Good Doctor: The Autism Perspective (Episode 2 Review)

by: Raine

Episode 2 dealt with autism head on and I can’t say…that I’m totally pleased with how it was handled. But when has television ever handled a subject like medicine or law with perfect accuracy?

Again, I want to put out there that I am NOT an expert. I am merely experienced and relying on my experience, my studies and reading, and my sister’s expertise.

I’m going to go through the episode and I’m going to comment and tell you stories about my experiences.

Before I do that, a few issues. Lil’ Raine and I had a chat (she STILL hasn’t watched, RAWR) and I wanted to address a few things. People with Autism usually lack spatial awareness, so I was surprised to see last episode that it is one of Si-on’s strengths. I’m going to explain it as this: he has good fine motor skills for things like drawing and surgery, but his gross motor skills (like his awkward walk) are still clumsy.

Here are VERY simplified definitions:

Fine motor skills: precise movements (Ex: writing)

Gross motor skills: bigger movements (Ex: walking)

His savantism probably hones in on memory (of course) and things like seeing patterns and visually oriented intelligence.

Also, people with autism.don’t have a concept of time, so I find it strange that Si-on is punctual. I notice he wears a watch, so perhaps that is how he manages that. But more than likely, he is compulsive about checking the time.

Next, the episode suggested that they might try to “cure” Si-on of his autism. Which made me “WTF?!” out loud. Let’s liken autism (a social disorder) to dyslexia (a learning disorder). A person learns to cope with dyslexia throughout life. So, a child with dyslexia can go to a therapist to learn how to read and one thing a therapist may do is help the child recognize the phonemes (small units of sounds in words) as a way to recognize the word as a whole.

We have to do the same with person with autism. It’s a persistent, lifelong disability. The brain functions differently than a typical brain. So we need to teach them how to deal with certain social situations. There was a point in the drama when Yoon-seo sent Si-on out on an errand in a neighborhood he was unfamiliar with and did not give him clear directions. Realistically, he would’ve gotten lost! In that case, she should’ve written down clear directions and found him a map. He is always reciting how to get to places because he’s been taught to do that. The only reason he would’ve been taught is because he is NOT good with directions. But if Si-on knows to look up directions or ask for clear cut directions, he can overcome the disability in that area.

Okay, onto the review in chronological order!

After the nekkid debacle, Yoon-seo gets her first taste of Si-on and DOESN’T REALIZE HE HAS AUTISM. How does a doctor, who has supposedly done her studies and her rotations, not have any knowledge of autistic behavior? He ignores her talking because he’s too focused on getting to work and makes skittish eye contact.  What is good about her though, is she doesn’t treat him differently. She treats him normally.

He goes to work and the other residents talk about him like he’s not there. He can HEAR you. Advice, don’t talk about someone like they’re not there. Autism or not, ears work and people have feelings.

When Si-on notices a sick boy (who draws butterflies) is doing badly and brings up the situation to cranky Do-han, he gets yelled at. Okay, getting yelled at sucks, but for a person with autism, the aural input is absolutely overwhelming. (The big plot point in this scene was that there is a jerky surgeon, Dr. Go, who got his position via nepotism and doesn’t give a rat’s ass about his patients. He is playing golf while the kid is suffering and dying. Yes, he gets caught. No, he does not get in trouble. They use Si-on against Woo-seok to get him off the hook.)

Si-on goes back to help the patient and ignores all protocol to help the hurting kid. He cares AND he can’t discern the proper way to handle things. He just sees what’s in front of him. I think that Woo-seok needs to teach him how to handle the stress of an ill child, step by step. And how protocol works. Autism needs STEPS and explanations and rationality.

Instead we get what I feared, Si-on rushing the child into surgery without any clearance or help. He is stopped by Do-han and the team who are about to start another surgery. Do-han yells and the stress gets to Si-on whose mannerisms start to manifest: extreme fidgeting, some stuttering, shuffling. He has no way to re-direct the energy. He just knows what needs to be done and that someone is yelling and preventing him from doing what he knows is right. This is what I worried about. He needs guidance. A guardian would be good, at least to start with. An aide.

