Monthly Archives: January 2011

Aspie or Not, What Sheldon Cooper Brings to TV

As I continue to enjoy my total immersion into the first three DVD seasons of the The Big Bang Theory, I also continue to ponder Sheldon’s status as an Aspie. By now — Season Three, Episode 15 — my observations have led me to believe Sheldon meets diagnostic criteria. My previous blog post (“Why Sheldon Cooper Matters, Aspergers or Nerd”) regaling what I believe to be the Sheldon imperative and documenting my adoration of such an amazing character prompted many responses from readers seconding my love, respect, and diagnostic impressions. One comment in particular captured my attention, as the reader affirmed Sheldon’s AS traits but contended that the shows’ creators had disavowed a diagnosis.

Sure enough, here is what I uncovered:

“We write the character as the character. A lot of people see various things in him and make the connections. Our feeling is that Sheldon’s mother never got a diagnosis, so we don’t have one,” stated TBBT co-creator Bill Prady to an interviewer. Sheldon, like many others born before the late 1990s, and his mother were possibly in want of an explanation. I could argue that a diagnosis, though rare, would likely have not equated to extremely efficacious therapies or direction at school. That being said, the self-understanding that comes with a diagnosis is priceless. Sheldon and his mother, though, articulate frustrations from his childhood, but neither are lacking in Sheldon-love and acceptance.

Prady goes on to say that Sheldon sans diagnosis brings a “freedom” from accurate representation of AS (and the likely contingent criticism of this interpretation). This justification for creative liberty makes complete sense. Watching Sheldon for Sheldon, rather than Sheldon for the manifestation of television’s understanding of AS is much more enjoyable. Sheldon isn’t the older version of Max, nor is TBBT theory the comedic counterpart to Parenthood.  To the creators of TBBT, I thank you for your honesty and integrity to comedic genius.

Others, unfortunately, have different interpretations for diagnostic hesitancy/omissions. Allison Waldman of TV Squad posits: “There are good reasons why The Big Bang Theory writers do not want to label Sheldon an Aspie. Number one on the list is that if he’s afflicted with a real disease, how can his friends mock him the way they do? Sheldon may be as annoying and fussy as Felix Unger, and it’s funny. Turn him into the ABC Movie of the Week and Leonard, Howard and Rajesh become heartless bastards. Not funny.” Ms. Waldman isn’t done: “Of course, that’s not to say that sometime in the future the writers wouldn’t use this idea for comic purposes. You know, an episode where maybe Sheldon is afraid that he has Asperger’s only to learn that he’s just annoying, not sick?”

Am I the only one who doesn’t find Sheldon annoying? I find him endearing and, oftentimes in conversations with Penny, right on target. His most tangential and pedantic self appears with his friends, who know him, love him, and accept him unconditionally. Perhaps Ms. Waldman struggles with a skill many Aspies also find trying: Understanding the difference between gentle teasing and malicious cruelty. Perhaps Ms. Waldman does not really understand Asperger’s to begin with; to call it a sickness is as ignorant as her interpretation of Sheldon’s behavior and his friends’ reception of him. Ultimately, Ms. Waldman misses the point of the possible benefits of Sheldon having an AS diagnosis.

That’s what happens when AS is a “disease”, rather than just another amazing, intelligent, hilarious representation of humanity. Hopefully, Ms. Waldman is not a representative opinion about individuality.



Posted by on January 16, 2011 in The Big Bang Theory


Isn’t There More to Autism than Vaccine-haters or Pro-Lifers?

With the Supreme Court entering to ostensibly end (but truly to reignite) the debate over whether vaccine manufacturers can be sued for injuries allegedly caused by the vaccine, I can’t help but think we are in the eye of the storm — a temporary, albeit not-so-pleasant calm in the midst of the storm. As I look I round, I see an autism community divided, collateral damage that, well frankly and mildly crudely, pisses me off to no end. As I have written about the effects of this bifurcation of the community, I won’t digress, but I will talk about the teams.

