Famous Show Characters with Autism: Shaun Murphy

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental condition characterized by differences in social communication, behavior, and sensory processing. Portrayals of autism in popular media play a crucial role in shaping public perception and understanding of the condition. One of the most notable characters with autism in recent television history is Dr. Shaun Murphy from the hit series "The Good Doctor." This blog will delve into Shaun Murphy’s character, examining how he represents autism and the impact of his portrayal on viewers.

Who Is Shaun Murphy?

Shaun Murphy, played by Freddie Highmore, is the protagonist of "The Good Doctor," a medical drama series that premiered in 2017. Shaun is a young surgical resident with autism and savant syndrome, a condition characterized by extraordinary abilities in specific areas such as memory, mathematics, or music. The show follows Shaun's journey as he navigates the challenges of his profession and personal life while dealing with the unique aspects of his condition.

Autism in Popular Media

Representation matters, especially when it comes to conditions like autism. Characters with autism in media can help raise awareness, promote understanding, and reduce stigma. However, it is essential that these portrayals are accurate and respectful, avoiding stereotypes and clichés. Shaun Murphy's character has been praised for its depth and complexity, offering a more nuanced depiction of autism.

Key Traits and Behaviors of Shaun Murphy

Shaun Murphy exhibits several traits and behaviors commonly associated with autism, which are portrayed with sensitivity and realism. Here are some key aspects of his character:

  1. Exceptional Memory and Attention to Detail: Shaun has an extraordinary ability to recall detailed medical information and recognize patterns, which aids him in diagnosing complex medical cases. This trait is a hallmark of savant syndrome and is realistically portrayed in the show.
  2. Difficulty with Social Interactions: Shaun often struggles with social cues and norms, leading to awkward or misunderstood interactions with colleagues and patients. This aspect of his character highlights the social challenges that many individuals with autism face.
  3. Literal Thinking: Shaun tends to take things literally, which can lead to misunderstandings. This trait is common in individuals with autism and is depicted with both humor and empathy in the series.
  4. Routine and Predictability: Shaun finds comfort in routines and predictability. Disruptions to his routine can cause significant stress and anxiety, a common experience for many people on the autism spectrum.
  5. Sensory Sensitivities: Although less emphasized, there are instances where Shaun exhibits sensitivity to sensory stimuli, such as loud noises or bright lights. This is another common characteristic of autism.

The Impact of Shaun Murphy’s Character

Shaun Murphy's character has had a significant impact on viewers and the broader public understanding of autism. Here are some ways his portrayal has influenced perceptions:

  1. Raising Awareness: By bringing a character with autism to the forefront of a popular TV series, "The Good Doctor" has raised awareness about the condition among a wide audience. Viewers who may not have been familiar with autism are given a window into the daily experiences and challenges faced by individuals on the spectrum.
  2. Promoting Empathy and Understanding: Shaun's character fosters empathy and understanding by depicting both the strengths and struggles associated with autism. His successes and challenges are presented in a balanced manner, helping viewers to appreciate the complexity of the condition.
  3. Challenging Stereotypes: Shaun Murphy's portrayal challenges many stereotypes about autism. He is shown as a highly competent and skilled surgeon, countering the misconception that individuals with autism cannot excel in demanding professions. The show emphasizes his abilities and contributions, not just his challenges.
  4. Encouraging Inclusivity: The inclusion of a main character with autism in a mainstream TV show promotes the message that individuals with autism can and should be included in all areas of society, including professional fields like medicine.

Criticisms and Areas for Improvement

While Shaun Murphy’s character has been widely praised, there are also criticisms and areas for improvement in his portrayal:

  1. Savant Syndrome Representation: Shaun has savant syndrome, which is relatively rare among individuals with autism. While his exceptional abilities make for compelling television, it is important to recognize that not all individuals with autism have savant skills. This can lead to unrealistic expectations and misunderstandings about the broader autism spectrum.
  2. Overemphasis on Challenges: At times, the show may overemphasize Shaun's social and sensory challenges, potentially reinforcing the idea that autism is primarily defined by deficits rather than a balance of strengths and differences.
  3. Diversity of Autism Experiences: Autism is a spectrum, and experiences vary widely among individuals. Future portrayals could benefit from showcasing a broader range of characters with different manifestations of autism to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the condition.

The Role of Media in Shaping Autism Awareness

Media portrayals like that of Shaun Murphy play a critical role in shaping public awareness and attitudes towards autism. Accurate and empathetic representations can lead to greater acceptance and support for individuals with autism. Here are some ways media can continue to improve in this regard:

  1. Consulting Experts: Involving autism experts and individuals on the spectrum in the creation and portrayal of characters can ensure authenticity and accuracy.
  2. Highlighting Diverse Stories: Showcasing a variety of characters with different experiences and abilities can provide a more complete picture of the autism spectrum.
  3. Balancing Strengths and Challenges: Portraying both the strengths and challenges of autism in a balanced manner can help dispel myths and promote a more nuanced understanding.


Shaun Murphy from "The Good Doctor" is a landmark character in the portrayal of autism in popular media. His character has helped to raise awareness, promote empathy, and challenge stereotypes about autism. While there is always room for improvement, Shaun's portrayal is a significant step towards more inclusive and accurate representations of autism.

At Step Ahead ABA, we recognize the importance of such portrayals in fostering understanding and acceptance. Our commitment is to support individuals with autism through personalized, evidence-based therapies that empower them to reach their full potential. Through awareness and advocacy, we strive to create a world where every individual with autism is valued and understood.