The pilot episode of new ABC show The Good Doctor featured Dr. Shaun Murphy, a young rising surgeon. What was different? Dr. Murphy had autism and savant syndrome.
"He could be the greatest surgeon because of his great strengths," said David Shore, the show's writer and executive producer. Dr. Murphy had a photographic memory, and processed situations with astonishing skill.
But how accurately did The Good Doctor represent autism? What was dramatized? ABC10 watched the episode with experts from the UC Davis MIND Institute, a collaborative international research center, and with Cory Coleman who was diagnosed with autism in adulthood.
"I spent a long time really afraid to enter a bigger group. I had been housebound agoraphobic for 12 years. I had childhood replete with bullying," said Coleman, Technical Junior Specialist at the MIND Institute.
Coleman once attempted a PhD in neuroscience prior to his diagnosis and said he really related to Dr. Murphy's character.
"I know computers backwards and forwards but I needed to spend years in acting class to develop those social skills...I could really recognize my community in it," Coleman said. "Even doing something as amazing, there's still all the little things. Shattering glass scares him to death, he can't handle the taste of pickles."
Dr. Marjorie Solomon, a Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, said the show's producers got many of the character's details correct.
"What I thought was pretty realistic was his somewhat robotic speech, the fact he sometimes had flat affect, was a bit matter of fact and a bit concrete with the way he interpreted things, and also very blunt, maybe not fully reading his audience," Dr. Solomon said.
However, Dr. Solomon believes Dr. Murphy's lack of social skills isn't a typical case.
"Generally, I've seen individuals who are so gifted have acquired more social skills and more social finesse even if it is like a second language than something that came naturally," Dr. Solomon said.
Dr. Megan Tudor, an Assistant Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, also wants audiences to understand the character's degree of autism is very unique.
"I think it's important for people to know that not all people with autism have that kind of prodigious skill along with it," Dr. Tudor said.
"He mostly just seems to want acceptance," Coleman added. "For a lot others there's seizure disorders, horrible meltdowns, and executive dysfunction and a lot of people who really do need a lot of help. So I want to make sure the few that just need acceptance, don't color it for the rest of everybody because a lot of other people need a lot more help."
They were asked to rate the pilot episode on its accuracy of autism as a whole.
- Dr. Marjorie Solomon: B-
- Dr. Megan Tudor: B
- Cory Coleman: B+
"I think it's really important there are shows like this, and have characters with autism and it's labeled as autism and they are portrayed in such a positive way, because that's true all across the spectrum," Dr. Tudor said. "People with autism have wonderful things to share and this show put him in that positive light and showed people advocated for him, which is also really important. The more people know about autism, the more kids on the playground will get stood up for."
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