'The Good Doctor' Star Freddie Highmore Says He Hopes the Show Changed 'Perceptions Around Autism' (Exclusive)

Freddie Highmore in 'The Good Doctor'
ABC via Getty Images

The seventh and final season of ABC's 'The Good Doctor' premieres on Feb. 20.

Freddie Highmore hopes that his series The Good Doctor helped to move the needle when it comes to discussions around autism spectrum disorder in its seven-season run on ABC. 

Speaking with ET's Hope Sloop at a Television Critics Association event on Saturday, the British actor, 31, shared that as the hit medical drama prepares to come to a close, he and his fellow cast and crew members -- including showrunner David Shore -- are looking back and sharing their aspirations for how the show is viewed long-term. 

"I guess one thing that we didn't really talk about in the panel, David [Shore] and I often discussed this hope and desire that the show would be considered -- or at least it certainly was to us --as more than just a TV show and that it spoke to wider issues and themes," Highmore told ET.

Jeff Weddell/ABC

"I hope, if in some small, tiny, little way, we've been able to change perceptions surrounding autism, challenge stereotypes," he continued. "That would be the thing that I'd be most proud of and that would make it feel, as we'd always hoped it would be, more than just a television show."

Highmore has played Dr. Shaun Murphy, a surgeon with autism and savant syndrome, since the show's premiere in 2017. While he has stated that he is not personally on the spectrum, the August Rush actor told Variety in 2019 he felt a "moral responsibility" to play the character. 

"It's especially important in today’s world to portray different versions of masculinity, not only the stereotypical ones," he said at the time. 

During the Saturday TCA panel, ABC showed a clip from the upcoming season -- which prominently featured Kayla Cromer, an actress with autism spectrum disorder, who joins the series as Charlene "Charlie" Lukaitis, a medical student who idolizes Highmore's character. 

"She is the first actor with autism who we've had playing a doctor on the show, and she's going to be there for a number of episodes" said executive producer Liz Friedman. "We're bringing her in as a young med student who has ASD and actually a character who got into medicine because of Shaun Murphy."

In a post on Instagram from January, Cromer, 25, shared her excitement to join the show and said she could not be more thrilled to bring her own experience with autism spectrum disorder to the long-running series. 

"Words cannot express the overwhelming gratitude I feel as I take on the role of Charlotte 'Charlie' Lukaitis, on the 'The Good Doctor,'" the actress wrote. "I love her and I know you will too! It’s truly an honor to bring authentic representation to the show and viewers." 

The Good Doctor premieres its seventh and final season on ABC on Feb. 20.