On August 11th, Netflix released their new original series "Atypical" about an 18-year-old boy on the autism spectrum named Sam. If you don't know what autism is, it is a mental condition that is characterized by difficulty in communicating and forming relationships with others and in using language and abstract concepts. Obsessive interests and repetitive behaviors are common symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder.
In the show, Sam has decided that he is ready to start dating. In order to do so, he has to become more independent with the help of his family and his therapist, Julia. This spirals into a new territory for his family and pushes them to explore what it means to be "normal."
While watching the show, I had realized that there was no other show that related to my life better. Coincidentally, I have a 17-year-old brother named Sam who has ASD. Now, he is minimally verbal compared to the Sam on "Atypical," but there are so many similarities between their behaviors.
My brother will probably never be able to date or live on his own like Sam on "Atypical," but seeing the way that the show portrayed autism made me feel like someone finally understood it. Sam's character says that when he was frustrated he used to "yell and hit himself in the head repeatedly." This is a common characteristic in ASD and I see my brother do it all the time. It was also very reminiscent of my own brother's breakdowns when I saw how Sam was so overwhelmed and upset that he broke down in the middle of a public bus.
It was also strange seeing the similarities between the family members with the rest of my family. Not only do the parents eerily resemble my parents in the looks department, but their relationship reminds me a lot of my parents as well. In the show, Elsa and Doug try their best to co-parent a child with autism and you see the effects it has on them. Elsa is constantly on edge and Doug struggles with trying to relate and build a relationship with Sam.
It is also revealed that when Sam was young, Doug left the family for eight months due to his difficulties in understanding Sam's condition before returning back to the family and working to improve. While my father never left us, this same thing was a major reason for my parents getting a divorce when I was young. And just like in the show, they eventually got back together and have improved together.
"Atypical" also features Sam's sister Casey who shows us the challenges of being a sibling to someone with ASD and in her own right is a badass character. Early in the show, she sticks up for a girl getting bullied by punching the mean girl. While I've never punched anyone, I can attest to the fact that growing up witnessing people make fun of your sibling with ASD teaches you to stick up for those who can't always do it themselves.
But I do admit, that I am jealous of the relationship Casey gets to have with her brother. Sam falls somewhere in the higher-functioning range of Asperger's Syndrome whereas my brother is pretty much as severe as autism can get, meaning he doesn't have use of a full vocabulary and he doesn't always understand things just because we tell him that's how it is. Casey at least gets to have full conversations with her brother and joke around with him as if he were neurotypical.
I'm not trying to say at all that I wish my brother were neurotypical. In many ways, I think it has taught my family so many things and made us grow for the better. But I also can't help but wonder how my parent's relationship, my other brother's relationship and my relationship would be with him if he didn't have it.
What I love so much about "Atypical" is that it isn't just a show that is meant to teach you about Autism. It shows you how to interact with those on the spectrum, those with family members on the spectrum and just how to be a better person. It's honest and it's funny and it's challenging. And it's real.