(Please note I am just giving my opinion. I do not speak for the entire autistic community.)
Recently I’ve really gotten into watching the tv show “The Big Bang Theory”. I’ve been told for a long time that I should watch it since I love nerdy humor, but I am the kind of person that doesn’t get into things just because people tell me I should. In fact, I am often unlikely to get into something until the popularity of it has died down a bit.
Anyhow, as I watched an episode of the series for the very first time, I could understand right away why many people say Sheldon Cooper is autistic. If he is autistic, it is obviously a high-functioning autism since his IQ is so high and he is able to live a somewhat “normal” life. It is easy to see many Asperger’s or high-functioning autistic traits in Sheldon’s character (although they are obviously exaggerated for comedic affect). He has definite social issues (especially in understanding sarcasm, carrying on a conversation that isn’t within his personal interests, understanding rudeness, showing appropriate emotion, etc.). He has overtly OCD issues where he has to have things the same all the time and struggles to handle even small changes or errors. He is definitely uncomfortable with physical touch or physical intimacy and not entirely due to a germ phobia, although that obviously contributes to the problems.
On the plus side, he has many positive Asperger’s traits as well. An exceptionally high IQ, an amazing gift for his special interests (especially physics), an incredible memory, a unique sense of humor, loyalty to those he cares about and a sweet kind of innocence that is endearing. He is also undoubtedly honest (perhaps brutally so) and dependable. If he does in fact have Asperger’s Syndrome or some other form of high-functioning autism, he is a character that others with the condition may relate to. He may even seem inspirational since he is successful in his career, does have some close relationships and has found a way to not only survive in the real world but thrive to an extent. I find myself wondering if Amy (Sheldon’s girlfriend in the show) may have Asperger’s as well. In many ways she fits the characteristics of high-functioning autism in females (which tend to be a little different than male autism symptoms, typically with higher social abilities).
Interestingly, I noticed that in interviews, Jim Parsons (the actor who plays Sheldon) has said that Sheldon does not officially have Asperger’s Syndrome. The writers and producers of the show say the same thing, although they did explain that the reason they didn’t want to “label” the character was because then they may face accusations that they are making fun of the those with the same condition or not staying true to the condition as the character changes and grows over time. I can understand that, although to me personally it would be nice to be told for sure what Sheldon’s issues stem from.
I think it would be helpful in some ways for high-functioning autism to be represented more in media/entertainment in general (as long as it was done respectfully). I personally don’t find it offensive that Sheldon is thought to be funny because of some of his unique personality quirks. Sometimes those of us with autism can be unintentionally funny (even we see that in ourselves at times), but that doesn’t bother me so long as the humor towards us doesn’t turn cruel or mocking.
Either way, I will continue to watch and enjoy the tv show, feeling in my heart and mind that Sheldon is indeed one of us on the spectrum.