The Fictional Spectrum: Dr. Shaun Murphy

shaun murphyABC has a TV series that I think will be a force for good in autism advocacy: The Good Doctor. Based on the Korean TV series of the same name, its main character is Dr. Shaun Murphy, played by Freddie Highmore. Dr. Shaun Murphy is an autistic doctor who is working at St. Bonaventure Hospital.

Now I want to stress a few things. First, I have no knowledge of the Korean version of this show.  Second, medial dramas are not something I normally watch. I tend to watch science fiction, superhero, action, and fantasy programs.

I’ve heard this show has been accused of being “inspiration porn”, or at least a borderline example of it. I’m not sure if I agree. When I think of “inspiration porn”, I think of something that presents a disability as an obstacle, as if to say “If only the main character was normal, his/her life would be better.” Or “Look how cool this person is because of his special disability!” I don’t see either of these.

Dr. Murphy got his position because of Dr. Glassman, the president of St. Bonaventure Hospital. Dr. Glassman has been a mentor for Shaun since his teen years.  Shaun did not have an easy childhood. He was often bullied or ridiculed by both his peers and adults.  Glassman, however, saw potential and nurtured that potential into the man Dr. Murphy is today. In the pilot, the other staff members are unsure if they should let him work there, but Glassman reminds them that there was a time when black people and women also had difficulty getting medical careers. To him, Shaun is no different.

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The Fictional Spectrum: Data

dataIn 1987, Gene Roddenberry took a big gamble.  He created a spin-off of his cult classic TV series Star Trek, but without Kirk, Spock, or anyone else from the original crew.  Instead, a whole new crew was created, in order to better comment on the changing social climate of the 80’s and inspire a whole new generation. One character on this show that I came to identify with the most was Data, an android portrayed by Brent Spiner.

Designed by Dr. Noonian Soong (who was also portrayed by Spiner), Data was meant to be as close to humans as possible. He lacked emotions because Soong was unable to implement the same microchip he’d given to his “older brother” Lore. (also played by Spiner). Considering that Lore turned to evil because of his emotions, perhaps it’s just as well.

Data has many characteristics that aspies exhibit.  He has a tendency to info-dump and will often ramble until told to stop. He has a highly intelligent, even creative mind. This is evident in his deductive reasoning, causing him to admire Sherlock Holmes. (the show was unable to use this admiration much due to the character still being under copyright) He has interests in various fields, but escpecially those pertaining to science. He will even focus on a task to the exclusion of all else.

Data is also socially awkward. He often takes things literally, especially idioms. He cannot read body language, and has often been deceived not just by Lore, but also by people he thinks he can trust. He is also incapable of lying, but is forced to go against this protocol in the episode “Clues”, when a paranoid alien race attacks the ship. He often has a hard time understanding humor. In fact, what makes him such an entertaining person for me is that he often doesn’t realize how funny he actually is. (That changed in the movies when Geordi activates his emotion chip. I didn’t care for this development as it led to many forced humorous moments that just weren’t as natural as when he didn’t realize how funny he was)

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The Fictional Spectrum: Adric (Doctor Who)

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Three years ago on this blog, I celebrated Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary by introducing my readers to each era. Then I created a blog that I recently revived called Jelly Babies and Reversed Polarities, where I review the show and audio dramas from Big Finish. But in looking back in the show, I’ve noticed that there may be a character in the show on the autism spectrum: Adric.

Adric first appeared in the episode “Full Circle”, during Tom Baker’s era as the Fourth Doctor. In this episode, we learn that he is exceptionally intelligent because he receives a badge to commemorate his skills in mathematics. Two episodes make use of these skills: “Logopolis” and “Earthshock”. It’s also a plot point in one of Big Finish’s Destiny of the Doctor plays Smoke and Mirrors.

Despite his intelligence, Adric is gullible. In quite a few stories, he is duped by the villain, such as “State of Decay” and “Four to Doomsday” (in “Four to Doomsday”, the Fifth Doctor gets especially cross with Adric for this reason) As someone who also has Asperger’s syndrome, I can attest that I am also pretty gullible. I have often been made a fool by people I thought were my friends, only to learn the truth to my embarrassment.

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The Fictional Spectrum: Linus Van Pelt (Peanuts)

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“I love mankind. It’s people I can’t stand!”

As many of you know from my other two articles about Peanuts, it’s one of my all-time favorite comic strips.  My favorite character is Linus Van Pelt, the middle child of the Van Pelt family. In fact, I think he may be autistic.

