When it comes to the human brain, one of our best traits is the ability to gather sensory stimuli from our environment and store it into memory, providing us with the ability to perceive the world around us. This is what we call learning and it is an essential part of our lives. In film and television, narratives involving character arcs have an idea in place that characters have the ability to change or adapt (or simply learn) after experiences they have gone through during their character arc. In the Netflix show, Atypical created by Robia Rashid, we follow protagonist Sam Gardner, a high school student diagnosed with autism, who is trying to make sense of and better understand the neuronormative world. In the episode A Nice Neutral Smell, Sam and Paige (a neurotypical girl) are studying together where Sam explains he prefers not to talk while studying which leads Paige to bring up that to better memorize things, she likes to turn it into a rap song (Oakes, Rashid, & Gordon, ‘Atypical: A Nice Neutral Smell’, 2017). The idea of people needing to adapt to our social environments by taking in information and interpreting what we perceive is a fascinating subject because people on the autism spectrum don’t view the world in the way neurotypicals do. However, Neurotypical people also do not view the world in the same way as other neurotypical people do. According to author and educational advocate Evonne Rogers, “learning is inherent. We are born with the ability to learn. It happens naturally, all the time” (Rogers, 2017). By showing Paige’s learning style, I believe Robia Rashid is trying to show that regardless of neurotype, learning and processing information is different for everyone.Order now
Learning itself is an extremely broad term that is meant to explain how humans gather new information and apply it to their lives. As a psychological construct, we can deconstruct the studying scene from Atypical by categorizing Sam and Paige with having a particular learning preference or style. To put this into basic terms, learning styles can be defined based on how strong visual, auditory, or kinesthetic processing (or thinking) is for one individual. “There are almost 71 different learning style models that state that, no matter how a learning style model is built, it is always perceived differently by students as they can derive their own learning preferences from various learning style models” according to a research article written by Li Ling Xiao and Siti Soraya Binti Abdul Rahman (2017) which describes learning styles as being customizable. In other words, each individual’s learning style is different and tailored to each specific person. One takeaway from this scene in Atypical is that Sam prefers to work in silence and take notes, therefore making him more of a visual thinker while Paige is a more auditory thinker.
A lot can be learned about how learning works by studying the individual person rather than a group of people (such as a classroom) and Atypical understands that people on the autism spectrum as well as people who are not think and learn differently. Since autism is a learning disability, those with the diagnosis are given an Individualized Education Plan (I.E.P.) that gives them special accommodations to best suit their own learning difficulties. According to Ling Xiao and Siti Soraya Binti Abdul Rahman (2017), “Several studies considered learning style as an important factor in determining learning effectiveness during the learning process.” Through retaining information, a person might learn best through visualizing things and as such, their preferred way of retaining that information might be through note taking, looking at imagery, or simply blocking out stimuli that is occupied from our other senses. However, that doesn’t mean that they only learn through visual thinking but simply is how they learn best. When combined with our other senses, that is what makes learning for each individual truly unique. After all, it is because of our senses that we are able to process outside stimuli and without it, we would have no means of perceiving and understanding the world. Our perception guides us through the process of learning and through the process of understanding our environment.
In conclusion, Atypical shows us that both neurotypicals and people on the autism spectrum are similar in the fact that we all think and learn differently. David Kirk once stated in an article about pedagogy that, “although there exists a range of theories of cognition, most have in common the idea that learning requires students to engage actively with the learning environment” (2008). However, when it comes to those diagnosed with autism, their neurotype makes it so their process of learning requires a different approach, just like how Sam requires silence while studying. That way, he can retrieve information more vividly through visual stimuli. While learning behaviors vary from person to person, it can be noted that there is something to be said for figuring out your learning style.
- Kirk, D. (2008). Learning. In D. Kirk, C. Cooke, & A. Flintoff, Key concepts in sport & exercise sciences. London, UK: Sage UK. Retrieved from https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/sageuksport/learning/0
- Li Ling Xiao, & Siti Soraya Binti Abdul Rahman. (2017). Predicting learning styles based on students’ learning behavior using correlation analysis. Current Science (00113891), 113(11), 2090-2096. https://doi.org/10.18520/cs/v113/i11/2090-2096
- Oakes, A. (Writer), & Gordon, S. (Director). (2017, August 11). A Nice Neutral Smell . In Atypical. Sony Pictures Television.
- Rogers, E. (2017, September 16). School is a social construct, learning is not. .
- Retrieve January 29, 2019, from https://evonnerogers.net/2017/09/16/school-is-a-social- construct-learning-is-not/