My Extraordinary Daughter
Normally, I do not watch movies or t.v. shows about characters on the Autism Spectrum. It is a situation of knowing too much about a subject. When one is knowledgeable about a specific topic, for example a disability, one tends to be critical of a director's choices in the portrayl of individuals with this challenge. Typically very high functioning individuals with few unusual behaviors and features are depicted, the same being the case when characters with Down Syndrome are in a television series, as in Call the Midwife. The Extraordinary Attorney Woo is no exception when it comes to character with high intellectual functioning; however, I took to the Netflix show immediately.
The director, Yoo In-shik, and the writer, Moon Ji-Won, have done an extraordinary job emphasizing the awkward behavior of people with Autism, including motor, sensory, and verbal. In addition to the common lack of eye-contact and slumped posture, people on the spectrum move in a strange manner.
Their gait is often slightly off or they walk too slow or fast. This is due to sensory motor difficulties, for example judging their body's and other objects' position in space. I frequently tell people, "They see the world differently. We have no idea what it is like actually." I am not certain the average person comprehends what I mean. In the series, Attorney Woo has difficulties going through doors, stepping into elevators, and going down escalators--all issues my daughter has faced and resolved. Noise is a common problem which my daughter and Attorney Woo combat by using noise reduction earphones.
Using the correct facial expression and interpreting the latter are extremely difficult for people with Autism. Sometimes, they have no idea what is appropriate for a situation. They need to learn to understand and react correctly for myriad social conditions. My daughter asks, "What does ____'s face look like when they see____?" Woo Young Woo's friend teaches her how and when to smile, what to say, and how to interpret gestures when interacting with people.
For these reasons alone, I continued to stream the popular South Korean show. I love to watch foreign films and stories for the cultural education. Needless to say, this series struck my heart. Here was a woman who did many of the same (sometimes wacky) things my daughter does: rearranging a display in a store that is messy; organizing the refrigerator, kitchen drawers, counters, and pantry in a neat orderly form; and stopping abruptly at a revolving door.
Oh, there's so much more. My daughter unfortunately is not a genius and does not have a photographic memory. Law school would be an impossibility. However, her memory for trivia is remarkable. So are her flashes of insight into people's behavior, as Woo Young Woo demonstrates in the show--usually clueless, but sometimes "seeing through a person," similar to my daughter.
And then there are the whales and dolphins and animals, in general. My daughter exhibited a special affinity for marine mammals at a young age, memorizing facts she still remembers. I have visited numerous aquariums, zoos, and refuge centers as a parent. I know numerous details about whales, dolphins, penguins, skunks, dogs, and wolves. My daughter and I would love to see Orcas in the wild. We have seen dolphins and other species of whales. Attorney Woo and my daughter are inspired by the intelligence, loyalty, and beauty of these animals.
Monterey Bay (California) Aquarium
As Woo Young Woo utters non sequiturs so does my daughter, seemingly to fill in gaps of silence and an inability to engage in small talk. People are uncomfortable when confronted with a person who does not match what is considered normal. Some individuals intuitively pick up on a conversational thread but usually not. People with Autism face silent rejection constantly. It is painful and embarrassing to observe. When we meet a particularly compassionate listener, I rejoice. The lawyers who work with Attorney Woo disdain her at first but come to marvel at her legal skills. Slowly, some of her peers accept her quirks and begin to love and advocate for her.
Woo Young Woo utters inappropriate and hurtful words in her attempt to communicate, unable to understand the subtle variations of social discourse. After her boss, whom she respects and likes, has been diagnosed with stomach cancer, she blurts out statistics about the disease. When he is wheeled into surgery she yells that she wants to say good-bye in case he dies. My daughter has blurted out so many embarrassing statements, it is hard to include them all, for example, "She is not my mother" at one point in her development; yelling "Don't shush me, you know I hate that" when she is making a noise, creating an even louder altercation and unwanted attention. Sometimes my daughter sounds like a nasty spoiled brat which she is definitely not. Anxiety in unknown or overwhelming situations can result in meltdowns. The viewer of The Extraordinary Attorney Woo observes this in the episodes.
A romantic relationship is the most challenging. Attorney Woo meets a paralegal who is exceptionally kind, and there is a spark between them. What ensues is bittersweet to behold. Unfortunately, my daughter has not had such an experience or rejected some that came her way. Romance remains in her fantasy life. As with Woo Young Woo's father, a parent is extremely worried about unsavory characters influencing or adult children who are vulnerable to say the least.
Attorney Woo is likeable--a genius, beautiful, charming, well-groomed. It is television. The aggravating, daily issues are omitted. But, she can be exasperating, annoying, and tiresome. The director and writer did not avoid reality, the best gift to society for understanding the disability.
Isabel, my daughter
Note: Thank you to my brother-in-law, Alan Robin, for recommending this show.
©Karen Levi 2022