Headstart for Life

From Social Communication Challenges to The Good Doctor

Posted on Monday, September 2, 2019 by 2 minutes

Thank you for joining me again to discuss this week’s topic: Shaun Murphy’s social skills!

If you have watched the drama series, The Good Doctor, I am sure you know who I am talking about. Yes, that is the male lead, Shaun Murphy, who is a surgical resident and also an individual with autism and savant syndrome (a condition in which individual with certain mental disabilities exhibits specific talent in an area). If you have never watched this drama but you do know about children with autism, I think you would also be familiar with the characteristics and also the social communication challenges they face..

I came across this drama recently and was fascinated by its storyline as well as how the plot supports a character with Autistism Spectrum Disorder. With the interest in the topic of autism and this drama, I would like to take this opportunity to discuss the social behaviour of individuals with autism and their challenges. There are four areas: insistence on sameness, sensory processing challenges, emotional challenges, and social communication challenges.


1. Insistence on sameness

A predictable environment is able to ease an individual with autism. In contrast, unpredictability in less-structured activities can upset them and raise anxiety towards unknown. In the show, it is very apparent where Shaun Murphy constantly adheres strictly to some self-imposed rules day by day in order to create certain predictability for himself. He woke up at the same time every morning, meeting the same people for breakfast every Monday, having the same amount of pancakes at the same venue. You can observe an insistence on sameness in Shaun’s daily life and how he experienced a great deal of stress when his rules were broken by others.


Photo Credit: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/121737996162474547/?lp=true

Photo Credit: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/121737996162474547/?lp=true

2. Sensory Processing Difficulties

We have seldom, rarely or probably never experienced a lack of control of our brain in interpreting the sensory input from our environment. We probably adjust ourselves easily to the noise coming from the air-conditioner, the flickering lightbulb in the room, the rough surface of the floor mat or the smell of white pepper coming from the kitchen. However, people with ASD may exhibit some sensory processing difficulties that result in responses to sensory input (auditory, visual, tactile, smell, taste and movement). From the drama, we see Shaun experienced a hypersensitive response towards an auditory stimulus which was a buzzing light and how his colleagues saved him from meltdown during an emergency.




3. Emotional challenges

When Shaun almost bumped into a lamppost after his friend, Lea, gave him an opportunity to drive her car, he was stressed and frustrated with his own error. Apart from this scenario, you can always witness how Shaun exhibits a self-critical behaviour and a low tolerance towards making mistakes. Fortunately, his mentor and friends always offered their hands during those difficult time. While we are living in a constantly changing, and sensory-stimulating world, social and emotional abilities can always be a challenge for individuals with autism to cope with the demand of the environment.



4. Social-communication challenges

Our intact processing systems allow us to recognize and interpret the social nuances of the various social situation without being explicitly taught. However, individuals with ASD who experiences neurological differences would have difficulty applying social skills in diverse social situations as those abstract information might not be interpreted accurately by the distinctive processing systems. As a result, these social challenges include interpreting literal information such as sarcasm, engaging in social interaction such as conversational turn-taking, inferring people’s intentions such as lies, or understanding people’s emotions. All these challenges were portrayed in different forms throughout the show.

Dr. Murphy may have displayed the difficulty to understand people’s emotion or to express empathy towards people, but this is what he said when being asked why he wanted to be a doctor,

“The day that the rain smelled like ice cream, my bunny went to heaven in front of my eyes. The day that the copper pipes in the old building smelled like burnt food, my brother went to heaven in front of my eyes. Neither one had the chance to become an adult. They should have become adults. They should have had children of their own and loved those children and I want to make that possible for other people.”

We understand the social-emotional challenges he had. However, he may lack empathy, I see a great degree of compassion in him and that makes him who he is.

In the show, it was heart-warming to see how his colleagues evolved in understanding him as an individual as they get to know him. I saw more efforts shown and willingness in offering help to accommodate Shaun in most of the challenging social contexts. It reminds me of the old proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child”. It would also take a society to raise a child with special needs.

I believe that discussing these challenges helps the community understand individuals with ASD better. May we become a society that does its best to offer a helping hand to everyone who may be different from everybody else. We need to always remember our strengths and weaknesses make us who we are as a human being. As nicely put by Dr. Shaun Murphy in the show, “I have autism, it’s part of who I am”.


Thanks again for dropping by HeadStart For life Beyond Therapy! See you next time!



Pierangelo, R. and Giuliani, G. (2008). Teaching Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders. California: Corwin Press

"All the information on this site is for educational purposes only and does not replace the assessment and intervention of a registered speech-language pathologist, occupational therapist or any other medical or education professional."

About Freya

Freya has been working with children with special needs for four years and has a strong interest in Social Skills Training. In her time with children, she believes that “Understanding the child’s ability is the key”. She is grateful for the opportunities to grow and learn together with all the children she has met and also to be their companion.

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