Is Freddie Highmore autistic in real life?

Shaun Murphy on The Good Doctor

Freddie Highmore’s portrayal of autistic doctor Shaun Murphy on The Good Doctor keeps viewers coming back for more. Murphy has endured tragic loss and faced numerous obstacles by the time he starts his residency at the San Jose St. Bonaventure Hospital. More trials await him at the hospital, as despite being a brilliant surgeon and doctor, he struggles to form relationships and earn his workmates’ trust. 

Dr. Murphy’s savant syndrome benefits him: his photographic memory aids his rare ability to formulate innovative solutions. However, Murphy’s struggles during high-pressure situations counter his miraculous saves. It’s a tough balancing act for a fascinatingly complex character – an act that has attracted millions of viewers. 

Freddie is not autistic, but he did plenty of research before playing the role

Freddie Highmore
Actor Freddie Highmore attends the GQ Men Of The Year awards at The Westing Palace hotel (Photo by Pablo Cuadra/WireImage)

Freddie Highmore is not autistic in real life. To play the role, he engaged in plenty of research alongside showrunner David Shore. Furthermore, the show hired autism consultant Melissa Reiner to help craft Shaun Murphy. 

“[We] also just traded back and forth books and pieces of literature and documentaries that we thought were useful or gave us some sort of insight into building this one, very particular character,” Shaun told ABC’s Peter Travers

The team needed to portray autism as accurately as possible, placing extra value on quality research. “I feel the like the most important thing to all of us was the portrayal of autism to be as authentic as possible,” Freddie said in a 2021 interview, per IOL.

Highmore and David Shore are very particular with Freddie’s mannerisms, including his inclination to clasp his hands in front of him. Freddie told The Los Angeles Times that kids with autism are encouraged to keep their hands clasped to prevent repetitive hand movements. 

Surgeons consider the fronts of their bodies sterile, so they put their hands together to prevent contamination. “So that particular mannerism is sort of half something that’s a trauma, that’s been forced upon him, and is also something that’s natural for surgeons to do, so there’s a comfort there too,” Shaun said. 

Such attention to detail makes Shaun Murphy’s portrayal of autism that extra bit accurate. Freddie lauded David Shore’s focus on ‘small little details and small little moments’ that go a long way in improving authenticity. 

The show received criticism for casting a neurotypical actor for the lead role. It responded by casting autistic actors for guest roles, including Alex Plank, who appeared in season 2 and is on the autistic spectrum in real life. 

Dr. Shaun Murphy will remain autistic throughout the series, but he’ll keep growing as he adapts to changes in his life. Murphy told The Los Angeles Times:

“One of the things we discussed early on is, ‘Yes, he’ll always have autism. But he’s going to change continuously as an individual as he adapts to this new world that he finds himself in.’ That was exciting to me: This individual, regardless of whether or not he’s on the spectrum, is going on a journey as a character.”

Highmore continues to learn more about autism as the show progresses

Shaun Murphy ‘The Good Doctor‘ (Jeff Weddell/Getty Images)

Thanks to The Good Doctor, Freddie has gained intimate knowledge about the spectrum, and he continues to learn more as the show progresses. He told Digital Spy that his conversations with people who connect with the show had taught him more about autism:

“I’m constantly learning. Aside from continual research, or working with the consultant that we have, I’m also talking to people who feel that they have a personal connection to the show through autism, and are pleased or thankful that the show is seeking to raise awareness in that way.”

Freddie told USA Today that he appreciates Murphy isn’t a one-dimensional character, that he isn’t defined by a singular focus, as most autistic characters on television are. “We get to see Shaun in moments of joy, what makes him excited, alongside the very real struggle he’s facing,” he said.

Highmore feels proud that his portrayal of Shaun Murphy has spread awareness about autism. “I feel very fortunate to have been offered the part of Shaun,” he told Digital Spy. “It seemed like an incredibly important project, and that’s why I wanted to be a part of it. I’m proud to be a part of it.”

Also Read: Educative shows about Autism on Netflix