Autistic teenager navigates through college in Netflix series, ‘Atypical’

by Desiree Lopez

A freshman college student living on the spectrum wants to navigate himself through college alone. But he soon realizes that it’s harder than he thinks.


The Netflix series “Atypical” is a comedy-drama created by Robia Rashid. Its first season was aired on Aug. 11, 2017, and its third season was recently released on Nov. 1.

The show focuses on teenager Sam Gardner, played by Keir Gilchrist, who is on the autism spectrum. He has lived all of his life dependent on his mom, Elsa Gardner, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, his dad, Doug Gardner, played by Michael Rapaport, and his protective younger sister, Casey Gardner, played by Bridgette Lundy-Paine.

In season three, Sam starts his first year as a college student and is faced with the challenge of figuring out what success means for him while adjusting to the changes that come with growing up.

While Sam is on his funny and emotional journey of self-discovery, the rest of his family also must deal with the changes in their lives.

Sam’s high school experience was full of ups and downs. His mother had an affair, his sister changed schools, his favorite therapist could no longer see him, and he got his first girlfriend, all during his junior and senior years of high school. Sam thought that these few changes were difficult to go through. If only he knew how much different college would be.

During one of Sam’s group therapy sessions, he learned that four out of five students on the spectrum drop out of college. This statistic really freaked him out, but it encouraged him to try really hard and he prepared himself thoroughly.

Sam’s mindset for college was to learn to adapt and do it on his own. And he did, for a few days.

At orientation, he met people who thought he was funny, and it made him feel cool. Soon he realized that they were only temporary friends.

When it came to classes, the professors spoke too fast for him and he couldn’t take any notes. This made him stress, and he began to doubt himself.

Sam’s mother frequently encouraged him to talk to his college’s disability office, but he was determined to be independent. As he struggled more, he came to the conclusion that he couldn’t do the college life alone and that he needed help. He got the help he needed and was finally feeling at ease with college.

“Atypical” depicts the life of autistic children and provides a point of view to viewers who have never been able to understand what it feels like to live life on the spectrum. This series also shows those with autism that they can conquer anything they set their minds to, just like Sam.

Many viewers complained that Atypical(1)there were not enough autistic characters in the first two seasons, so more were added in the third season. This gave those with autism a bigger voice, and it provided a broader insight for the viewers.

They also didn’t like the fact that Gilchrist, who plays Sam, wasn’t actually autistic in real life.

I feel that Gilchrist did a really good job of showing what it’s like to be autistic. I would have never noticed the difference if it was never mentioned.

The show does a really good job of conveying what it’s like to live on the spectrum. It opened my eyes to what some people actually have to deal with on a daily basis.

A lot of the time, I felt like I was a part of the Gardner family. Anytime I saw trouble lurking around the corner, I would get frustrated that the characters didn’t see it sooner. The fact that I felt a part of the show proves that “Atypical” really does captivate its audience.

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