'Atypical' on Netflix: Is Sam Actor Keir Gilchrist Actually Autistic?

Netflix drama series Atypical is about to enter its final series on the streaming platform. Keir Gilchrist, 28, plays teenager Sam Gardner in the show.

Sam, who is on the autistic spectrum, tries to tackle various obstacles of high school and college, including dating and relationships.

The series has already had three seasons, and now will end on Netflix with its fourth.

Over the course of the show, autistic actors have been welcomed into the cast, such as Tal Anderson.

Is Keir Gilchrist Autistic?

Despite playing an autistic character, Gilchrist is not autistic.

The actor did a great deal of research to get to the point where he could play an autistic person, including reading works by writer and speaker David Finch.

Speaking to Variety, he said: "My rep set me up with Robia [Rashid], the creator of the show, so I got to sit down with her for a couple of hours.

"It was a very lengthy audition process, and we talked a lot about the various ways in which I could play Sam.

"The most helpful piece of research was the book The Journal of Best Practices: A Memoir of Marriage, Asperger Syndrome and One Man's Quest to Be a Better Husband.

"The book ended up being a really big contributing factor in creating Sam's character."

There are other important things to take into consideration when portraying someone on the autistic spectrum, and according to Gilchrist it was important to remember how he was a "very specific character."

He told Vulture: "It took a lot of energy doing this role because Sam's mind is going so fast at all times. While everyone else is over here on this plane, he's up here doing his own thing.

"While working I was constantly working against my instincts. Didn't really make much eye contact with people.

"What I'm used to is engaging with the people that I'm in the scene with. Sam, he engages for sure, but it's in a different way.

"It almost took me a while to shake the role off after doing that for so many weeks. I had to get back to me after."

Keir Gilchrist in Atypical
Keir Gilchrist in Atypical. He is a non-autistic actor playing an autistic character. Netflix

Research and realism are really important in portraying autism, with includes using autistic actors where possible.

Tom Purser, head of guidance, volunteering and campaigns at the National Autistic Society in the U.K., said: "From our research we know that many people learn about autism and base their understanding of what it's like to be autistic, on films and TV shows.

"So, it's absolutely essential that writers and producers make sure their stories and characters are realistic and reflect both the challenges and strengths that can come with being autistic.

"Autistic characters are always best when they are closely based on real-life and the best way to achieve this is to involve and consult autistic people and, where possible, cast autistic actors.

"This helps ensure accurate and good representation and, in our experience, makes for a far better final piece of work."

The National Autistic Society works with many producers and writers, such as on the movies Calm with Horses and The Reason I Jump, due to the important role film and TV has in shaping how autism and autistic people are viewed.

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