On one side of the proverbial fence stand the Vaccine-haters, who point to different scientific experiments (what the “pro” vaccine community, which I will creatively call “Pro Lifers” due to their arguments as to the benefits of vaccines, call pseudoscience) to augment their point. They blame thimerosal (a Mercury-based preservative) for its toxic effects, which the “other team” rebuffs with arguments of subthreshold levels that can be eradicated by the body. But wait, the Vaccine-haters retort: But not my Johnny! His body can only do so via chelation, a medical treatment that — you guessed it — the Pro-Lifers find specious at best and liken to ECT at worst. The Vaccine-haters point to behavioral changes following the vaccines. They wave their hospital discharge summaries for intense fevers, diarrhea, vomiting, and, ultimately, the report that diagnosed the autism spectrum disorder. Our Pro-Lifers hold that same report, but their attribution theory is “better”; they site some breaking news about living too close to a highway and birthing a child too soon after an NT child.

This is our reality, like a red state-blue state politically drawn map, a rally with picketers on both sides with signs attempting to undercut the other, or a sporting event with fans donning their team’s jersey while holding a sign besmirching the other team’s best player.

But, what if we wore the Red Sox jersey with a Yankees hat? Can God “hate gays” and “love them” too? Can you be pro-life and have an abortion? Can black and white exist harmoniously?

I think so. Isn’t it called gray? Or grey? Either way, isn’t that an option, too?

I recognize that I am not just asking for black and white to play nice. I am asking for them to give just a little of their hue and mix it to produce something entirely new. What would that look like in our world of Vaccine-haters and Pro-Lifers? Vaccin-Lifers? Pro-haters? No, those seem to be synonyms for our previously identified teams.

To be honest, I do not have the answer right now, which frustrates me, again, to no end. But, for now, I’m trying to be grey/gray. For me, that means listening and learning, not spitting, picketing, and yelling.


Posted by on January 13, 2011 in ASD in the Grand Scheme, NTs on ASD


Sex, Politics, Religion….and Dr. Wakefield?

On February 2, 2010, The Lancet retracted Dr. Andrew Wakefield’s study that “found” a link between the MMR vaccination and autism. Yesterday, a little over a year later, an investigation published by the British medical journal BMJ concludes Dr. Wakefield is culpable for misrepresenting or altering the medical histories of all 12 of the patients whose cases formed the basis of the 1998 study. “It’s one thing to have a bad study, a study full of error, and for the authors then to admit that they made errors,” Fiona Godlee, BMJ’s editor-in-chief, told CNN. “But in this case, we have a very different picture of what seems to be a deliberate attempt to create an impression that there was a link by falsifying the data.”

I’ve watched as the link above was tweeted over and over.  I tweeted: “DIDN’T WE KNOW THIS ALREADY?” I’ve “eavesdropped” on fervent conversations vilifying and paying homage to Dr. Wakefield. Then, I read a very simple tweet from @hollyrpeete: “I know it’s not provocative polarizing or ratings friendly but let’s please stop using #autism to attack each other.”

The autism community talks about pushing past awareness to the echelon of acceptance. We tweet snippets of advice that become golden nuggets to others. We commiserate about our successes and woes with an entire community listening, learning, and loving. We usually stand united. But, we aren’t standing united AGAINST autism. Or, at least I thought that.

Dr. Wakefield’s study is akin to sex, politics, and religion — a topic that not only decisively divides but inevitably leads to mudslinging and hurt feelings. You know the old saying and social rule about these three topics. The question is: Should the rule apply to Dr. Wakefield, too?


Posted by on January 6, 2011 in ASD in the Grand Scheme


Why Sheldon Cooper Matters, Aspergers or Nerd

If you have read my most recent posts and tweets, you might be thinking I am becoming a bit obsessed with The Big Bang Theory. You are correct. I am in the midst of a self-imposed TBBT marathon, having purchased each of the seasons on DVD. I have watched approximately two-thirds of the first season, and I have some preliminary thoughts on Sheldon Cooper’s status as an Aspie. If you are  wondering why I care so much about whether or not this diagnosis is appropriate, read the next two paragraphs. If you are simply curious about why Sheldon might be (and not be) an Aspie, skip the following two paragraphs and read on.

