We provide an audio version (linked below) as well as the transcript.
Transcription starts here
Hello, and welcome to episode 2 of our review for Autism Acceptance Month of The Good Doctor. Today, let’s unpack episode 2, Mount Rushmore. Now, I will put a TRIGGER WARNING on this episode for the following things: for invalidation, ableism, and if any of those things are triggering for you, I would suggest listening to a different podcast or checking out our blog linked in the description for some other topics.
So the first thing I want to talk about is in the opening scene you get to Shaun’s morning routine and this is the piece of it that really made us laugh a little because it’s almost identical to our routine. One of the things he does is he sets alarms for everything. When he wakes up, when he exercises, when he brushes his teeth, when he showers. Everything has a start and end time. That is actually very similar to what we do to keep our days organized. We have an alarm and we set it for every single thing that is important to do that day. That keeps us on time, it helps us not miss things, and that routine is something I would say is an autistic trait. The need for sameness and adapting to change, and it’s really one of those things, having calendars, apps, and things to just keep you on track through the day are super important and it really cuts down your anxiety and it gives you less stress.
Another piece of it, as well, is, I think, when you plan your day, for example, we can plan our day in 30-minute increments or in an hour increment and it just makes the day better. We get more done, we feel less stress, but it can also lead to other things where if there’s a sudden change, it makes it difficult to work through that change. So it kind of has its positives and negatives but watching Shaun have his alarms set and those alarms going off and really just telling him what’s next, we related so much to that because that’s what we do.
As we got through the episode, there’s a communication thing. One of the things this episode really covers a lot is social dynamics. Not understanding communication, not understanding nuances that come up. So Shaun gets on the elevator and the guy asks him, “So, where to?” which is something really anyone asks you on an elevator and he talks about the job. He’s going to be a surgeon, here’s where he’s going, and the guy is like, “Well, I mean what floor?” He just wanted to know where are you going in the building, but Shaun took it very literally like he’s asking an actual question of what are you doing today? And that’s something that really happens a lot. An autistic trait for us is we’re always super literal and we don’t understand the nuances of social dynamics. For example, one time at a workplace, a coworker was having a bad day, and she came up to us and she’s like, “I could just pull my hair out.” So our first thought was, “Well that’s not a very efficient way to do it.” So we said, “Oh, well you probably shave it. It would be a lot better and a lot less painful, it’s not going to grow out in patches and you should probably just go get it shaved or just buy a buzz-cutter and shave it yourself.” And she just started laughing and she’s like, “I wasn’t being serious. It was an example of how I’m feeling right now.” Things like that, we just don’t catch it. Again, they go into the sarcasm.
So we will say that the one doctor that Shaun is working with, we don’t like him at all. He’s super rude and he has no investment in Shaun’s success whatsoever and he doesn’t think he should be there. And so he said, in sarcasm, he’s like, “They clearly made the right choice in hiring you.” And Shaun’s response was, “Thank you.” Now that is something we really do so much. We do not understand sarcasm and in fact, a lot of people on the spectrum might not understand sarcasm at all and you just don’t get it. Those hidden meanings in words like reading in between the lines, they portrayed this in the episode so well, because you can’t. We can’t read between the lines. A lot of times if somebody says something and we’re not sure if they’re being serious, joking, sarcastic, like what are they saying, we’ll just ask, “Are you being sarcastic? Are you making a joke? Are you serious?” Because we genuinely don’t know. We can’t pick up on that tonality or that social dynamic that people have and that’s really common for people that are autistic. We just don’t get it.
They kind of move through the episode and there’s a lot of negative things that happen to him like being put on the worst tasks. He’s basically put on everything that no one wants to do and they make him do it because they don’t think he’s capable. They don’t think he’s capable, they think it’s a joke that he’s there and that really is what happens even now in academics, in the workplace. When you reveal your diagnosis, it invalidates you to a degree, and people question you and your ability to do things. So that was really relatable as well of how that works, but one of the things that was kind of funny: his bedside manner. Just that blunt, to the point, like, “Yep could die,” or “Yep,” this, that. And it was funny and it made us laugh out loud because we’ve been there. We look at it as a matter of empathy, right? We do not understand the other person’s emotional reaction to something that, to us, is logical. So, for us, if someone asks us a question, and this has happened before: “How does this dress look?” And if we think it looks awful, we’re going to say, “Well, it doesn’t fit you very well, it’s a little too short,” like we will literally list everything wrong with it, because we genuinely think that person is asking. But then there’s that level of empathy that we don’t pick up on because that could hurt that person’s feelings.
So they kind of tackle that issue through the episode of like, how does he relate to patients, what is okay to say, what is not okay to say, and they kind of just break that down, which is really good and they do a really good job breaking it down, but that is just something that happens. If somebody’s pet dies, that’s horrible and we feel bad for them, but we’re not going to understand what not to say in that circumstance. It can be super awkward because we don’t understand the social dynamic of what to do in that situation. When someone tells us a loved one has passed away, we just don’t know what to say, which is really common, I think. Everyone can run into that. For us, we don’t know what to say because we don’t have that understanding of being able to read that person’s feelings at that time and what is okay and what isn’t.
