I’ve talked before about my love-hate relationships with medical drama TV shows, but the one that is the easiest to pick apart is The Good Doctor due to it’s protagonist being on the autism spectrum, like me.
Autism is often difficult to represent in the media because it comes in many different forms. Many who hear about it will automatically think Raymond a.k.a Rain Main, Sheldon Cooper (although the producers claim that he is not on the spectrum), perhaps Sam from Atypical, and Shaun Murphy.
What bothers me is that many neurotypical people who studied ASD, work with people who have it, or they have a child on the spectrum, often tell us to stand down and so they can lecture us on everything they know.
Um, no how about you let us speak for a change? We are the ones living with this different way of thinking and processing information. Just because our brains operate differently, doesn’t mean we’re dumb and can’t have a voice. But I may be getting ahead of myself because it’s likely that the people who are like this, maybe they are used to being around people on the spectrum who have more severe issues, resulting in them being nonverbal and need someone to speak for them.
I also don’t interact with the autistic community much either because other people on the spectrum (many of them are often diagnosed late) think they know everything and the “proper” way to address oneself on the spectrum, so I would rather talk to them in person because they are less likely to do things like that.
Meanwhile, I was fortunate enough to receive a diagnosis early so maybe you should let me share some of my knowledge as well and the reason I am saying this is the heart of this topic.
Shaun Murphy is probably the closest thing to represent me best as an individual on the spectrum because not only do we share the same challenges at times, but we also both work in healthcare (I’m not a doctor but still).
However, that is where the line is drawn because while Shaun is an improvement in media representation, a lot of work still needs to be done. The more I watched this show, the more I realized that some stereotypes about autism still remain.
The savant part, to begin with, not everyone on the spectrum is a genius in math or science. Sure, this allows Shaun to visualize things in surgery to solve a problem. I like that feature but I don’t like it when people assume I am a savant because I am not. There are some subjects that I am better at than others. I struggled a lot with math growing up and I excelled more in certain subjects in science. I was really good at biology, earth & space, and ecology. I was also pretty solid at chemistry but physics and mechanics were more challenging, the latter, especially in later grade levels, so I am definitely not a genius.
English was another subject I really enjoyed because I love reading books and writing stories, although I was annoyed that we almost never had a creative writing assignment. But hey, at least my blog here is my place for just that!
There were times when Shaun felt like he knew everything, most of the time he was actually right, but I have also noticed times where he was wrong and the other characters had good points as well to help a patient. This tied to the fact that he was all about saving patient lives, whatever the cost, while his colleagues would also try to remind him that what was also important wasn’t just knowledge and protocol, but also the quality of the patient’s life.
For example, in season 2, Shaun and Morgan were assigned to a patient named Jas who came into the ER with a cut on her finger that looked infected. Shaun suspected it was flesh-eating bacteria and that they would have to amputate the finger. Jas was hoping to make it as a professional violinist, and Morgan, who used to be an archer, thought that any sort of amputation, would ruin the former’s career. Shaun only saw the patient’s symptoms and not her hopes and dreams. He was focused on saving the patient’s life and his bickering with Morgan only led to a delay in treatment where the infection spread and they had to amputate the whole arm instead.
I may be on the spectrum, but I was still able to recognize that maybe if Shaun was willing to listen to another colleague’s perspective, the patient could have probably just only lost a finger or nothing at all and the infection could have been beaten with just really strong antibiotics. I mean, I would also argue at this point that if Jas wore a prosthetic she could still play the violin since the episode wrote it as if she would never be able to play again when I don’t agree with that. Hell, I stumbled upon a story while writing this about a woman who had only one arm and wore a prosthetic bow arm and was able to play, but I’m getting ahead of myself once again. The point is, Shaun is intelligent, but it is not always useful in certain circumstances.
There are some episodes where he does try to push his knowledge too much like when Lea gets pregnant in season 4, Shaun is acting more like the doctor instead of the father, such as insisting she takes tablets instead of chewable prenatal vitamins since he believes the former work better rather than asking Lea what dosage form she prefers, insisting she doesn’t need a doula, and taking those birthing classes even though she’s still in the first trimester and don’t get me started on when Glassman had brain cancer, it took almost the whole season for Shaun to back off a bit.
