Parenting

Netflix's 'The Healing Powers Of Dude' Shows What It's Like To Live With Social Anxiety Disorder

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Netflix's 'Healing Power Of Dude' Shows What It's Like To Live With Social Anxiety Disorder: boy hol...
Liane Hentscher/Netflix

I love a good binge-worthy show as much as the next person, and I’m always on the lookout for a show the whole fam can watch together. Throw in a healthy dose of feel-good moments and teachable lessons, and you’ve got a winner. Which is why I was intrigued and cautiously optimistic when I heard about a new Netflix show called “The Healing Powers of Dude.”

The show centers around Noah, a middle schooler with social anxiety disorder. In fact, his social anxiety is so severe that his parents convince him to get an emotional support animal to take to school with him.

Enter: Dude, Noah’s new cute and snarky emotional support dog.

Setting aside some important distinctions between emotional support animals and service animals, the series realistically shows what it feels like for someone living with social anxiety disorder – and what it can also feel like to have someone really understand you. Along with a super loving and supportive family, Noah finds companionship in Dude and his new friends, Simon (played by Mauricio Lara) and Amara (played by Sophie Kim).

The series was created and produced by Erica Spates and her writing partner/husband, Sam Littenberg-Weisberg. It’s loosely based on Littenberg-Weisberg’s younger brother, who is also named Noah, who has social anxiety disorder. Spates told Scary Mommy that Noah really struggled with the transition to middle school.

“Social anxiety disorder is the intense fear of being judged or rejected in a social or performance situation,” Spates explained. “In the real Noah’s case, there wasn’t a sarcastic talking emotional support animal voiced by Steve Zahn, but there was an incredibly supportive family and group of friends.”

The writing duo/married couple’s goal in creating and producing the show is to bring families together and raise awareness.

“This show was foremost written to be entertaining for the whole family, so we hope people will laugh a lot and maybe cry a little,” Spates said. “We’d love for our show to help families start difficult conversations about mental illness and disabilities in general.”

In the short time since it was released in January, it seems to be doing just that.

The show is filled with a delightful cast of characters, and as I watched with my sons (one of whom is in 7thgrade, the other who will be in middle school in a couple years), I was struck by the ways it opened up lines of communication about all sorts of things. Spates told us she most identifies with Noah’s mom, Karen (played by Larisa Oleynik).

“I wrote Karen as a version of myself,” she said. “Someone who likes to have a plan, who can be a bit controlling, who’s always there to listen when their kid needs them, and who also rolls her eyes at her husband when they’re being extra.” I think we can all relate a bit with that.

Personally my favorite character is Amara. Played by Sophie J. Kim, a young actress who has Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy and uses an electric wheelchair, Amara is smart, kind, and honest. Basically, she tells it like it is and is not here for your nonsense. Amara is one of the reasons the show is getting major props for its differently-abled inclusivity.

Spates told Scary Mommy they have had parents reach out to tell them the show has made their child feel less alone, or that Amara’s character made them feel seen. Regardless of whether a family is directly impacted by anxiety, physical disability, or mental illness, everyone can relate to the themes of friendship, acceptance, and inclusivity that permeate each episode.

“If we stop being afraid of those who are different from us and find a way to support each other, then we can overcome any obstacle in our way,” Spates said.

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