There have always been television shows about nerds, which can be lovingly defined as people who do not conform to society’s beliefs that all people should follow trends and do what their peers do. Nerds are often highly intelligent but socially rejected because of their obsession with a given subject, usually computers. More simply, a nerd is a stereotypical label used to describe a person that is socially inadequate. A four letter word, but a six figure income.  One whose IQ exceeds his or her body weight. Urkel from Family Matters and Dwight Schrute from The Office immediately jump to mind. More recently, Glee has redefined what nerds look and sound and act like. These nerds are likable, if not lovable, and funny, proven by ratings, longevity, and pop culture.

If I wanted an embodiment of an Aspie, I would not turn to Urkel, Lea Michelle, or Dwight. They were and are representations of suspender-wearing, pocket-protected nerds, not of the particular characteristics organic to Aspies. They can read body language, understand sarcasm, initiate conversations, talk about topics other than an obsession. They are not Aspies. That Shelden has graced our televisions highlights  the successes of neurodiversity and of the widening acceptance of the human experience. The reality of the old formula that a nerd is a nerd is a nerd is not quite right.

So, we turn to Sheldon. Is he an Aspie — an adult Aspie at that — to offset the other working pop-culture definition of AS (Parenthood‘s Max)? In many ways, I would argue he is not — he’s just a nerd. When he was fired for being socially inappropriate and too honest (both Aspie traits) to his new boss, Shelden seized this monumental change in routine (of three years) to conduct much-wanted experiments and venture into public to see how “normal” people live at the grocery store. And with Penny, the social genius from Omaha, Shelden is again too pedantic and too honest, yet he recognizes certain social cues from her (as well as his best friend Leonard) that are surprising at times. Ultimately, though, these are rare occurrences.

Sheldon is usually too loud, too forward, too obsessed, too smart (if there is such a thing!), too honest, and ever-so-unaware of what others think of him. Take the episode in which his inability to recognize sarcasm (and other figurative speech) results in his recommendation of a proctologist to Penny. In these 120 seconds, we see his seven-tiered breakfast fiber system, his awkward gait, his ever-so-routine outfit (graphic t-shirt covering his long-sleeve t-shirt pushed slightly up to his arms no doubt due to tactile issues), his struggles with social cues, his atypical speech pattern and prosody, his inability to read the mood of Leonard, his apparent non-reaction to Penny’s disgust with the guys’ night activities, his obsession with symmetry, and on and on and on I could go.

Sheldon is a cocktail of characteristics so easily recognizable as traits of Asperger’s complicated by his feats of neurotypical genius. Therein lies his — and the show’s — greatness: Portraying an under-represented, but highly important and influential part of our population in a manner that is accessible and admirable.


Posted by on January 5, 2011 in Uncategorized


An Educator’s Guide to Asperger Syndrome: A Priceless Roadmap

Do you need a free resource — yes, a FREE resource — to provide to your son or daughter’s classroom teacher, physical education teacher, lunch aide, paraprofessional, or tutor about Asperger’s? Well, the Organization for Autism Research published such a resource a few years back and generously allows readers to download and print out its 98 pages for free (minus the printing costs, which are priceless when compared to the value of this manual).

An Educator’s Guide to Asperger Syndrome plainly and clearly introduces AS (What is Asperger Syndrome? What does Asperger Syndrome look like? What are the classroom challenges? How does Asperger Syndrome affect a child) and presents a plan to help support and understand AS (Six-Step Plan: Educate Yourself, Reach Out to the Parents, Prepare the Classroom, Educate Peers and Promote Social Goals, Collaborate on the Implementation of an Education Program, and Manage Behavioral Challenges) AT SCHOOL.

When I participated in writing this guide several years ago, I was unaware of the dearth of knowledge about AS among the entire population, let alone school professionals. Having worked heavily with schools for five years now, I realize that this lack of information can only be tackled with accurate, efficacious interventions and strategies that can be implemented immediately. Hopefully, this helps.


Posted by on January 5, 2011 in ASD in the Grand Scheme

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