Welcome to a new series of posts. This will be about fictional characters who seem to exhibit autistic traits. I believe fictional depictions of autism can help us understand it. I think a great place to start would be with the example of Sheldon Cooper of Big Bang Theory, played by Jim Parsons.
“But wait”, you say, “Chuck Lorre, the creator of Big Bang Theory said that he didn’t intend for Sheldon to have autistic traits.” Personally, I think part of the reason he said that was probably because he didn’t want trouble. Regardless, Jim Parsons actually said he based his portrayal on a memoir by John Elder Robinson called Look Me in the Eye, about his experiences as an aspie.
I act like Sheldon more than I care to admit. I am obsessed with routine. In some ways, it helps because I get ready for work on time. But if something happens to change that routine, I can get angry. So does Sheldon. One of the funniest examples I can give is in an episode where Penny is sleeping over at Sheldon and Leonard’s apartment, which means when he gets up the next morning, he can’t watch Doctor Who. Later in the episode, Penny does wake up and only fifteen minutes are left and Sheldon quips “…at this point, it’s Doctor Why Bother?”
Sheldon also seems to lack empathy. When his girlfriend Amy receives a commendation on a project, he seems unaware that he should be happy for her, so she gets upset with him. I have trouble reading emotions as well. This is actually an unfair stereotype of autistic people. Contrary to appearance, we autistic people can read emotions, it’s just more difficult for us.
Sheldon has no social life. He seems to have no romantic interest in women. Yes, he does have a girlfriend, but he’s celibate with her. In one episode, the cast ponders how Sheldon will actually reproduce because of this. This results in what I think is one the funniest moments of the series:
While I am certainly straight, I have not pursued a romantic relationship with women. Oh, I’ve had female friends, but they’re platonic.
However, Sheldon also exhibits positive traits. One of the best examples I can give is in the episode that shows how all four of the men on the show got together. Towards the end of the flashback, Howard and Raj are experimenting with something dangerous. Sheldon is the only who acts quickly enough to stop it from killing anyone by throwing it down the elevator shaft, saving everyone. Oh sure, now the elevator is out of order until the writers change their minds, but that’s minor. He even covers for Leonard so he can still stay in their apartment.
Another great example of Sheldon’s positive side is when Penny slips on her bathtub and has to be rushed to the hospital. Despite the fact that he has little knowledge of how to drive properly, he still goes out of his way to help her. We even get a tender scene at the end. In fact, by this time, he’s grown to see Penny as a friend. She apparently does as well because she gets him a Christmas present. He does seem to have a negative attitude towards Christianity, but he holds it for her sake and even buys her a gift out of gratitude.
I feel a character like Sheldon can really help people understand the difficulties autism can create. Jim Parsons has even gotten fan mail from autistic fans because they feel his character is inspirational. After all, despite his difficulties, Sheldon has a job and can support not only himself, but a roommate as well. I commend Jim for his ideas about this character.