Some of Shaun’s past and backstory has been shared on the show and is canon, while other pieces of the puzzle, particularly surrounding his history with Dr. Glassman, remain somewhat obscure and are subject to much speculation among fans. Let’s take a look at what know and don’t know.
The Childhood Years
Shaun grew up in Casper, a small town in Wyoming. He had a younger brother named Steve, who was 2 years his junior. In the flashbacks in the early season 1 episodes, Shaun was 14 years old, Steve was 12.
The relationship of Shaun and Steve with their parents had aways been rocky, not lastly because of Shaun’s autism and his parents struggling with catering to his needs. Their father, Ethan Murphy, was a drunk and abusive, it’s implied that he got physical during arguments. Their mother, Marcie, stood by and didn’t protect her boys, neither parent made an effort to understand Shaun’s special needs or support him. Shaun’s support system was basically his brother Steve.
In several flashback scenes, we learn that Steve often defended Shaun (sometimes physically) when he was being made fun of, bullied or beaten. Shaun also got kicked out of school at least three times, likely due to other students and/or teachers not knowing how to handle his ASD.
Things came to a head when Shaun and his father had and argument, and his father killed his rabbit by throwing it violently against a wall. Steve and Shaun then sought out Dr. Glassman (whom they knew was a medical doctor) to try and save the rabbit, but Dr. Glassman couldn’t do anything for Shaun’s pet. Steve and Shaun then ran away from home and started living in an abandoned school bus.
Shortly thereafter, while playing hide and seek with other children, Steve had a tragic and fatal accident when he fell off a train car that Shaun and Steve had climbed up on. Shaun called Dr. Glassman for help, but Steve didn’t survive.
Shaun stayed with Dr. Glassman the first night after Steve’s death, but was then handed off into foster care.
We know Shaun went through a few foster home/family situations — he stayed with at least three foster families. As to why Glassman didn’t take Shaun in at the time, is anyone’s guess. It’s been speculated he was dealing with too many personal issues and wasn’t ready to take on the responsibility at the time, seeing how he failed taking care of his own daughter, knowing Shaun would have even more special needs.
We can also only speculate as to whether Shaun ever lived with Glassman. Some fans think yes, based on how much intimate knowledge he has about Glassman’s personal life. In season 2, when Shaun becomes more of a caretaker for Glassman during his cancer recovery, there are certain hints, such as Shaun knowing how long on average it takes Glassman to shower.
Shaun also knows other things Glassman likes that you’d only pick up if you lived with someone for a while. There is speculation that Dr. Glassman eventually saw another foster situation fall apart for Shaun, and he took him in for a while, perhaps until Shaun was 18 and was able to live on his own.
It’s fairly obvious that Dr. Glassman was consistently involved in Shaun’s life after Steve’s death. We don’t know exactly how much, but it’s likely he kept pretty close tabs on Shaun, and checked in with him fairly often. He also supported Shaun greatly in seeking out a medical career as a surgeon.
Shaun’s College Years
Little is known about Shaun’s time in med school other than that he studied medicine in Casper, WY. In episode 5×06 One Heart, we saw three flashback scenes where Shaun was in his dorm room and Dr. Glassman came by for a visit.
Shaun had an issue with an abiguously phrased question on a test that he felt his professor had graded unfairly and wanted to raise this issue first with the professor, then with the dean.
No exact details are known about Dr. Glassman’s professional history, but there are many indications that he worked at St. Bonaventure Hospital for several years before he got to know Shaun and Steve, living with his wife and daughter Maddie in San Jose (Maddie ran track there, Glassman goes to the training grounds every year on the anniversary of her death). He mentioned in 1×01 Burnt Food that he first hired Melendez at St. Bonaventure.
Maddie Glassman died when she was a teenager, most likely because of a drug overdose, suicide or perhaps an accident. Glassman didn’t dedicate as much time to his daughter as he should have, and it’s indicated that Maddie had issues with drugs. Glassman elaborated on it in 2×04 Tough Titmouse, and mentioned that his wife had petitioned to get Maddie into rehab several times, but Glassman always vetoed it.
At some point Glassman moved to Casper, most likely after Maddie’s death, which also destroyed his marriage and he ended up divorcing his first wife. Glassman first meets Shaun two years after Maddie passed away.
One likely scenario is that Glassman stayed in Casper for a number of years, perhaps supporting Shaun until he was legally an adult and started going to medical school. At some point Glassman went back to San Jose and became president of St. Bonaventure Hospital, where he hired Shaun as a first year resident. Shaun must have been around 26 years old at the time. This is when the TV show kicks off with the pilot episode.
During the flashbacks to Shaun’s med school days in 5×06 One Heart, there is one particularly interesting detail when Glassman is taking Shaun out to have pancakes. As Shaun gets into Glassman’s car, he picks up a book that’s lying on the passenger seat, titled ‘Understanding Your Child With Autism’.
A small little nod in the ‘show, don’t tell’ style that Dr. Glassman has clearly always seen himself in a father role to Shaun, even if it was not outreach verbalised that way. By the way Shaun looks at him after picking up the book, it’s fairly obvious Shaun also understood what it meant.
For further reading…
Lea and Shaun started out as neighbours, became friends, and then eventually acted on their mutual attraction and became romantically involved. Here is their story.