One of the board watches the whole process evilly. He’s come to “save” the hospital and is in cahoots with Do-han’s girlfriend (the second female lead) Yoo Chae-kyung played by my beloved Kim Min-seo. I love her, I hate that the politics have begun….

Do-han yells at then punches Si-on after the surgery and Si-on laughs, a strange reaction. The laughter means he is NERVOUS AS HELL, which Woo-seok explains to Do-han who  later explains to Yoon-seo.

Why in the world would a doctor need to explain to another doctor that a person with autism has situationally inappropriate reactions under stress? That’s BASIC. The show should’ve had a situation like…a child with autism just admitted into the ward and the nurse explaining him to the other children.

After getting punched, kindly Yoon-seo (really like Moon Chae-won as this character) cleans him up and tries to make him understand what he did wrong. The problem is, she explains the teams reactions rather than saying EXACTLY what he did wrong and WHY is was wrong. He needs concrete. Then he needs further instructions: Do not do this again. This is what you should do instead.

Then, my favorite character with Si-on, Nurse Jo who helped him out, teaches Si-on how to fist bump. At first Si-on thinks he’s trying to play rock/paper/scissors…so funny! If only everyone would handle Si-on with the patience of Nurse Jo. And again, I will say this. The care needed in interacting with a person with autism is one we should give to every relationship. It’s just more severe with someone who doesn’t really get social situations.

At one point, Yoon-seo brings Si-on food, but he won’t eat it. I’m wondering if he has food issues. A lot of people with autism do. They are very sensitive to textures in food and often only eat very specific things. Si-on has a few foods like that. GOOD SHOW! He also likes meat…just like me. I likes him. Anywho, Yoon-seo tries to feed him food, but he won’t accpet it and clamps his mouth shut.

This reminds me of a kid I worked with. He was around 10, couldn’t really speak, and hated the texture of meat. He adored carbs like Cheerios and chips. I worked with an occupational therapist and him and I gradually, over the course of a year, got him to eat one bite of lunch meat! It was so rewarding. But anyway, that story was just to say that kids (people) with autism have severe food aversions sometimes.

Some more political stuff with the head of another department happens. His name is Dr. Kim, in case I use it later on. Basically, he doesn’t like that Yoon-seo tried to take one of his patients who was really young and he’s pitching a fit.

Do-han meets with Yoon-seo who tries to defend Si-on and Do-han, the fucking idiot, calls Si-on a robot. He’s not a robot, he has no affectation! There’s a difference. Yoon-seo tries to point that out. Then Do-han explains autism to her. The ONLY reason I like this is that it educates viewers who don’t know much about autism: Si-on speaks with a high voice, he fidgets. He shouldn’t be teaching another doctor about it though. And he says it’s an “early manifestation of autism.” What? That IS a manifestation of autistic behavior. Yoon-seo says that Si-on just isn’t cured yet.

RAWR! No! He hasn’t been shown how to deal with situations. Autism is not something to be cured. It is something to be learned to deal with in society.

Anyway, Do-han also has issues with the fact that Si-on gets obsessed with helping and he thinks it’s because Si-on was told to do that and completely disregards the fact that Si-on cares. Do-han is right that the obsessive focus on a patient is not good. But his reasoning is so off.

After work, Yoon-seo walks Si-on home. He’s been taken off call for his mistake, which is not good. Yoon-seo tries to tease him to make him cheer up and notices that his eyelashes flutter when she calls him a pervert for staring at him. He admits he stared at her face because it’s pretty. But he’s not flattering her as she thinks; he’s stating what he believes to be a fact. Nonetheless, it’s still cute as hell.

I wrote this on Dramabeans, but Si-on can love and feel love just like anyone else. It’s just a little hard for him to be in a relationship. So I wanna see how this pans how and how realistic it is.

