Why I Relate to Harlan on ‘The Umbrella Academy’ as Someone on the Autism Spectrum

Dr. Kerry Magro Ed.D
·2 mins read
Harlan and Vanya sitting on the floor playing with toys in "The Umbrella Academy."
Harlan and Vanya sitting on the floor playing with toys in "The Umbrella Academy."

“The Umbrella Academy” is an American superhero television series that premiered on Netflix in 2019. Season 2 was just released, and features a character on the autism spectrum.

Harlan Cooper, a recurring character in Season 2 who is played by Justin Paul Kelly, is described as a shy autistic kid. As a professional speaker who’s on the autism spectrum, I’ve had opportunities to be an autism consultant to the entertainment industry. When one of my friends mentioned Harlan, I had to give it a watch. I found Justin’s performance to be a realistic portrayal of somebody who’s on the autism spectrum.

People were discussing the show on my Facebook page and a parent commented, saying how they could see their child in the character. I had similar challenges growing up, dealing with extreme shyness due to trying to cope with some of my sensory challenges as a kid.

This isn’t the first time Netflix has featured autism recently. Two documentaries, which I highly recommend, have been released called “The Speed Cubers” and “Love on the Spectrum.” Another fun side note about this series is that actor Tom Hopper (one of the main characters on the show) just came out about having a child who is on the autism spectrum.

Related:Download The Mighty app to connect in real time with people who can relate to what you're going through.

Spoilers ahead…

Harlan has a moment in the last episode of season 2 where his superpower — telekinesis — is revealed. I found this interesting, and I think several of my mentees will enjoy this show because they consider their autism to be a “superpower.” The two biggest superpowers they most frequently acknowledge are their ability to focus on key interests for long periods of time and their heightened senses. They are also fans of action shows and movies.

I enjoyed the show and would recommend it with the only reservation being parental guidance for younger children — the show has a TV-14 rating and there are several dark moments in addition to some intense action sequences.

Will you be tuning in? Let me know what you think!

Read more stories like this on The Mighty:

Autistic Children ‘Acting Out’ May be a Sign of Digestive Problems

Why Supporting Autistic Employees Goes Beyond Hiring Initiatives

Why the Autistic Character in 'The Umbrella Academy' Season 2 Is Groundbreaking

‘Umbrella Academy’ Star Tom Hopper Shares the Importance of ‘Learning’ His Autistic Son’s Needs

20 Things People Didn’t Realize They Were Doing Because of Autism

My Review of Netflix's 'The Speed Cubers' as an Adult With Autism