Asperger's Gets Prime-Time Attention

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Last week on Studio 360, we explored how arts and creativity can teach us about autism.  And last year, Kurt talked with Pulitzer Prize-winning music critic Tim Page whose Asperger’s Syndrome wasn’t diagnosed until he turned 40.  For others, it may go undiagnosed for a lifetime.  But is it possible that a character on a TV series have Asperger's and the writers not know it?

Fans of CBS's "The Big Bang Theory" are raising this very question.  Might the loveable yet seemingly neurotic Dr. Sheldon Cooper have Asperger's Syndrome? Sure, he has his quirks: he searches for the acoustic sweet spot in a movie theater; he studies his hamburgers for optimal bun to meat to condiment ratio; he prefers Rock Paper Scissors Lizard Spock over the more mundane and provincial Rock Paper Scissors; he’s devised an algorithm for making friends. And, of course, he has a certain fixation with sitting in a specific spot in the apartment due to the perfect combination of cross-breeze and radiator warmth:

The actor who plays Sheldon, Jim Parsons, says he’s not sure either. In an AV Club interview, Parsons postulates that Sheldon's social- and emotional-disconnect may be part of his genius or part of a disorder. But he also notes that the writers disagree. The show's co-creator Bill Prady tells TV Squad that he's hesitant to label Sheldon with Asperger's. The character he and his team have in their minds as they write the show each week does not have the disorder.

Perhaps unintentionally, this TV show about geeky scientists has illuminated the very difficulties and stigma associated with Asperger's.  But at least they’re not alone – they’ve got each other, and over ten million faithful viewers.

- Jess Jiang