The second part is his monotonous way of speaking. Yes I know there are lots of people on the spectrum who are like that. But most of those whom I have actually met are either quiet all the time (unless you get them talking about a favourite subject) or are a total motormouth.
Whenever Shaun talks, he sounds like a robot with no emotion which enforces the stigma that my community is incapable of expressing emotions and empathy. The only time I heard any emotion in Shaun’s tone of voice was when he was very happy, sad, or angry, like the time when he asks Carly out at the end of season 2 and she accepts. Then there was the time when he broke down in front of Lea when she initially rejected him.
Other than that, there were other times when he was completely nonchalant and monotonous, like in season 5 when the hospital was owned by Ethicure, Shaun goes to Lea to share that he has the lowest scores from patients and when he tells her, he doesn’t sound disappointed, or upset about it at all. If it were me I would probably be a little frustrated and try to find a way to improve it.
Although Shaun does try to improve, he doesn’t get anywhere close to that and still gets a negative review from the daughter of his last patient. He still talked “weird” as he described. I know social cues are hard, and it’s evident that Shaun didn’t do all those social exercises that I did when I was a kid to help me learn these things, but I feel like he doesn’t want to even try harder at these things. If you meet me, you’ll see that I definitely do not talk like that.
My third biggest gripe about Shaun is that there doesn’t seem to be much to his personal life, but then again, this is unfortunately very common in these types of TV shows, when the characters are not working they’re at home having sex, swiping through dating apps nonstop if they’re single, getting wasted, or doing nothing at all, and that’s it.
But with Shaun, it’s even more bothersome to witness because not only does it seem like he has no hobbies, but he also doesn’t appear to take care of himself. He rarely sleeps and will stay up all night to try and solve a problem when the healthier thing to do is to sleep on it to relieve the stress.
He also seems to enjoy in my mind, “ruining” any source of entertainment because of its inaccuracy, like the time he tries to find common ground with Danica Powell and she mentions she enjoys movies like Twister and The Day After Tomorrow (two movies I really enjoy, especially the former) Shaun immediately shut her down saying that those movies were an inaccurate representation of the weather. Um, Shaun, it’s called fiction, it’s not supposed to be accurate! Maybe if you had some hobbies and interests then you would recognize that!
But the writers decided to give Shaun only the stereotypical interests we have like weather forecasts and stuff. I have a friend on the spectrum who likes those things but I also knew plenty of others who enjoy music and video games like me. So not all of us have interests in baseball stats or the weather channel and many of us take care of ourselves. Personally, I prefer to think things through for a few hours or days and sleep on it. I would never pull an all-nighter that isn’t the week I’m on night shifts (in fact, when I’m on night shift, I prefer to spend the quieter hours reading, napping, or watching movies) to figure out something in my life.
Maybe if Shaun had some more interests, then perhaps he wouldn’t be so stressed about his job or love life don’t you think?
I may have ASD but compared to Shaun, I seem to have very little in common with him, he’s way more literal than I am at times, and I seem to understand empathy a little bit while he sometimes doesn’t even try and his monotone makes me cringe when most people on the spectrum I met do not talk like that.
I don’t hate the show. If I really did, then I would have stopped watching long ago and wouldn’t be writing anything about it. There are still things I enjoy about it, like when Shaun does manage to improve his work and social skills a little. Plus I like other characters in the show too like Morgan, Audrey, Asher, etc.
So before you tell me I’m being irrational, incorrect, or whatever, remember that I am also on the autism spectrum and may know more than you think. I understand everyone on the spectrum is different and men and boys have more visible challenges than a woman like me but still, as another individual who also lives with this challenge, I wanted to share the notable cons. As I said, Shaun is a step in the right direction for my community, but we still have a long way to go.
4 thoughts on “The Problem With Shaun Murphy (From Another Autistic Person’s Perspective)”
If you don’t mind foreign languages, I’d love to hear your thoughts/opinions about how they approach autism on Netflix’s Extraordinary Attorney Woo
I don’t watch things that aren’t in English and I’m not really into anime.
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No problem! I definitely understand. Although lots of shows from Japan are anime, this is a real fictional show about lawyers. The main character is autistic and loves to talk about whales haha. I enjoyed reading about Shaun and your valuable input. Thank you 🤘
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I think I did hear about that actually. It’s just not my cup of tea. You’re welcome I’m glad you liked it.
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