Asperger’s on Television

Last March I went to see the play “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time” on Broadway. It is based on the bestselling book, of the same name, by Mark Haddon. I have to say that it was one of the best plays I have ever seen. It did not stray from the source material, the cast was amazing, and they used innovative was of showing how the main character was thinking and feeling. It was one of the most accurate depictions of Asperger’s syndrome I have ever seen.

Seeing this play led me to look up other depictions of people with Asperger’s in movies and television. I watched “The Big Bang Theory”, “Parenthood” and whatever clips I could find on YouTube. I noticed some similarities and differences. In the “Big Bang Theory” although it is never mentioned outright, Sheldon Cooper has many characteristics of Asperger’s. He is shown as a person who does not understand sarcasm, has a very difficult time with change, does not have well developed social skills, and always has the correct opinion on issues. In “Parenthood” Max Braverman’s diagnosis of Asperger’s is a major plot point in the show. He is shown as a person who throws tantrums, likes being right on issues, does not have many friends, does not have well developed social skills, and has a difficult time with change. And of course there is the movie “Rain Man”. In “Rain Man” Raymond has Asperger’s. He is shown as a person who does not look people in the eye, does not have well developed social skills, repeats words and phrases, remembers facts and number very well, and does not do well with change. (I realize that “Rain Man” was made a while ago and therefore depicted what was known about Asperger’s at that time, so it may not be the best example.) These examples show characters with similar characteristics, characteristics that people recognize as autistic. Characteristics that are real, but are not the only ones found in people with Asperger’s.

When I watch these shows, I do see some of myself in these characters but often find myself wishing that they would have different types of Asperger characteristics on TV shows and movies. There are many forums online debating whether or not people with autism, specifically Aspergers, are being accurately represented in movies and television. I believe that the creators of these shows are trying their best to bring autism into the media so that it get more attention and so that people become more aware of what it is actually like. I hope that more and more films and TV shows will these types of characters and that one day the entire autism spectrum will be represented in mainstream media.


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