The Good Doctor seemingly came out of nowhere to become TV's most popular show. The story follows Dr. Shaun Murphy, a skilled surgeon with autism and savant syndrome, who is trying to assimilate into the workings of a busy hospital. The show starts with Dr. Murphy being vetted by hospital officials, who are all concerned about his potential limitations. His mentor, Dr. Aaron Glassman, stands by Dr. Murphy and pleads his case.
“We hire Shaun and we give hope to those people with limitations that those limitations are not what they think they are, that they do have a shot,” he continued. “We hire Shaun and we make this hospital better for it. We hire Shaun and we are better people for it.”
The Good Doctor demonstrates the challenges that can arise when someone with autism is placed in a situation they are uncomfortable with, but it also showcases how their differences can be what's needed to solve a problem.
Characters with autism have rarely been portrayed on television, especially in prime time, so The Good Doctor is walking in uncharted territory. Dr. Murphy experiences discrimination, jokes at his expense, and missing out on specific social cues that people without autism might pick up easily.
But the question is, does The Good Doctor help or hinder the fight to de-stigmatize autism in mainstream media?
The show is only on its sixth episode, but it is already crushing the ratings game. It routinely beats out The Voice, The Big Bang Theory, and Dancing With The Stars, all of which are considered high-quality programming. So why is that?
Sharon Orduna and her daughter, Kiera, make it a routine to sit and watch The Good Doctor every week. Kiera, 23, falls on the autism spectrum, and Sharon says the show helps them bond.
"She's an Asperger kid, really gifted in mathematics," Orduna said. "He really doesn't get sarcasm, and Kiera still has issues with that. I think they hit that right out of the park."
Michael Blackstone, a coordinator at the Autism Center of Nebraska, says the show sends a positive message to those living with autism, or another type of disability.
"Things are not out of reach," Blackstone said, "even though you have a disability, you can still reach for your goals."
The Good Doctor also shows how the people around Dr. Murphy are adapting to his condition. For example, Dr. Claire Brown quickly learns that Shaun will not respond to questions, as they make him uncomfortable. Instead, she re-works them into phrases so he can provide the information needed.
Parents of children with autism, as well as lots of others, are applauding The Good Doctor for delving into a world that television rarely sees.
"As a mom to a high functioning, socially inept 26-year-old son, I love that we have a show that has a main character with Autism. When my son was diagnosed, it was like the dark ages," Marge DeBella wrote on Facebook.
"I like it. I like the respect. I like that they don't try to make his autism like the typical people around him. I like that they show challenges similar to the ones I see my daughter with autism facing. I hope it helps more people respect her," wrote Chyrl Willis.
"I have a five-year-old autistic grandson who is on [the] lower spectrum and he is so smart with numbers and letters. He still has problems with social skills but I watch this show and it makes me believe he can grow up to be anything great!" says Karen Petty.
However, though the show may realistically portray the struggles people with autism may face, it doesn't make it any easier for parents who live with autism to watch.
"I love the idea behind the show, and the fact that they have made an authentic attempt to frame autism as such," Alex Scantlebury told Shared, a father to two autistic children. "I tried to give the show a chance, but as a parent to two autistic children it just hits too close to home for me."
The Good Doctor airs Mondays at 10pm on ABC. Do you watch?