Netflix’s ‘Atypical’ is representative

Megan Keane , Columnist

Netflix released its series about a teen on the autism spectrum trying to get a girlfriend in August of 2017 titled Atypical. Netflix recently released its second season on September 7, 2018. The show centers around Sam Gardner and his family. Typically, what we’re used to digesting when reading or watching a show with a character like Sam—who is on the autism spectrum—is that the main conflict revolves around autism. Or, the character with autism is a secondary character and the main character’s conflict comes from dealing with the character that is on the autism spectrum. And while we recognize Sam’s struggles to connect and deal with over-stimulation, this is not all that the show is about.

Minimal conflict results from Sam’s autism in the show. The family is breaking apart because of a adulterous decision made by Sam’s mother. Sam’s sister, who doesn’t want any distractions from the possibility of earning a track scholarship, gets distracted.

The first season got some backlash for making Sam the cookie-cutter character we’ve come to expect, but with its second season, Atypical broke the mold of what we’ve come to expect of a character with autism. Normally, what is portrayed is a character who struggles socially, has a lot of quirks and is really smart. Sam Gardner is all of that: he exceeds at biology, has an affinity for penguins and wants a girlfriend, but doesn’t know how to go about getting one. How do you “put yourself out there” when you have a hard time recognizing social cues?

Besides Sam internally struggling with his autism, his mom tends to use his autism as an excuse of conflict. While Sam is fighting to be independent, Sam’s mother attempts to shut that fleeting independence down in an overprotective manner.

But by the second season, Sam has been in a relationship, has decided to go off to college—for art, because he draws very well—and has learned (and is still learning) how to be independent. 

Netflix actually casted a full crew of actors on the spectrum for the second season who also give a broader perspective of the spectrum. As much as the show is about Sam and his family, it also works to educate a wider audience on autism.

Kier Gilchrist, who plays Sam, is not on the spectrum, and some people found that misrepresentative or faux-diverse. Because of that, for the show’s second season, Netflix reached out to David Finch, an author and public speaker on the spectrum, to work on the show. This has improved the quality of the show’s goal to show an authentic experience of someone on the spectrum.

The important thing to note is that not every experience is like Sam’s. I think it’s clear that the show’s intent is to help its audience understand the autism spectrum and I think it’s doing a wonderful job.

Megan Keane is a senior psychology and English

major. She can be reached at 581-2812 or at

[email protected].