A Spectrum Of Challenges

Name: Atypical
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Year: 2017-
Season: 1-3

I have just finished watching the newest season of Atypical, a drama-comedy centring on a family whose eldest son has autism. Setting the family in Santa Clarita, California, gives autism a sense of normality and comes across as an every-family kind of problem. We learn how the family deals with daily activities we don’t see as anything, but are huge challenges for someone on the spectrum.

Our main focus is on 18-year-old Sam, (Keir Gilchrist) who has only one friend: his co-worker at a technology store, Zahid (Nik Dodani). Sam is painfully aware of his lack of social interaction abilities, even more when he decides it’s time to start dating girls. With his trusty friend Zahid giving Sam bold, mostly terrible advice, being a self-professed babe magnet, proves very disastrous again and again.

Sam’s younger sister, Casey (Brigette Lundy-Paine), is a star athletic track runner, whose ability is allowing her to race with seniors two years older than her. The bond that Casey and Sam have is amazing, constantly annoying and picking on Sam in a loving affectionate way, then defending him against bullies. But having a brother on the spectrum leaves Casey in the shadows, constantly feeling like her life is controlled by Sam’s needs and issues.

Sam’s mother Elsa (Jennifer Jason), constantly worries about Sam and is terrified about what could happen to him, even though he is proving to be more independent with every episode. Elsa attends a support group showing the struggle of understanding her son’s challenges without constantly babying him. Her husband Doug (Michael Rapaport), delivers a more laid back parental figure.

With the pressures of looking after both her children and Sam’s difficulties constantly provoking Elsa’s OCD list-making, color-coding and controlling personality, she finally breaks and an outburst of Elsa’s wild side is shown. Elsa portrays a woman unable to control her actions and bends to her urges.

We come across many other interesting characters throughout the seasons from the awkward student Paige (Jenna Boyd), who shows an interest in Sam romantically, to the misunderstood sweet boy Evan.

The series doesn’t hide from portraying the mind-set that many young people and adults are too concentrated on what is “normal” and that it’s something that can be achieved. We see many characters being mocked and bullied because they don’t fit into a certain fields of stereotypical images. This reflects on how young adults in real life feel like they have to act or pretend to be something they’re not to just fit in. Characters such as Sam and Paige, do try hard to slip under the radar and feel like a typical student in school, when Casey and Zahid are stronger and less self-conscious about what other people think. The message is clearly stated to not shy away from who you are and what you want to achieve just to please other people. Just be you.

Atypical’s approach on autism and having a child on the spectrum is explained as something that will never “get better” and that it’s misunderstood by many people. But it doesn’t concentrate on the darkness of this diagnosis, but on the light side of it. It shows that we all have quirks and intention, which as hard as we can try, can cause pain and embarrassment to ourselves and others.

We all have challenges in our lives and occasionally screw up. But we all learn from our mistakes and feel stronger at the end of the journey. This is purposely and smartly shown throughout the 3 seasons, with the focus falling on other characters having issues. We see Elsa and Doug’s rocky relationship, Casey as she is questioning her sexuality and Zahid reimaging himself to please his crush.

The important message is that even when you are surrounded by family and friends, you can still feel alone. You can still feel like no one will understand, that no one else is going through what you’re going through. But Atypical shows that it’s all in your mind. It only takes a build-up of courage to not feel alone in our struggles. To let people in that you trust. To find your safety circle. To feel less alone.

I hope this series keeps going, showing us how Sam and his family power through and overcome some of life’s new challenges.

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