As We See It, Prime Video’s new comedy-drama series, opens on one of its main characters, Harrison, a heavy-set autistic man who can’t seem to leave his apartment. Within the first five minutes, we see how terrifying the world can be for the main autistic characters: Harrison (Albert Rutecki), Violet (Sue Ann Pien), and Jack (Rick Glassman). Everything is loud, people bump into you and stare at you, the light is impossible to adjust, people say things that make no sense; even you say things that sound perfectly reasonable to you but cause what feel like extreme reactions in others. The outside world is uncontrollable, and it’s safer to stay inside of your own.
Much of the exposition for the first few episodes is cringe-inducing—not because the show is doing something wrong, but because it’s doing everything right. While watching the three leads do all the wrong things (miss social cues, mess up on dates in ways that it might be “obvious” to some), secondhand embarrassment is abundant. The point is that’s just the reality for many autistic people, and the show is meant to portray what life is like from an autistic person’s perspective. Being an autistic person in a world that doesn’t accommodate you, in which people constantly make you feel like a nuisance, is painful and frustrating. What’s difficult for others to handle is excruciating for autistic people to experience.
Violet goes on her first dating app meetup with a man and spills too many details about herself too quickly. She rambles about her controlling but well-meaning brother, Van (Chris Pang), who’s in charge of her phone; and shares that her parents are dead, and that she works in the back of the kitchen at Arby’s. As her date escapes, the viewer’s sympathy isn’t with him but with Violet, even though many people would feel similarly uncomfortable and caught off-guard in that situation.
Like its predecessor, Josh Thomas’ Everything’s Gonna Be Okay (which was canceled in 2021 after two seasons), As We See It uniquely explores what it truly means to move through the world in a way that is often looked down upon or misunderstood. Though the series sometimes shows characters like Violet’s brother or her caregiver, Mandy (Sosie Bacon), struggle with the neurodivergent characters, it never centers their frustrations. Instead, As We See It approaches the stories from the double empathy framework: Autistic people shouldn’t be burdened with having to conform to be more “normal” in a world that hates people who are different. It’s non-autistic people’s responsibility to understand and learn to live alongside autistic people. Because no time is wasted purposely infantilizing its main characters, their best qualities and strengths are excavated like fossils.
Throughout the season, other characters do struggle with the main trio’s autistic traits. Early on, Van tries to prevent Violet from hooking up with Julian, a man who has been wooing her. When he becomes controlling, believing that he’s protecting her from herself, his girlfriend says, “She’s an adult… You can’t always coddle her all the time.” In these moments throughout the season, the lesson for the audience is that these characters are not having these experiences because they’re autistic and incapable. They’re just human. And everyone needs to be given the room to figure things out on their own sometimes.
Meanwhile, in one intense argument in the car, Jack’s father, Lou (Joe Mantegna), who’s going through cancer treatment, lays out a laundry list of embarrassing ways that Jack is not capable of being like other adults. However, instead of leaning into that tired trope about autistic people being incapable, the show takes it in an unprecedented and refreshing direction. When Lou takes a moment to breathe and re-evaluates, he admits that everyone has their shortcomings and Jack is just as capable of being an adult as anyone else. This, it turns out, is one of the main points of the season and show as a whole. Autistic people aren’t failing. The metrics by which society—and individual people—measures them just has to change.
What’s particularly rare is that As We See It lays bare that non-autistic people are not somehow superior. We all have different needs and ways of navigating life, autistic or not. In the end, while characters like Van and Lou often struggle because they fail to accept that autistic people are capable of taking care of themselves, Mandy’s life is improved when she learns how to be more honest, following in the footsteps of the autistic characters.
Because the show doesn’t just focus on the difficulties autistic people face, the audience is able to witness their joys, too—the enormity of positive emotions and traits they possess. This flips the narrative about autism from one of burden and misery to one of nuance; a spectrum of experience instead of a condemnation.
From Violet’s meltdowns, to Harrison making many attempts simply to make it to the coffee shop a block away, the audience truly is put inside an autistic person’s shoes. Where in many media portrayals of autism like in Atypical or The Good Doctor, the audience would see how frustrating it is to deal with an autistic person from an allistic person’s perspective, As We See It turns that framing upside down. It explores firsthand exactly why it isn’t shameful that autistic people have such difficulty with day-to-day life. Here, small triumphs humanize all of the autistic characters more, instead of painting all autistic people as stubborn handfuls who refuse to conform.
Producer Jason Katims was inspired by an Israeli series covering similar topics, as well as his own autistic son’s experiences. As such, he actively prioritized casting autistic people and taking their thoughts into consideration in the writing process—another sadly unprecedented move. The show exceeds expectations, thanks in part to casting real-life autistic leads who are able to show how they experience their greatest stressors and overwhelming pleasures. By the end of the season, As We See It has effectively busted many of the most cruel, inaccurate stereotypes about autistic people: that they’re helpless large children who can’t take care of themselves; that they aren’t sexual; that they don’t experience empathy or don’t understand love; that there’s something ultimately freakish and abnormal about them.
Its greatest strength is that As We See It never leans too heavily into what it’s like to “deal” with someone’s autism. By presenting the characters holistically, it offers a different lens for its personal dynamics: Every other character learns how to be a better version of themselves from their relationships with Violet, Jack, and Harrison. Meaningful connection, in the end, doesn’t come from stuffing one’s feelings inside and trying to act normal but from the willingness to be vulnerable, and treat others as people who, like us, are just trying their best in an overwhelming world.