Of all the characters in the strip, Linus seems the most intelligent. His dialogue is often prone to monologues. He will go on talking about any topic he is most interested in, especially the Great Pumpkin, baseball, or the Bible.  In the Christmas special, he’s the only one who still knows the true meaning of the holiday–everyone else is too wrapped up in the frivolity and consumerism.  In Halloween stories, he’s the only kid who believes in the Great Pumpkin, and the rest of the kids often ridicule him for this. His interest in baseball rivals that of Charlie Brown’s.

Linus’s biggest weakness is his “security blanket”. He’s rarely seen without it, often sucking his thumb while holding it. Perhaps holding it gives him comfort, like holding a stuffed animal does for some children. Whenever Lucy tries to break him of this habit, he will become anxious and panic. Lucy is the only person who even tries to separate him from his blanket. (Well, there’s Snoopy on some occasions, but he just does it as a prank if nothing else.)

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The Fictional Spectrum: Spock (Star Trek: TOS)

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Fifty years ago, a TV series changed TV forever. That series was Star Trek, and one of its most endearing characters was Spock, a Vulcan who served on the Enterprise as its First Officer.

What made Spock stand out from the others was he was alien in both appearance and demeanor. He had pointed ears. He had a telepathic mind he could use to communicate with others to determine their true intentions. He had a superior intellect, but was humble about it. He favored science and reason over emotion, like the rest of his race.

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But Spock was also partially human. He had little control when his emotions did give way. In a few episodes, they did. In “The Naked Time”, Spock succumbed to the disease that was plaguing the crew, causing him to lose his inhibitions and revealing his own anxiety and loneliness. He could not endanger others, so he sought solitude in his private quarters and cried until his emotions were finally spent. In “This Side of Paradise”, the plant-induced euphoria caused him to forego his duties as First Officer and he almost wanted to live on the planet, despite the fact that it was going to no longer exist.

To some, Spock appeared aloof and cold. But those who really knew him, Captain Kirk and Dr. McCoy, saw through the cold nature to the human underneath.  They saw someone intrigued by humanity, who wanted to be friends with them. In a way, Spock is similar to Aspies. Our intellect and inability to properly control our emotions makes it difficult to socialize with others and form friendships. We are like strangers in our own land. We don’t often understand cultural norms, proper methods of behavior, or even gestures. Sarcasm and idioms are difficult to comprehend because some of us see them in their literal context.

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The Fictional Spectrum: Is Spider-man Autistic?

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Spider-man is one of my all-time favorite superheroes. I first became a fan in the early 80’s, when ABC aired Spider-man and His Amazing Friends, which had him teaming up with Firestar and Iceman.  The series was a lot of fun and a great introduction to the Marvel Universe, because each week we would not only meet many of Spider-man’s enemies, but also other heroes like The Incredible Hulk and Dr. Strange.  It eventually led to me reading the actual comic book as well, long after the series ran its course. My love of Spider-man led me to watch the movies Sony made using the characters (In case you’re wondering, I prefer the Toby Maguire trilogy over Andrew Garcia because those movies actually went somewhere. The Amazing movies sputtered out just when they were getting good.) However, as a true Marvel fan, I kept wanting Sony to give the movie rights to Marvel, especially since Marvel was making movies out of so many of their other heroes. One of the best things about the Marvel Universe was the huge events where the different heroes would fight alongside each other. To me, a Marvel movie universe without Spider-man made no sense, he’s such an iconic character in the universe. The Avengers movies were all leading up to the “Civil War” arc, to be used in the next Captain America movie of the same name. This would mean that Spider-man would be needed because he played a key role in the story.  Marvel began negotiations so they could have the character back, and now both Sony and Paramount are making the movie. I’ve also heard that there’s a possibility that Spider-man will be revealed to be autistic.

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The Fictional Spectrum: Dr. Temperance Brennan

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I’m a member of quite a few Facebook groups for autistic people.  When I announced that I was thinking of writing a series of posts about fictional autistic characters, I asked around for ideas.  One character that was constantly suggested was Dr. Temperance Brennan, played by Emily Deschanel on the Fox TV series Bones. Since I’d never watched the show, I decided to try it out and found it intriguing. I’m only on season 2, and I’m still enjoying it.

Dr. Brennan is a forensic anthropologist in Washington DC. She and an FBI agent named Seeley Booth (David Boreanaz) solve murders together.  Helping them are her students, or as Booth nicknames them in the pilot, “squints”.

“When the cops get stuck, we bring in people like you. You know, squints…to squint at things.”–Booth.

Dr. Brennan is based loosely on author Kathy Reichs, who created her in a series of novels. Reichs based the character on her own experiences as a forensic anthropologist.  (However, the book version is somewhat older than her TV counterpart.)

Dr. Brennan is a very engrossed scientist. She sticks with every case to the end. She is especially intense if the case involves children. This ties into her past as a foster child.  It was  a traumatic experience for her, and several episodes touch upon her past.

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