERD diagnosis, and I needed to eat smaller and more often. Alexithymia is the worst.

Did I mention that people on the spectrum often have gastrointestinal disorders?

What Can Physicians and Latino Patients Do to Help Each Other?

My advice to physicians? Talk to your patients and read. Doctors often rush to treat the symptoms and not figure out the cause. Observe your patient’s demeanor, review their medical history, and pull out your textbooks. There are too many specialists in the field and the generalists don’t know enough. Do your research about cultural preferences.

My advice to patients? Speak up. It doesn’t matter if you’re autistic or not. Everyone is a patient at some point or another, and no one knows your body like you do. If you’re feeling pain or you notice new or weird patterns with your body, it’s up to you to tell your doctor. People die unnecessarily every day because this kind of information is not exchanged. Tell your doctor about any weird symptoms you might have during your annual physicals.

Undiagnosed autistic Hispanic patients need to be treated with respect and listened to, just like neurotypical patients. The Latino population needs doctors who will show us they are on our side. Verbal questionnaires are a great place to start.

America as a society is just barely understanding how mental health and medical health are actually hand-in-hand. People are starting to figure out there is no such thing as normal and every day research is getting closer and closer to better therapies for people with autism.

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Thinkstock photo by Jupiter Images.

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