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What The Autism Community Needs to Know After This Heartbreaking Scene In 'The Good Doctor'

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Oh, love. It comes and it goes for so many. And with that, I wanted to talk for a minute today about what happened during season three, episode 17 of ABC’s hit show, “The Good Doctor,” which follows the life of autistic surgeon Shaun (Freddie Highmore). For those who haven’t seen the episode, please be warned there are spoilers below. 

For context, in last week’s episode (season three, episode 16), Shaun tells Lea (Paige Spara) he loves her. She replies that she loves him too, but they wouldn’t work well together because she is “a total mess” and he needs “things a certain way.” Shaun responds to her answer by asking a heartbreaking question: “You don’t want to be my girlfriend because I have autism?” She can’t bring herself to respond.

In this week’s episode, Shaun tries to prove to Lea they can be good together as boyfriend and girlfriend. Unfortunately, this does not work out as Shaun hopes.

Shaun begins by un-alphabetizing items in his house and putting on the toilet paper roll “incorrectly” because Lea likes it that way. During the workday, he convinces Lea to come over to show her he can be less organized. Lea becomes irritated with Shaun for calling her out of work instead of waiting to show her that night. She takes his actions as a confirmation that Shaun won’t ever change and they shouldn’t be together.

His actions lead to a final emotional scene where Shaun, who is still trying to “prove” to Lea that he can be the type of person she can date, gets rejected by the woman he loves. Lea, clearly frustrated by Shaun for not listening to her says, “Shaun, you are autistic. You can’t fix that… You are who you are, and I am who I am, and the two of us will never work.” You can see the heartbreaking moment below.

In this moment, I just wanted to give Shaun a hug. As a person on the autism spectrum, I feel for Shaun completely because I was in this same exact situation in the past. I pushed her without giving her space and it backfired to her never wanting to speak with me again. Like Shaun, I asked myself, “Why give up when you are already heartbroken?” I learned through that process the importance of understanding that rejection happens to everyone and to not let it define your life. 

Even though Lea is entitled to her reaction if she felt she was being pushed by Shaun, to me, her explanation — “You are autistic. You can’t fix that” — came off harshly. There are people in the world, like myself, who are on the autism spectrum and are not organized like Shaun is. If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism. A diagnosis should not be the reason someone says no to a person for a date. There should be specific reasons why someone says no whether it be organization, no spark, etc. 

I am worried that some of the people I mentor will believe they’ll have fewer dating opportunities because of this scene. I worry they’ll believe any potential partner might steer away from them because they are on the spectrum. As a community, let’s advocate for finding the right person when it comes to dating. It’s possible to find someone who accepts you just as you are. I have been lucky to have several girlfriends today and hope to start a family one day. I hope that’s something I can help my mentees find one day.

Header image via ABC

Originally published: March 6, 2020
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