Thursday, 4 April 2013

On Sheldon Cooper & Autism Spectrum Disorders

Since 2007, the internet has been abuzz about whether Sheldon Cooper - the popular main character of CBS' hit sitcom The Big Bang Theory is Autistic.  The show has never addressed this, leaving it, for the most part, up to the discretion of viewers to determine whether Sheldon is or is not Autistic.  Frankly, this is something I've never really been concerned about.  A lot of people originally noted Sheldon's Autistic qualities and decided he must have a diagnosis of some Autism Spectrum Disorder.  But what happened, over the years, is that the regular viewer just fell in love with Sheldon as Sheldon - as an eccentric rather than an Autistic - and the issue just sort of slid off the proverbial table.  Every once in a while, Sheldon's Autistic tendencies jump out from the screen.  And we notice.  We laugh and smile and enjoy Sheldon for who he is, Autistic or not.
And frankly, I think that's great.  I think it's OK that the show has chosen not to give Sheldon an official diagnosis and instead focus on his abilities.  Of course I know that Autistics are not defined solely by a diagnosis, but at the same time, I find it difficult to believe that the show would be as successful or as funny if Sheldon's behavior was suddenly explained by a medical diagnosis.  Unfortunately, our society is still in a place where it would dwell too much on the ASD itself and I'm afraid the show would lose its light-hearted humor.  
In many ways, I do see Sheldon as an Autistic stereotype, and honestly, I'm torn about how I feel about that.  I do not like stereotypes and I know all Autistics are different, but Sheldon Cooper is one of my favorite television characters because I really can relate to him.  Even though I like to think of everybody as unique snowflakes, it is true that our neurochemistry defines a lot about us, including some traits that are more prevalent in the Autistic community.  And I have many stereotypically Autistic qualities.
All in all, my current opinion on this - and this opinion has changed a lot since 2007 and may continue to change with more time - is that the show is not about Sheldon alone but rather about a group of friends with different abilities who all love each other in spite of perceived flaws.  And that's about the best thing I could hope for for anybody, especially someone on the autism spectrum.
I am so glad that I, like Sheldon, have loving friends who accept me regardless of my neurochemistry and who are willing to help me navigate the challenging world we live in.
And while many people are out there, searching the world for an official diagnosis of ASD for my beloved Sheldon, I'm satisfied just knowing that Sheldon is treated well, even though he's a little bit different than society's depiction of "normal."