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.