I don’t know Nat Berman’s personal connection to autism, if any, but I didn’t like his opinions on The Good Doctor, expressed here.
Many people have praised the show, saying that it shows autism in a more positive light and proves that people who are on the autism spectrum are capable of doing great things. To a certain extent, it’s understandable why people would make these claims. However, there’s also a flip side to it that few people are willing to discuss. It sets unrealistic expectations for those who are moderately or severely affected by autism. Even someone who has a mild case of autism might struggle to achieve a medical degree, not to mention spending years in residency and then working to achieve some type of medical specialty. This is something that some of the most dedicated, brightest students are not able to achieve, so there is a growing concern that this show might produce unrealistic goals for people who have children that are autistic.
My own problem with The Good Doctor was that it was intantilizing and implausible, based on my experience in a PhD program. Berman is lying that the opposite perspective is something “few people are willing to discuss.” His article is actually the THIRD ONE making these claims that I’ll be writing about. Someone already said the same thing in Vice. Vox linked to someone else saying the same thing, and presented those views as the views of “autism advocates.” “Of course autistic people can’t really do that” isn’t a nice thing to say, but it certainly doesn’t make Berman a brave dissenter.
Berman doesn’t understand the power of special interests. In grad school, some of the normal people had to take neuroanatomy twice. I did not. I was not the best at working quickly or manipulating tiny things with my hands, but I could do brain surgery on a rat. How did I end up in a position to be doing those sorts of things? Certainly not because I was diagnosed with autism and subject to extremely low expectations.
He admitted something damning about how society works: parents get their expectations for their autistic kids from fictional television shows instead of their children’s doctors or even knowing their children. And high expectations are a danger.
The reality of the situation is that autism is a spectrum, and everyone that is diagnosed with it behaves differently. Those who are mildly autistic are often able to function in many careers without anyone ever knowing that they were diagnosed to begin with. That being said, it may not be the best environment for someone when you’re talking about a career in medicine, or any other career that requires intricate communication with people or the ability to make split-second decisions. That certainly doesn’t mean that a person who is mildly autistic is incapable of having a career that allows them to stand on their own two feet. However, it does mean that they might need to set their sights on things that are a little less stressful, as autistic people don’t routinely do well with stress to begin with.
What he means by “mild autism” is the ability to mask. He’s talking about the mildness of discomfort he experiences around the person, not the intensity of the autism as a subjective experience.
Currently, I work in “technical escalations”, where I have to be on the phone with clients who might ask questions that weren’t on the agenda. We’re talking about the problems surrounding web security testing, which can be intricate. I work in this role because I’m good at, like, communicating about complicated things with different kinds of people: testers, developers, managers, sales people. Other people at my company often decline to join my team because it’s stressful. “Big Client is angry that we missed a vulnerability and the renewal is in jeopardy!!!” Like…I read a lot as a kid and my parents taught me how to be polite and considerate. I do tai chi and drugs and therapy for stress. Being autistic is stressful, Berman.
If you just so happen to be the parent of an autistic child, there is certainly nothing wrong with having dreams of success for their future, nor is there anything wrong with expecting them to live up to their individual capabilities. As a matter of fact, you owe it to your child to demand that they live up to their capabilities because if you continue to do everything for them, you’re only hurting them. That being said, do try to be careful about not getting things into your head where you might expect them to do something that they’re simply not capable of doing. Remember, the good doctor is a television show and nothing more. If it brings about an honest conversation about the subject of autism, that’s wonderful. If it makes parents and other individuals start to expect more from autistic individuals than they are honestly capable of producing, then it becomes a problem. The only thing you have to decide is which side you’re on.
Notice how Berman hasn’t really said anything about why exactly medical training is hard and how exactly that interacts with autism’s strengths and weaknesses. He just knows autistic people can’t be doctors. Like…if someone is having a hard time in biology classes, med school might not be their thing. People shouldn’t get their idea of reality from Hollywood. But nothing about that is specific to autism. Berman is just making assumptions, based on prejudice he probably got from the media.
“But you have a job…with people!”