She takes him shopping for groceries as a gesture of friendship and forgets something so she sends him to get it. I flipped out thinking he’d get lost, but he didn’t. A little unrealistic, but whatevs. He comes back and she’s cleaned up and accidentally thrown out his scalpel, the gift from his brother. He digs through the trash and is angry, so he tells her not to come back or help him anymore. Yup, it’s childish, but that’s how he is. (Did ya notice how he didn’t even consider cleaning up the mess he made while looking through the garbage? Yeah, lack of awareness.) Also, the next day when she tries to make up with him, he ignores her. Hehe, that WAS on purpose and his way of being mad.

To comfort himself to sleep, he imagines his hyung patting him and remembers hyung tickling him. SO CUTE.

This reminds me of another time, same kid as I talked about before. He would put his arms up and ask his older sister for “tickles”. It was the cutest thing. This scene reminded of them.

What isn’t cute about Si-on going to sleep alone is that he’s alone! He is so ridiculously lonely. Just because he can’t express the desire to be with people doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to be with them. He needs to be living with someone who cares for him.

The end of the episode deals with Do-han being angry about Woo-seok letting Dr. Go get away with golfing instead of caring for patients and Si-oh overhearing Dr. Kim (from another department) telling two parents that their baby is probably going to die. Put Do-han’s promise to his beloved mentor Woo-seok about taking care of Si-on together with the board’s intentions to fire Woo-seok and Do-han has a dilemma. He doesn’t like Si-on, but has more than enough reason to protect him.

So when Dr. Kim storms into the pediatrics office in a fury over his baby patient being stolen, I think we know who stole the patient. It wasn’t Yoon-seo this time. Si-on’s shifty eyes tell us everything…

And there you have it, my sort of, kind of recap with lots of information in it and a lot of ranting. My big hope: don’t try to cure autism. Learn to live with it and appreciate what it has to offer. It’s a different world view. It’s why people make fun of autism rather than try to understand it and embrace it.

I’m hoping that interacting and learning to understand and becoming friends with Si-on will bring some humanity to the people around him; especially Do-han. I also want Yoon-seo to learn to care for him as a person and also realizes he does need the guidance she gives him. I just don’t want it to be ALL about the guidance. I want them to see that he is like them: human. I want his humanity to win out. Si-on thanked the boy he saved. He cares. He has a heart. It’s just not visible, like the sun in the night sky.

Reviews: 1, 2

21 responses to “Good Doctor: The Autism Perspective (Episode 2 Review)”

  1. Your insight is much appreciated Raine. I feel like I can appreciate Joo Won’s portrayal even more now…not that I had a problem before. Like you, I also wished they would stop trying to ‘cure’ him. I don’t get it…this is a well known fact that autism is a condition to be lived with and it cannot be cured. Unless we’ve stepped into the fantasy realm.

  2. Thank you Raine for this recap! And thank you for the all the information that hopefully helps debunk myths about Autism that this series seem to be perpetuating. I am a therapist who has worked with several individuals with Autism and I too have been frustrated by the doctors insisting that Si-On’s Autism can be and should be cured!! And it is uttered by *paediatricians* no less! Shouldn’t developmental conditions be part of the curriculum?? Then again, as what one reviewer pointed out, perhaps this reflected the general view of developmental needs in Korea?

    I really hope that the writers don’t decide to “cure” Si-On by the end of the series… I would be utterly disappointed.

    Nonetheless, Joo Won’s portrayal is excellent and very realistic indeed. The inconsistent eye-contact, the use of multi-sensory strategies, the flat affect, the stimming… The moment Si-On smiled as he was hit by Do-Han reminded me of a child I worked with who would laugh when he wasn’t able to cope with his increasing anxiety. Park Si-On has obviously gone a long way in learning to cope with his environment. He is the main reason why I have decided to continue with this drama. Well, as long as the writers don’t throw in any more misinformation about Autism in future episodes…

    Lastly, thank you Raine for this lovely closing statement: “I want them to see that he is like them: human. I want his humanity to win out. Si-on thanked the boy he saved. He cares. He has a heart. It’s just not visible, like the sun in the night sky.” Let’s hope this is the message that the series will move towards.