So they really just talk about that through the episode and give different examples. But then it kind of dives into the realistic workplace dynamic of, you’re going to not be considered “of value” to a company because of your autism, because you’re autistic. And it creates barriers for you and that’s something that they go through in the episode because all these barriers are up for Shaun just because of his autism and that’s just a sad reality that they portrayed of what it’s like to be on the spectrum and to work. People will say you’re not competent. People will invalidate your feelings. People will invalidate your ability to do things. They question you every step of the way, like, “Oh, can you do this?” or “Are you capable of learning this, or is that a problem?” We’ve had people just ask us, “Do I have a problem communicating with you because you have autism?” It’s things like that really impact the ability to function in a workplace and they really tackle that in this episode.
(Sorry if you hear background noise. There’s noise outside and construction, so if that comes over, sorry.)
It’s just a sad reality of the workplace and that’s a barrier that needs to be broken down because autism doesn’t make you incapable. It may change how you get somewhere, but you’re still going to have the same result and sometimes a better result because of creatively thinking and problem-solving. And that’s something that a lot of workplaces don’t acknowledge and it’s a struggle to maintain a job, it’s a struggle to find a job when you’re open about being autistic. Because it automatically makes people think of every single generalization, stereotype, prejudice, bias that they have and they apply it to you. And it really does negatively impact your success and your growth at work.
Moving through the episode, one of the interactions between him and the doctors, the lying aspect. They tell him, “Tell the patient what they want to hear so that they’re calm. You have to consider their feelings.” This is something that we’ve heard a lot where people will say that if you are autistic, you have a higher level of morals or ethics. We’re not going to debate that, because that’s not really related to our opinion on what this is, but for us, personally, we’re going to talk about it.
Lying is a problem. We don’t believe there are any small lies, big lies, okay lies, there’s just a lie is a lie and you don’t do it, so when this circumstance in the episode happens where one of the residents tells a patient that she promises she’ll be okay, which you know isn’t true from the scenario that’s happening, and she said that she just said it because that’s what she needed to hear to keep her calm and it’s like, yeah, but that comes to that place with healthcare of as a doctor, as a physician, where is it your choice and where is it the patient’s choice.
Being on the spectrum and having other disabilities, we’ve run into this a lot. We always ask for copies of our test results. We always ask for copies of any diagnosis codes and conversations about different things. We always ask for copies because we have had physicians withhold information from us because they think that’s what’s better for us. Especially when you have any kind of disability status or if you have any kind of developmental disability like with us with our cognitive delay that comes along with being autistic. They automatically have this ignoring, you can’t make the choice. We’ve gone to doctors and they’ve asked us absurd questions like, “Oh, you can talk? You’re autistic, how can you talk?” or, “How can you be married? You’re autistic.” Things like that and it really just, it’s horrible and it’s bad and it creates barriers for healthcare and so many things for people and you have to self-advocate and really take charge of your own health because sometimes doctors won’t tell you.
In this episode, they cover that because Shawn is super blunt, and here’s what it is, and some of the other doctors kind of sugar-coat it so it’s easier for the patients to take. And they have flashbacks to him and his brother who were lying to get food while they were homeless and the same thing, he’s like, “Lying is wrong.” And the brother is like, “Well you can’t always live in fear, sometimes you just have to do it.” And we kind of think that is not a really good example because there’s always another option in our opinion other than lying.
So is this an autistic trait for us? I don’t know. It could just be a personality trait, but that’s one of the things that’s really hard for us. When we’ve worked at places before, we worked at a salon for a time. It was like a nightmare. Worst place ever and someone called and they were asking about different services and they asked our opinion like, “Oh, should I get this done or should I get this done?” And really the goal is to sell, right? That’s the goal is to sell the product, but we couldn’t do that. We were like, “No, that one’s not a good product, you probably don’t want to do that if you’re questioning it.” And, of course, we didn’t stay at that job because we literally got in trouble for telling the truth because they were like, “Well, you’re supposed to make a sale.”
And that’s that dynamic of society that we don’t understand or conform to and that’s also why I will never work in sales again because if we don’t believe in a product or believe in something, we can’t sit there and try to get people to buy it or endorse it.
So it’s one of the things they cover in the episode. So then, after that piece of it, they did a dramatization of this one little girl that had a stomach ache and he was right and he runs to her house. To us, that’s like classic drama TV tropes, and that doesn’t really have any bearing on the fact that he has autism because anyone could do that, but through the episode, they really just touch on that ableist view that workplaces have and these things that are just super toxic and bad for the community.
So far, though, I must say the portrayal of Shaun is not offensive to me at all. I would love to hear your thoughts on it and what do you think about it, and if you’ve watched the first season, what you think. But all in all, I think it was a pretty good second episode, so next up, we will be doing episode 3, and let’s see how many of these we can get through this month.
Thanks for listening, don’t forget to leave a comment and your thoughts and we will catch you in the next episode.