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ABC’s 'The Good Doctor' addresses stigmas around autism in the workplace

Dr. Shaun Murphy evaluates a patient’s cardiac rhythm (photo/axn.co.ao).

Dr. Shaun Murphy, played by Freddie Highmore, is a surgical fellow with autism and savant syndrome who must navigate through his residency in ABC’s "The Good Doctor."

An individual with savant syndrome expresses exceptional capacities in certain areas despite significant mental disabilities. Memory is among the most common of these abilities. Shaun’s absurd capacity to retain information and grasp spacial awareness in terms of physiological dynamics of the human body make him an excellent diagnostician. Because of his autism, he struggles to communicate with his colleagues and make social decisions.

The series is based off a South Korean show with the same name. David Shore, producer of the American series, adapted the show for U.S. viewers. In an interview with TV Guide in November 2017, he says he didn’t need to make many adaptations. He said “[the] issues we're touching seemed very universal to me.”

Some criticize the show’s portrayal of autism, saying many autistic individuals are higher or lower performing than Murphy, or that savant syndrome rarely occurs, even in the autistic community. 

No matter how well the show portrays autism, some will find it inaccurate because the character will face different circumstances than the individuals they may have met with autism. Shore says that Shaun “is a specific character, he’s not there to represent autism, he’s there to represent Dr. Shaun Murphy” in his interview with TVline in September 2017.

Highmore’s acting is impeccable. After his appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, many Good Doctor fans who had not previously seen Highmore’s work were surprised by the nature of his speech.  Many took to social media to say they assumed he was an autistic actor.

Some viewers are drawn in because they have seen Freddie Highmore in A&E’s television horror drama series "Bates Motel". The roles are completely different, so it is hard for some viewers to appreciate his character in "The Good Doctor" when they know Highmore as Norman Bates.

Shaun’s character appeals to many audiences. He was born with a set of obstacles—he and his brother dealt with abusive parents and homelessness from a young age. Many populations can relate to the adversities he has overcome. We can all relate to adapting to new social dynamics as we move into new jobs, schools, and careers; "The Good Doctor" presents a unique perspective on these issues.

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