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The Good Doctor
, An Autism Perspective

By Andrew Dugan

One of the more fascinating things I learned about the new ABC series The Good Doctor is that the main character, Doctor Shaun Murphy played by Freddie Highmore, experiences his world through pictures. This is fascinating to me because I, too, have been diagnosed with autism and I also experience my world through pictures.

When I was young, I thought everyone viewed his or her world the same way. Later, as a junior visual effects artist at Exceptional Minds Studio, I learned how unique this is and that it can sometimes be an advantage. In fact, it was a definite advantage when I worked on several shots for The Good Doctor.  All the artists at Exceptional Minds Studio are on the autism spectrum, and five of us --  Patrick Brady, Eli Katz, Tiana Fazio, Mason Taylor and myself – did what we call split-screen composition for several episodes of The Good Doctor, which involved creating a single, seamless shot from multiple takes.

As visual effects artists, we contract with studios as part of the post-production pipeline on films and shows. We scrub out iPhones and A/C units that were never intended to be part of a Western film, for example, and remove tracking markers that were needed for production but not supposed to be shown on the final film. It takes good visual aptitude to do this work, and we’re told often that we have a unique ability to do it.

I learned in high school how good I was at thinking visually when I took a geography class. I got really good at naming the countries and where they were located. If someone asked where a country was, I could visualize it on a map in my head. It was even 3D.

I was also very good at science, especially biology. It was actually my favorite subject in school, so a part of me can certainly relate to The Good Doctor.

What viewers see when they watch The Good Doctor, I guess I see in real life.

Later, after I graduated high school, I became interested in photography. I really like the composition aspect of it; I’m told that I am good at framing out a picture. I seem to have a natural ability to follow the rule of thirds. Lately, I’ve been experimenting with lighting, and hope to get into light drawing using glow sticks, for example.

When I arrived at Exceptional Minds, I discovered a whole group of other people that think like me. I was never around people with autism growing up because the people on the spectrum in my school system were lower functioning and separated from the other students.

What’s so exciting about shows like The Good Doctor and Atypical, which I also worked on, is that they show just how far autism has come in the last couple of decades. I would never talk about having autism before. Now, it’s okay to have autism and it’s even an advantage. Being in a group of other people with autism who share my interests and my career path, it’s made me aware of just how much I appreciate being who I am.

I’m asked often if I think someone with autism should play the actor in The Good Doctor. I don’t think that should be a requirement, but it is important that autism is portrayed accurately for the sake of those of us who have been diagnosed with it. When I learned that the doctor thought in pictures similar to how I do, I felt good knowing that the show’s producer and actors have done their homework and have a pretty good understanding of what it’s like to be on the spectrum.

Andrew Dugan is a 27-year-old visual effects artist with Exceptional Minds Studio who worked on several shots for The Good Doctor. He completed Exceptional Minds’ vocational program in June of 2016, and began working in the Exceptional Minds Studio staffed exclusively by young professionals on the autism spectrum soon after. Also a photographer, Dugan describes himself as a visual thinker.