I remember the day a friend asked if we could talk. It seemed, she said, that some of the other adults at our gatherings were uncomfortable with the way my son behaved. He was charming, wise beyond his years, and so mature and articulate. Most of the time. But, other times he was argumentative, rude (mostly to me), impulsive, and acted way younger than his age-mates. Since the adults were there for a bit of a kid-break and to talk with one another, they didn’t really want him butting into their conversations anymore. But there were few kids there with whom he had much in common, and so he tended to default to impulsive showiness… which usually got him in trouble. And the truth was that he’s much more comfortable with adults.
The other kiddos and I could keep coming to those meet-ups, she said, but I’d have to make other arrangements for our son.
This conversation wasn’t the first of its kind, it’s actually not even been the last of its kind, and I’m willing to bet that I’ll have more conversations exactly like this with other people about one or more of my kids in the coming years. When one is wired differently than the norm, one doesn’t fit in well. And, unfortunately for us, our entire family is made up of differently wired kids (and adults). We’re just full of quirks.
And, when I was sitting in a rooftop restaurant, a guest of Netflix last April, I couldn’t help but tear up as I watched a super-secret first screening of the new Netflix original show, Atypical.
It’s so, so good.
The show is about family — a typically atypical family.
The second I had access to the series (which was released this week), I watched the entire thing in two sittings. I haven’t binge-watched anything like that in forever. I’ve been processing my thoughts ever since as I’ve had people asking what I thought, and sharing their own opinions. And I’ve read reviews — both good ones and bad ones.
Here’s what I think.
The show is well done. Here’s the thing — despite the talk going around the web, I don’t think Atypical is “just another show with an autistic character.”
I think it’s a show about family.
And families are full of quirks.
Take ours, for example… Former teacher turned work-at-home, homeschooling mom of four. Husband who teaches little kiddos to read while advocating for better educational systems for kids and teachers within the system itself. Four kids — each quirkier than the last…
- Profoundly gifted, anxiety-riddled, impulsive, ADHD, SPD teen going through (lots of) puberty.
- Optimally gifted, even keeled, musical theater-kid who never puts a book down unless it’s to pick up a notebook to write on her own screenplay.
- Gifted, imaginative, creative, artsy, anxious, sensory kiddo who’s afraid of her own shadow, but would give you the shirt off her back if you were cold.
- The profoundly gifted, verbal, assertive, obsessive, preschooler who is finding his own voice and letting the world know what he thinks about, well, everything.
Yep… we’re pretty atypical, too.
The thing is, the show can appeal to just about any family because everyone has something to overcome, rise above, be better at, do better with, advocate for, or learn to embrace. Every family hides secrets. Every parent has something for which they hope their kids can find support. Every marriage goes through rocky periods. Every sibling pair or group has times during which they love well and others during which they fight well.
Whenever a show comes out that features a character who is differently wired than the norm, people take offense. They say that it’s parading out stereotypes, that they can’t relate because it’s not reflective of their story, or that it can’t be authentic because it doesn’t have characters who actually are differently wired or wasn’t written by people with autism, giftedness, anxiety, etc.
Here’s the thing, though…
When I talk about giftedness I often say that if you’ve met one gifted kiddo (person), you’ve met one gifted kiddo. That truth is the same for any person with autism. Differently wired — atypical — kids and adults are as different from each other as they are from the general population, and every family experiences things differently based on their unique characters and make-up.
If you’ve met one, you’ve met one.
Because of that super-simple truth about any neurological difference that occurs along a spectrum, you absolutely cannot make something relatable to all who live with differently wired family members. There will be shared truths and experiences – which is why the Raising Poppies Facebook group for parents of gifted and twice-exceptional children that my friend Cait and I founded is such a powerful place to go for support. With over 12,000 members from around the world, you’re bound to find someone who has a kid similar to yours, and reading through the stories of so many people with differently wired kids like yours (even if theirs isn’t exactly like yours) reminds you that you’re not alone. And that you’re a good parent. And that things will be okay.
You’re going to form your own opinion no matter what, and that opinion is going to be heavily colored by your own experiences with differently wired kids — your own or someone else’s — and that’s okay. But watch the series before forming your opinion.
Because watching it is worth it.
It’s at turns funny, sweet, raw, real, heartbreaking, hopeful, hopeless, uncomfortable, and poignant.
My absolute favorite part of the whole show is Sam’s processing and explanations of how he sees the world. His thoughts are so real and amazing — and I think they’re what all of us raising different kiddos wish we could hear. How much easier things would be for us if we could just crack open our kiddos’ brains and listen to how they are processing their world…
Not everyone will relate to the complexity of the relationships in the show. Not all people will feel Elsa’s simultaneous need to protect and shelter Sam while empowering and encouraging him. Not everyone will get Casey’s internal conflict as she protects, teases, and nurtures her brother. Not everyone will appreciate the relationship between Elsa and Doug and the ups and downs that go with that.
And it’s totally fine.
Give it a chance though. Watch, feel, and put yourself in each character’s place, in turn. You may be surprised about which character it is you relate to. I’m pretty sure that you’ll find someone in there who lives a similar life to yours.
Atypical is worth watching with an open mind. It’s worth it walking in the footsteps of that screen family’s quirks for a few hours. Even if it’s only to make you appreciate your own family even more.
You may love it. You may hate it. You may be one of those critics who can’t see themselves or their child in the way the character of Sam is protrayed. Okay. Watch anyway.
Listen, if this show makes you stop before asking a mom of a differently wired kid to meet you so you can talk about how she should probably make other arrangements for that kiddo before meeting up with your group again, it’s done its job. None of us know what it’s like to parent each other’s children. If you’ve met one, you’ve met one.
But, maybe… just maybe the new Netflix original series Atypical will help you see that quirks are beautiful and interesting, and you might give that different kid a chance to be himself before asking him not to show up. Noise-cancelling, music-streaming headphones, anyone?
I am a member of the Netflix #StreamTeam and am provided with monthly access to the streaming service during the year in exchange for sharing my thoughts about how we use and love Netflix in our home. We’d been subscribers long before I became a member of the team, and would share with you anyway. ;-)
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