Sheldon Cooper- A Case Study

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

So today I’d like to take a quick look at one of the most famous TV characters in recent years- ‘The Big Bang Theory’s‘ Sheldon Cooper.

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Strictly speaking, the show’s creators have said that Sheldon is not specifically autistic (and have been frequently criticized for stereotyping autistic behaviour), however, the evidence is overwhelming that he is a cornucopia of autistic traits. In fact, having seen every episode (and many episodes dozens of times thanks to the constant replays on E4!), I believe that he has demonstrated practically every single common autistic trait, and also many rarer traits which the average viewer may miss.

In case you haven’t seen him in action, here’s a video of some of his best “sheldonisms:”

So let’s take a closer look at who exactly is Dr. Sheldon Cooper?

Sheldon is a socially awkward, routine obsessed, theoretical particle physicist of genius intellect (*cough stereotype*!) who’s array of outrageous quirks have been the cornerstone of ‘The Big Bang Theory’s‘ enduring success. Much of the show’s humour hinges on Sheldon’s OCD, specialist interests (such as trains, physics, comic books and sci-fi), mind blindness and bluntness, with particular attention to his struggles to perceive sarcasm. Sheldon constantly has to be coached on appropriate social behaviour, including one particularly memorable episode where he had to practice smiling to feign support when his friend Raj was being obscenely obnoxious.

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It may surprise you to hear that many autists have struggles with smiling, particularly in forced situations such as in front of the camera (or in Sheldon’s case in an attempt to endear himself). I certainly went through a phase of not knowing what to do with my face in pictures as a child- there’s some pretty awful photos of me from one particular holiday until I copped how creepy it looked 😬!

Sheldon has also shown signs of synaesthesia (a phenomenon where one sense is perceived in terms of another i.e. hearing colours, smelling sounds etc- which I will talk about in a later post), a common, but not widely known autistic trait in the following scene:

Immortalized by the line “I’m not crazy; my mother had me tested!” (a line which I have jovially used since my own diagnosis πŸ˜› πŸ˜‰ ), Sheldon can be a lot to handle. His narcissism, OCD, TMI and childish tendencies whilst comedic, often alienate him from friends, family and the world in general.

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As annoying as Sheldon can be however, we have seen huge improvement in his character over the course of the last 11 seasons- he has become more socially aware of others, more in sync with the ins and outs of humour, more comfortable with touch and has even bagged himself a girlfriend who will soon become his wife in the current season finale πŸ™‚ This character development is particularly poignant as it shows how in spite of the difficulties associated with autism, with time, effort and a LOT of patience, autists can overcome so much! πŸ˜€

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All in all whilst Sheldon’s character is highly exaggerated with many stereotypical autistic behaviours, I think it’s really important that a character like Sheldon features so prominently in a prime time TV show to help normalize the autistic experience, and more importantly to see the lighter side of things. So often we fail to see the funny side of autism- what can you do but laugh when Disney films trigger a happiness meltdown (wouldn’t know anything about that happening…πŸ˜¬πŸ˜‚)?!

Enjoy the weekend Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Aoife

Autism- Are We Making Excuses?

Greetings Earthlings,

So today, my title is a little bit different, but I’ve been musing on this question a lot of late- are we making excuses for autists?

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Don’t get me wrong, I’m the first person to advocate the need for understanding and acceptance for those of us on the spectrum- but there is a fine line between making exceptions and making excuses.

I have seen people that were given all of the support and understanding that I grew up without, and yet they do not seem to function as well as I do. Granted there are varying levels of need and functionality within the community, but one has to wonder if excuses have been made. Certainly teachers have told me about spectrum kids where parents have insisted that their child is “not able” for various school activities.

If raised in a protective autism friendly bubble, what happens when your supports go away in adulthood? How can you cope in the real world if people have spent your whole life excusing your behaviour?

Tells a stranger they look like a troll- “He has Asperger’s!”

Struggles with a maths problem- “She’s not able, she’s autistic!”

Throws a plate in a restaurant- “I can’t help it, I’m on the spectrum!”

If you tried anything like that last one as an adult you would be arrested not excused!

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Yes being autistic is a challenge, yes we can’t always control impulses, meltdowns or our tongues, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t improve. If we are never called out on our behaviour, we will continue to think that it’s ok to tell people that they look like a troll for example, and one day we will say it to the wrong person- bye bye friend, or job opportunity; maybe even hello fist!

I know it’s not easy to scold an autistic child, we don’t understand how or why we’re in trouble, or even what we did wrong sometimes- which often triggered meltdowns for me growing up; but here are some tips on how to approach this situation:

  • Reassure them that they are not in trouble- This can be critical. As you know, we autists are black and white thinkers. We see the world in good and bad. If something we do is bad, then we perceive our whole selves to be bad. Our brains struggle to handle anything less than perfection- and we all know what happens when our brains can’t handle something! #meltdownalert

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  • Explain why the behaviour was bad- The key here is to not excuse the behaviour, but to explain it to us. If we understand why, then we are far less likely to be overwhelmed. “You’re not in trouble Aoife, but it’s not nice to….because… So try to remember that next time ok?
  • Create Rules– Rules are essential to modifying our behaviours. We live our lives by them, and yet when it comes to social rules we just don’t have a clue! If you create some for us however, we will be all the better for it πŸ™‚Β  penny big bang theory sheldon autism aspergers GIF
  • Use reward systems to encourage positive behaviours- As I’ve discussed previously,Β my mother found it particularly effective to use rewards to encourage me towards better habits such as studying and holding my temper

I’m not saying that we autists need to conform and be “normal” (as I always say- it’s overrated!), but for our own sakes, we cannot make excuses for every single autistic behaviour.Β So try new things, fall off that bike a dozen times or tackle that equation.Β  If we automatically say that we “can’t”- then we will never reach our potential.

We may get it wrong, but oh, what if we succeed? πŸ™‚

Aoife

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