    • 😀 If you have anything else to add that you see, please let me know and I’ll try to incorporate it. I’ve been talking a lot with my former colleagues, sister and my mother and trying to reduce the techno lingo to understandable forms. Apparently Joo Won visited a few hospitals before performing and it is very obvious. He was th eonly reason I watched. When I saw the preview my eye said, hrm, that’s a good job he’s doing!

      I actually thought it would be good of them to stick in some rocking during the smiling scene, now that I think about it. If that didn’t give away his autism to a ROOM FULL OF DOCTORS, I dont’ know what will. Heh.

      Cheers to you! And again, let me know of anything you see or think. I just come from years of experience and minor formal training.

  3. I have an Autistic son. his motor skills are really poor, but since he was 3 years old, we attend early intervention groups to teach us to communicate with each other. Not every child with autistim is the same as one another; you can’t put them all into the same category. With much patience and lengthy sessions of communcating with him, he began to open up to family members.
    There are different levels of autism in people, so you have to have an open mind when you watch this drama.

    • Yes, but some of the representations are just wrong. Some of them are correct. Mostly its the conceptual teachings that the show tries to impart that gets me. I’m sure your son is lovely. My favorite students have been my students with autism that have ranged from mild to severe with all sorts of different issues all in between!

  4. Thank you for even more insight into autism and how the show deals with it. I think I could accept (or rather don’t even recognize them) many inaccuracies of the portrayal of autism in this drama as I’m not as knowledgeable as you, but the whole ‘it’s disease that can be cured’ made me simply angry and at the same time made me realize that there’re still many people out there who know next to nothing about autism and how this drama could’ve changed their perception of autism if it was only done right.

    • I agree with you. Autism is not a decease. You can teach skills and communications to them, but there is no cure. Still, you have to see people not from your prejudice perspective and not for what they are labelled as, but see them as individuals.

      • The biggest thing is to see them as people, I agree. Not as “that autistic kid”. But as a person. I don’t think there needs to be a cure. We need to focus on helping them live life well and happily. Your son can now communicate with family. That’s amazing and beautiful!

  5. I am hooked to reading your reviews on Good Doctor. Thank you for sharing your experience and insights.

    I, too hope that the show will not make it into “Autism can be cured” message. There may be cases of people recovering or cured from autism but I am afraid if this central theme sticks in the mind of the public who does not even understand the disorder fully, the effect might be worse.

    Here’s my thoughts:
    Choi Woo Seok declared in front of the board that Park Si On was successfully treated and declared normal at age 17 but ep 2 showed us that despite him saving the boy at the train station and imagining himself in the operating theatre in that parallel world to Do Han, calmly and successfully completing the procedures, he failed big time when he tried to operate on Seon Hoo. This gives me some confidence that the show will make effort to show that despite all treatment, Si On still has a lot to work on and overcome before he can become a surgeon. I just hope they make it realistic in that they will have Si On finally working round his autistic tendencies rather than having them disappear like magic.

    The show might also be using people like Do Han, Yoon Seo to demonstrate the common misunderstandings people have about autists. They might be doctors but they may not know all about autism if it’s not their specialty.

    • One point: a doctor will KNOW about autism. It’s one of the big areas of study even if you’re not a psychiatrist/psychologist. They have to know to treat a variety of patients

      • Ooops, then Dr Cha’s slowness to catch on is puzzling to say the least. Plus, her insistence on him eating the bun

