Please note that this article is NOT a drama review. It’s about an autistic person’s views on a drama that touches on autism.
Attorney Woo is a fictional character and she certainly does not represent everyone on the autism spectrum. However, she accurately depicts some of my challenges as a high-functioning autistic person.
From day one, I intended WowPursuits to be more than a personal finance blog. I will also use this platform to discuss and raise awareness of certain issues that are close to my heart. Given that I have a mild form of autism (also known as Asperger’s syndrome), one of the issues is, of course, autism.
If you haven’t heard of Netflix’s hit K-drama ‘Extraordinary Attorney Woo’, you have been living under a rock. The drama follows the life of Woo Young Woo, a rookie lawyer who is autistic.
Frankly, I resisted watching the drama at first as I was convinced that the main character (i.e. Attorney Woo) would be another stereotype or pure fantasy found only in popular media. Nonetheless, the raving reviews piqued my curiosity, so I decided to give it a chance. I’m so glad I did!
The drama truly lived up to its hype. It’s thoroughly enjoyable (funny and moving at the same time) and Attorney Woo has to be one of the most endearing characters in the K-drama world. Above all, I really identified with some of her struggles.
It’s a Spectrum
It’s called Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) for a reason. There’s a broad range of symptoms and their severity is highly variable. Just like neurotypical individuals, every autistic person is different; therefore, it’s important not to make generalisations about us.
Autism is known as a spectrum disorder as there’s a broad range of symptoms and their severity is highly variable.
Unfortunately, most people only have two impressions of autistic people. We are either super brilliant in some field (e.g. music or math) or super helpless (i.e. need substantial support and cannot live independently). Anything that falls in-between mostly goes unnoticed.
As a savant with photographic memory, Attorney Woo may have perpetuated unrealistic stereotypes (it’s a drama series after all), but she has also brought much-needed attention to high-functioning autism, which can’t be a bad thing.
At least people now know that many autistic people can speak, read, write, get dressed, work and live independently. We have also learnt how to ‘hide’ our symptoms so as to blend in with the rest of the world and avoid getting into trouble.
The Uncanny Parallels
I wish I have Attorney Woo’s photographic memory but I don’t. If you don’t know by now, autistic savants are extremely rare. Having said that, we do share many uncanny similarities.
Autistic savants are extremely rare.
First of all, I’m really glad that Attorney Woo is a lawyer instead of a doctor, mathematician or musician. People always assume that autistic people face language challenges, but some of us do not have this problem.
To be a lawyer, Attorney Woo obviously has a good grasp of the language system. Likewise, I speak and write well (not just English, but also Chinese) and have a wide repertoire of vocabulary. In fact, I only excelled in language-heavy subjects like history and literature in school. Unless it involved money, math was my most hated subject, ha! So it’s not true that autistic people are good at math!
Like Attorney Woo, I’m more than capable of expressing myself verbally. That’s the good part. Unfortunately, I also have the tendency to ramble on and on at times.
When I’m in my ‘enthusiastic’ mode, I’m completely oblivious to nonverbal cues. It’s like I’m delivering a monologue and I can’t see or don’t care about the needs of the person I’m communicating with. My volume will go up, my pace will quicken, and I will repeat myself a lot. And you wonder when I’m going to stop.
Since I lack Attorney Woo’s adorable charm, it’s not difficult to guess that I have pissed many people off because of the way I talk. Sometimes, I can’t even tell that people are upset with me until they REALLY show their anger.
Attorney Woo’s eccentric best friend, Geu-Ra-Mi is kinda her only friend. Similarly, I don’t really have friends. I only keep in touch with two people whom I meet about twice a year.
I find it hard to form and maintain friendships as I have no desire for social interactions. Social gatherings really stress me out at times, so I often come up with excuses to wriggle my way out. Without Mr Wow, I don’t think I will even see the need to get out of the house. I just want to do my own stuff and be left alone.
I find it hard to form and maintain friendships as I have no desire for social interactions.
Attorney Woo eats nothing but kimbap because she can see all the ingredients and there won’t be any surprises. Well, I hate surprises too. Although I don’t eat the same thing every day for every meal, I do have many requirements when it comes to food. For instance, I don’t like anything that looks messy or ‘dumped’ together. I also get very angry when the wet stuff (e.g. coleslaw) touches the dry stuff (e.g. French fries).
Buying food for me can be a very daunting task. You will have to read Mr Wow’s article 5 Rules to Stay Happily Married to an Asperger’s Spouse to find out.
Symmetry Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
There are several scenes showing Attorney Woo arranging things such as tissue paper, documents on the table and cans in the fridge. Mr Wow would laugh and look at me because I’m exactly like that.
I used to scream at the poor guy for not pulling tissue paper out of the box ‘neatly’. He thought I was being ridiculous and acting like a perfectionist. Driven to the edge (yes, by ‘unsightly’ tissue paper), I decided to hide the ‘ugliness’ by tucking the tissue paper into the box, so it was his turn to get upset.
Mr Wow thought I was being ridiculous and acting like a perfectionist.
Over the years, we have learnt to cut each other some slack. He tries to keep things ‘neat’, but if it’s not up to my standard, I will do the beautification myself instead of going ballistic on him.
Like Attorney Woo, I also arrange the things in my fridge — every bottle, every can, every egg. Elsewhere at home, photo frames, diffusers, potted plants… basically everything that’s exposed must be placed a certain way. Arranging things at home is like my full-time job. I used to comb the frills of our rugs as well. We eventually got rid of all the rugs so that I won’t be so busy.
Of course, not all autistic people have OCD although research suggests that we may be more likely to experience it. Despite the similarities, Attorney Woo and I are also different in many ways. She’s sensitive to sounds, while I’m sensitive to smells. She has a problem with revolving doors and always counts to three on her fingers before entering a room or building. I don’t. I’m also fine with people touching me, but they MUST NOT shake or tickle me.
The point of this article is to remind the world that the spectrum is REALLY BROAD. Autism does not always involve severe intellectual disability. Many autistic people have normal intellect, are independent and work for a living. But because we think and behave differently, we appear to have numerous character flaws (e.g. inflexible, insensitive and rude) to neurotypical people. It’s regrettable, but that’s the reality.
Because we think and behave differently, we appear to have numerous character flaws (e.g. inflexible, insensitive and rude) to neurotypical people.
I console myself with the thought that being neurodivergent is not always a bad thing. We may be able to see and solve problems that neurotypical folks can’t. It can be a real advantage, especially at work.
Not every autistic person is like Attorney Woo and it’s unreasonable to expect a drama series to create a character that represents everyone on the spectrum. It’s impossible anyway. At the end of the day, I’m just so grateful that the drama has encouraged more discussion on autism and neurodiversity. It’s educational and good family entertainment. What more could I ask for?
I sincerely thank each and every person involved in the making of ‘Extraordinary Attorney Woo’.
More so than anything else, I thank Mr Wow for being such a patient and understanding neurotypical husband.