Socializing with Autistics and avoiding Ableism The Good Doctor Ep. 3

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Hello, and welcome to episode 3 of our commentary on The Good Doctor. We’re going to go ahead and TRIGGER WARNING this episode for a couple of things: Number 1, discussion of trauma responses will be the main theme of today’s episode as well as things that people do around ableism, although maybe not directly discussing details on that.

So this is episode 3 and it is titled “Oliver” and one of the things that we noticed that this opens with is there’s a lot of character development. This is kind of normal for series when you finally get into episode 3 or 4 usually, you start really seeing them try to give background on the character dynamics. How are people going to interact with each other and those things.

So there are a lot of side storylines that kind of went through the episode and I really don’t feel like it’s necessary to touch on those since it doesn’t really hit on the goal of the review because we really just want to focus on Shaun.

We’re kind of going to do a briefer episode and focus on a few things. Number one: the consistency of Freddie Highmore’s portrayal of Shaun, as well as communication in any kind of environment whether that be the workplace or at school or even just in social interactions. Just communication with someone on the spectrum and how that looks in comparison from the show to reality.

So the first thing we’re going to talk about is the cat on the porch. Now even though this might not seem super significant, one of the opening scenes with Shaun is there’s a cat on his porch and he’s just watching it and then there’s a knock at his door and it’s a neighbor that’s wanting to borrow batteries for her console controller. So number one: in reality, for us, being on the spectrum, we just don’t answer the door. It doesn’t really matter. We’re not really in that way of, “Oh, you need to borrow a cup of sugar or a cup of milk.” We’ve never been that way. It’s more like text or call before you come, and if you’re not invited, we don’t need to open the door and that could be kind of more of a trauma response, but also just in the form of our autism, we’re completely not social, introverted. And not everyone on the spectrum is that way. It’s a key characteristic of autism, but there are some people that we’ve known that are autistic that like to be social with certain people that they want to be out in nature with like one or two other people that they know. And for us, we’re more like solitude. It’s like Superman, the Fortress of Solitude. We’re more that way. So for us, it just made us laugh when he opened the door because it was a really awkward interaction to watch, but at the same time, we were just thinking of how we’ve always avoided those kinds of interactions. But that’s just kind of a side note.

So as they’re going through the episode, Shaun’s going to be going to pick up a liver for a transplant patient. Now, this is something that is super off-topic, but Tim Russ, who played Lieutenant Tuvok in Star Trek: Voyager, plays the patient and as Trekkies, we just had to mention that because it’s always great when you see people from Star Trek in other shows.

Anyway, Shaun has to take a helicopter to pick up the organ and it’s so funny because his coworker automatically assumes that because the helicopter is loud, he’s not going to want to get on the helicopter so she starts by saying, “Oh, you know this is hard for everyone. Nobody likes doing this part of it.” And then his response was like, “I like helicopters.” And that really brings up an important point of never assume what someone can or cannot handle. So someone on the spectrum has various types of sensory needs and all of it varies. For some people, the helicopter wouldn’t be possible and for other people like Shaun, he could get on helicopters fine because he likes helicopters. And the noise was loud but it wasn’t something triggering for him. And that’s really important to note. Always just asking is better than assuming. So in that interaction, she assumed that Shaun would be bothered so she started explaining to him the process and how it bothers everyone instead of just asking, “Hey, does the sound of the helicopter bother you? Is it too loud?”

And that’s something that everyone can do. Never go up to somebody and assume their sensory needs. If you’re going to be going to a crowded area, if you’re going to go to a movie, don’t just look at your friend that’s autistic and say, “Oh, you probably aren’t going to want to go to this because you blah blah blah…” Don’t do that. Just ask. And it’s important. It’s just human decency to ask that question and just because you are on the spectrum it doesn’t remove that respect to have for someone of asking a question and allowing us to tell you versus you telling us how we’re feeling in a situation.

As the episode goes on, his coworker asks for advice from the president of the hospital, who’s the one that got Shaun the job, and she’s like, “How do I communicate with him? I can’t get him to say anything. What do I do?” And his response was, “You have to learn how to connect with him in your own way.”

This is a very interesting illustration of what it can be like when you’re interacting with someone who’s autistic because we do get in our own world and sometimes you’re just not welcome and finding something that you connect with someone on is really good. So finding out what someone’s special interest is, finding out what their current hyperfixation is, and trying to build a foundation for a relationship instead of trying to make them meet you where you’re at, learn to meet people where they are.

It’s something that happens a lot in the disability community but also in the autism community, is the assumption that we need to come up to your level versus just being human and being flexible and communicating in a way that’s better for people. We kind of look at it if you’re at a place of work, you can’t look at your boss and say, “Oh, hey, I need you to type this document this way because that’s the right way to do it.” You can’t do that. You have to learn to be flexible and you meet your boss where they are and you find a way to still make the document correct without insulting your boss.

And it’s the same when you’re on the spectrum. People on the spectrum don’t need to come up to where you are with communication or to how you do something just because you aren’t on the spectrum. That shouldn’t happen. It should be a flexibility and adaptation there and for both sides so that you can actually have good communication.

And so that’s something that they showed in that episode. She had to try. She couldn’t just wave a magic wand or make Shaun come to her, she had to try to get to know him. Now, this is something with the consistency so far we’ve seen Freddie Highmore’s portrayal of Shaun, it’s very very heavy on he has a routine, communication is not his thing whatsoever, but he’s very smart. And it’s good that they have that consistency and we’re really interested to see how that character development is going to continue on through the season because there hopefully will be a change at some point because life is change and even when you’re on the spectrum, you will change just as much as anyone else does that’s neurotypical. So it will be interesting to see how they show that later on.

So on an end note, and just in summation on this, when you’re at work or in education, communication is a part of life, but it’s important for society to begin to accept that people on the spectrum communicate differently and to begin to be okay with that. It should not be this mentality of you must do as I do because I am not on the spectrum which makes me correct. We need to remove that and it be more, you’re human, I’m human, let’s communicate on this project at work. Let’s communicate as your professor to a student and get this school work done. And making it a collaborative effort versus an end-all, be-all, do as I say because you’re not normal. When really, one thing we like about The Good Doctor, it is, in a way, normalizing and shedding light so far on a lot of things. Showing that just because you’re on the spectrum doesn’t mean you can’t do something and also the reality of what it’s like to interact with people in a place of work when you’re on the spectrum and all of the assumptions that come with it.

Anyway, we really liked this episode. We’re looking forward to episode 4. Let us know what you think in the comments and we will catch you next time.

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