      • actually, that’s not as true as you might think. My 6 year old son has an autism spectrum disorder. The pediatrician didn’t catch it. And even after he was diagnosed, my mother disagreed. My mother is a PSYCHIATRIST! However, she and the pediatrician are older. The criteria have changed enormously over the past several decades. Many children who previously were diagnosed with ADHD with severe motor deficit are now diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. The genes overlap. There are still a lot of people surprised at my son’s diagnosis, including the psychologist next door and playground moms. Family members doubt However, I got my diagnosis from a true expert. Harvard-trained, 30 years experience, medical school professor. Also second opinion at the Emory Autism Center: confirmed. However, the older he gets the more he resembles someone with “Aspergers.” Many people dispute whether Aspergers is truly the same. Have you heard the saying, “if you’ve met one child with autism, you’ve met one child with autism”? that’s incredibly true. And many of the MOST “autistic” traits truly can be “outgrown.” It helps if you think about what actually causes them. Some of these things are due to very slowly developing sensory processing centers. But the brain is extremely plastic. If you listen to and read the writings of some middle-aged autistic individuals, you will see that development and growth continues throughout life. Also consider: there are many people with autistic traits who don’t qualify for the diagnosis. Just as one example, lots of people “rock” who aren’t autistic. Some autistic people talk EARLY. The variation is mind-blowing. There is not a single autistic trait that you can name that is not shared by at least some people who aren’t autistic. There’s not a single trait that that you can’t find an autistic person WITHOUT. it’s a way more slippery concept than people realize.

        • I agree with some of what you said and not with others. I have never met a doctor who hasn’t known about it, but a lot of parents of children with autism HAVE. That blows my mind. It’s sad.

          Of course autism and its spectrum varies across the board. One of my students started talking, then stopped, then regained full speech with high vocabulary! It was so cool.

          I did see there were a lot of changes in the newest DSM. For me personally, it doesn’t matter if you’re diagnosable. I’m not diagnosable as aDd, but I definitely suffer from symptoms. My best friend defeinitely suffers from symptoms of autism. We wil never be diagnosed. I suffered through school because I wasn’t diagnosed because I didn’t “qualify”. I got straight As at the cost of ulcers because of issues cuased by disability. I think I grew up biased in a community where people are very educated about it, working with OTs and PTs, music and art therapists, and psychiatrists and psychologists who are knowledgable AND experienced.

          When I wrote this, I think I was just pissed at the show in general. Heh. But yes, most of the technical stuff you wrote I agree with. I don’t agree that traits can be outgrown though. I think they can be overcome, but the base persists. It’s what I’ve seen in my adults and ready. If I see or read otherwise, I’m open to change though. Have any studies? thanks for the input.

        • Also, a lot of people have said that they’ve encountered ignorant doctors. Baffles me. thanks for adding your input so OTHER people can read about everyone’s knowledge and see how the field really works. Now just, “Oh lets yell at you for suffering from a trait and expect you to change”

  6. Thanks for this recap and giving insight into autism. I work in an elementary school and we have a couple students with mild, high-functioning autism, and a few others with emotional disorders. They all have a really hard time reading social situations and reacting appropriately. I haven’t worked directly with them very much though.

    The whole “must be cured” thing really gets to me as well. It reduces Si On’s humanity by only seeing him as autistic. And it’s not something to be cured.

    I wonder how autism is perceived in general in Korea, and whether that’s influencing the writers. I certainly don’t think the US has “arrived” in terms of accepting autism and other disabilities, but I do think there is increasing awareness, and a general acceptance of “difference.” From my admittedly limited exposure to Korea, it seems like “difference” is seen negatively, as something to be ignored, or not talked about. I don’t know.

    It will be interesting to see how the doctors’ attitudes change over the course of the drama.

  7. Thanks for this informative recap! I’ve decided to stay away from this show as this hits pretty close to home. I have an autistic nephew and I wasn’t sure how the show would deal with it. I figured odds were I’d be cringing at best, throwing things at the screen at worst. I did check out the first episode though and I thought it was pretty alright. But it’s not enough for me to keep watching, for many other reasons. I would however, keep reading your recaps, so keep it up!

  8. Well said. Thank you! The exact same things that you mention from the Autism side of this drama drove me batty while watching. I think this will be Joo Won’s most challenging role ever. If he can pull this role off cleanly, evenly performed week in & week out over the next however many weeks he will have earned my respect as an actor. But the writers need to get their facts straight.

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