Errol Seltzer creatively draws on the Big Bang Theory character Dr. Sheldon Cooper to provide insight into individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome. Errol has over 30 years of experience in the field of Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities (an area of focus dealing with those whose symptoms were manifested before the age of 22), and recently became the executive director of a new non-profit agency, Infinity Today.
Bazinga! Thoughts on Autism
with Dr. Sheldon Cooper
By Errol Seltzer
“BAZINGA!!!” Is there any college graduate living or imaginary who epitomizes the traits associated with Asperger’s Syndrome better than Sheldon Cooper? Sheldon, or Dr. Cooper (as he probably would make me call him), is the academic anchor of the comedy show, “The Big Bang Theory”. And while I do not believe he has ever been formally diagnosed on the show, it is clear to those of us in the field, that he clearly exemplifies someone living with Asperger’s Syndrome.
Like other Autistic Spectrum Disorders, Asperger’s Syndrome is associated with social deficits. Sheldon is brilliant in his field, but is often unable to carry on a conversation without offending those around him. In earlier seasons, he did not seem to need or want complex relationships with his peers. In fact, Sheldon seemed to see himself as someone without equals because he judged himself as being on a much higher intellectual plane. Sheldon’s peers (for those of you who do not watch the Big Bang Theory) are comprised of brilliant misfits that have their own quirks and social anxieties. This is especially obvious in the earlier episodes, when Sheldon’s friends were weighed down by insecurities related to socialization. In fact, in the early years of the show, Sheldon was the only member of the group who seemed comfortable despite his social deficits. The show was humorous to its viewers, and a reminder to those of us that are invested in the field of developmental disabilities, of what happens to people with Autistic Spectrum Disorders when they seek to fully integrate with the world outside of their bubble.
What I have found fascinating with the Big Bang Theory is the character growth over the years. Each of the original cast has developed and evolved in so many individual ways. They are not necessarily any smarter or more accomplished in their chosen fields, but their growth can still be “unscientifically measured” using a much higher standard. They are all happier. To me, this evolution is tied into each character’s ability to better integrate with the world and with people around them. Most impressive among their successes, is Sheldon’s development.
Fast forward to this season, Sheldon has begun to understand that he must modify how he interacts with the world around him to fully reach the success defined as “happiness”. In an amazing show of personal growth in recent episodes, he has begun using adaptive equipment to judge the feelings of others. He also has used his great intellect to develop individualized tools that he can use to ensure that he remains within the norms of socialization. An example of this is a chart that he designed to help him determine what personal information he should share with others, and what he should keep to himself. On his own, Sheldon is adapting to better integrate with those around him. It is truly amazing to watch as he continues to grow on the “happy scale”. With this in mind, it is imperative for all of us to remember that true life satisfaction generally requires socialization. However, where ‘The Big Bang” cast has always succeeded in their vocations, “real life” does not always mirror fiction. There are many college graduates that are living with Autistic Spectrum Disorders that are unable to get jobs because of their social and related needs. Just like Sheldon has begun to modify how he interacts with the world, we need to start prioritizing post-education support to ensure that college graduates with autistic spectrum disorders learn the skills they need to succeed at working with others. Further, Sheldon’s success in academia also relates to his field of interest. It is imperative that college students with autistic spectrum disorders focus on areas of study that will lead them to good jobs in the future.
Errol Seltzer is the Executive Director of “Infinity Tomorrow,” a non-profit agency that supports college graduates that are diagnosed with ASD. Errol can be reached at (201) 220-7822 and at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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