It might shock some people to learn that one out of every 59 American children lives with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The term ASD acts as a kind of umbrella description for many unique types of specific conditions that affect different people in different ways. But, no matter how you view it, that is a lot of individuals, each with a very distinct yet emotionally recognizable story to tell.
There have been a few characters in literature with signs of being on the spectrum (Boo Radley in To Kill A Mockingbird comes to mind). But in more recent years, the entertainment industry has really embraced stories centered around individuals with ASD.
The Netflix series Atypical is a prime example. Described as a heartfelt comedy, the show tells the story of Sam (Keir Gilchrist), a teenager who has come to the decision he is ready for romance. Only, he’s not just your ordinary horny teenage boy. Sam lives on the autism spectrum.
The refreshing thing about this show is that it seems to showcase Sam as the most “normal” person in his family. In the first season, his quest for independence puts his mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and father (Michael Rapaport) into a tailspin. So, his parents join an autism support group looking for help from other parents, including group leader Kathy (Wendy Braun).
It’s in this storyline that show creators Robia Rashid and Academy Award-winning producer Seth Gordon have crafted an opportunity for the world to gain insight on not only one, but many, stories related to autism.
With the recent release of the second season, I caught up with actress Wendy Braun to find out more about working on this heartfelt show.
How does Kathy fit into the world of Atypical?
Wendy Braun: She’s the overly-perky, positive and put-together leader of the autism parent-support group and a friend of Sam’s mom, Elsa.
What was your first impression of Kathy?
WB: I loved that Kathy was uptight, but well-intentioned. The fact that she tries hard to appear as if she has it all together is so much fun to play, since these kinds of characters are often the ones falling apart underneath it all.
Has your opinion of her changed for Season 2?
WB: We definitely get to know her better in Season 2. I love her even more. She’s wonderfully wacky and lets loose a little bit.
Did you model Kathy after someone?
WB: Not one person in particular. She’s more of a combination of several people I’ve come across, with my own spin added.
Was there anything specific you did to prepare for this role?
WB: Yes. This season, Kathy has a unique workout routine. So I asked the producers to send me the workout video ahead of time so I could become familiar with all of the moves. I didn’t want it to look like it was her first time doing the workout. I wanted Kathy to be really good (or at least think she’s really good).
Before starting the show, did you know anyone personally who has autism?
WB: Yes. I have several people close to me whose children are on the spectrum in varying degrees. I’ve watched them handle motherhood with an autistic child, and it has been eye-opening.
Was there any additional pressure to “get it right” because the series deals with autism?
WB: I know everyone who works on the show wants to “get it right,” including me. I think we all share a deep love for the story we’re telling.
What do you hope audiences take away after watching the show?
WB: I hope audiences walk away feeling more compassion for those who are different from themselves. I also hope that the message this season, that “every family is atypical,” helps people make peace with the differences within their own families as well. At the end of day, I think everyone is trying to do the best they can with the knowledge they have.
Is there anything you’re learned from working on this series?
WB: Working on this series has been a great reminder to practice less judgement and more love…towards ourselves and others.
What’s the best advice you’ve actually followed?
WB: Do what you love + the money will follow.
Your source of inspiration is…?
WB: My children. They remind me to stay curious, be courageous and always have a sense of humor.
The project/role you wish you’d worked on?
WB: After getting cast as Mammy Yokum in ‘Lil Abner in 8th grade, I’d have to say, Daisy Mae. (Yes, I’ve been a character actress since I was 13.)
Lastly, is there anything else you’ve got coming up?
WB: I just finished the lead in a comedy feature film as the controlling matriarch in a highly dysfunctional family. I can’t give away any details yet, but playing strong women who embrace their flaws and their power makes me very happy.
Seasons 1 and 2 of Atypical are currently streaming on Netflix.