A Review of 'The Good Doctor' and Why The Message Behind It Is So Important

**Spoiler Alert!!

October 1-7 was Mental Health Awareness Week, and anyone who knows me knows that I’m very passionate about advocating for mental health and fighting the stigmas and stereotypes surrounding mental illnesses. That’s why I’m so happy there are TV shows like The Good Doctor being created that shed a light on what it can be like to live with a disorder such as autism. The show premiered September 25th on ABC, and follows Dr. Shaun Murphy, a young surgical resident who happens to have autism and savant syndrome. The very first episode showed the president of the hospital fighting to hire Dr. Murphy, but everyone else on the staff being completely against it because of his disability. It demonstrates the struggles someone with high-functioning autism faces in the work place.

According to the Autism Speaks website, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is “a range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication, as well as by unique strengths and differences.” In the show, his character has a difficult time picking up on social cues such as sarcasm, so his communication skills aren’t that great. However, he also has savant syndrome, which is defined as a rare condition in which someone has what seems like an “island of genius” that contrasts their mental deficits. It can vary in abilities and skills, but it usually includes an excellent memory. That’s the case with Dr. Shaun Murphy; he might not be able to communicate with patients very well, but he can flawlessly picture the human body in his mind and remember medical facts better than any other doctor there. That’s why he was given the opportunity to prove himself as a doctor. However, the stakes for him are much higher than other surgical residents at the same level because if he makes just one mistake he could be fired.

Although this show is fictional, people with autism unfortunately face these same struggles and consequences everyday in real life. According to a national survey, 77% of unemployed people with autism report that they would like to have a job, however, only 16% of those with the disability actually do. When those with autism do get a job, the work environment can be very unpleasant for them. Employers often report not knowing how to handle employees with autism, or how to better assist them at work. In the same survey, almost half of the participants also reported experiencing bullying, harassment, or some other type of unfair treatment in the workplace from other employees.  

Unfortunately, issues like this don't just exist in the adult world. According to an article by the Autism Research Institute, many children with ASD are not properly educated in schools because of the lack of training and preparation provided for teachers. Insufficient funds are one of the biggest issues with appropriately teaching students with autism, as well as evolving research about the illness causing a demand for change in the methods used to teach them. Along with teachers, many parents are also unequipped to properly raise a child with autism due to being uneducated about the disorder and how to interact with them. This can potentially result in an unhealthy relationship and create difficulties in the emotional development of the child.

The point of this article is to hopefully open people’s eyes to the unfair treatment of people with a mental disorder such as autism, especially when many times they are just as capable as anyone else to do a job well if given the opportunity. It honestly breaks my heart to know that there are people out there just like Dr. Shaun Murphy who could be so great at something but will never have the chance because of the stereotypes and stigma that follow them wherever they go, and when they do get the opportunity, they are mistreated or not taken seriously as an employee. The stigma that surrounds autism and other mental disorders is completely silent because society is too afraid to address the “crazy” people, but the only way to make a difference and change the non-existent discourse about mental health is to simply start talking about it.

 

If you need anymore convincing, watch The Good Doctor on Monday’s at 10 pm, and while you’re watching try to put yourself in his shoes and imagine what it would be like to be completely aware of what people think of you and how they treat you so differently, but not being able to do anything about it.

If you want to learn more and get involved in making a difference, visit http://www.autism.org.uk/tmi

“What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candor, more unashamed conversation about illnesses that affect not only individuals, but their families as well. Our society ought to understand that many people with mental illness, given the right treatment, can be full participants in our society.” – Glenn Close