By Luisa Jacques
Luisa Jacques attended the Claremont Colleges, Pitzer, where she received her B.A. in Sociology. She is the mother of two children and currently works as a substitute teacher.
Netflix’s original dramedy, “Atypical” which premiered August 11, delves into the life of a young man entering his senior year in high school who happens to be a high-functioning autistic person. The show follows “Sam” and his family through this turbulent period, giving its audience “not in the club” an eye-opening opportunity to connect with this family and their daily issues. My son, Anthony, who is on the autism spectrum, himself, was given a small role. His name is “Christopher” and through the mother’s’ long-standing friendship, happens to be a part of Sam’s life. Wait. What? Other than performing scenes in his theatre classes at school, Anthony’s never really acted. How could this be possible?
Probably, most likely, NEVER IN A MILLION YEARS is what I thought when Anthony shared his aspirations of becoming an actor. Now, before any of you starts hissing and spitting nails, it is not because I didn’t believe or have faith in my son’s abilities. My reaction was based more on the premise of reality. I mean, come on. Nearly everyone wants to be famous whether it be through acting, singing, professional sports, and the like. Alas, the truth of the matter is, particularly in the field of entertainment, very few individuals actually realize their dreams come to fruition. This is exactly how I saw it. It is a dream of Anthony’s. In my mind, this most likely wouldn’t/ couldn’t come true for him.
Indulge me and add to the probability that dreams do not pay bills or buy food or videogames, or socks (which we are currently obsessing over, you paid how much for one pair of socks?!) It simply isn’t practical. What’s that they say, “For every light on Broadway…” Well, like every parent with children, whether on the spectrum or not, I want my child to be happy, healthy, safe, successful, and in my case independent because as most parents with children on the spectrum know, independence isn’t necessarily a given. Therefore, the entire notion of acting—as a career—for my son—who is on the autism spectrum, simply did not afford the peace of mind I need to feel comfortable about my son’s future.
Theatre as an elective and extracurricular activity, thankfully, did provide Anthony an escape from the everyday challenges of the neurotypical school day and more importantly, a chance to belong and feel comfortable in his own skin. So, naturally, I supported and encouraged his interest in the Arts. However, in my mind I saw acting as a helpful diversion and nothing more. The odds stacked against the neurotypical, starving actor are bad enough. Now let’s factor in someone who is obviously a deviant of the of the precious mainstream. As with anything or anyone who is different, there comes an inevitable pestilence that suffocates one’s mindset. Preconceived notions take root and it is comfortable and easier for people to believe what they want rather than to open themselves up and take a chance on the unknown. For instance, Anthony diligently participated in theatre throughout his middle and high school years. He did very well in all his theatre classes and had proven his dedication to the Art. Finally, in his senior year, he had built up the courage to audition for the high school play. While not expecting the lead role, I surely believed he would get something. To my dismay, Anthony was not cast in the play.
Flashback: Fred Mertz. I couldn’t help but think of the classic “I Love Lucy” episode in which Fred is upstage, unbeknownst to Ethel, and he is methodically walking across the stage, back and forth, to and fro, no lines just carrying this ridiculous, nonsensical tree that keeps getting bigger and bigger with every crossing. “Really?!?” was my hyper-protective, yes, biased but logical, first thought. You couldn’t “Fred Mertz” my son?!? Anthony remained committed to his quest, his lifelong dream, despite this dismissal. Then, Atypical happened. What a resounding testament to diligence, commitment, and the simple yet powerful belief in oneself. I am extremely grateful, honored, ecstatic, and so proud that Anthony is able to be a part of this ground-breaking project. Netflix is giving a long, overdue voice to a significant issue that touches the lives of so many people on so many levels. ASD is a multifaceted diagnosis which can devour the soul. Atypical offers a rebirth, if you will, in a comical yet sensitive and informative manner. As a former special ed health aide and now a substitute teacher, partial to special ed classes, I am excited that Atypical offers a unique platform which can finally shatter the stereotypical, one-dimensional, fallacy that “Rainman” equals autism. It’s time to dispel the confining labels that society so readily slaps on individuals only to perpetuate complacency. As a mother of a child with autism, I love that this show is able to emphasize differences yet keep it relatable, as a whole. One size doesn’t fit all, people! When Anthony was first diagnosed, I accidentally used the term, normal. (UGH!) My then 4 year old daughter quickly reminded me, “Mom, why would anyone want to be normal? It’s so boring.”