“Knock! Knock! Knock! Penny? Knock! Knock! Knock! Penny? Knock! Knock! Knock! Penny?” All you fans out there who watch our beloved Shelly on the CBS sit-com Big Bang Theory should know this line by heart. But why is this a reoccurring event in Sheldon’s life? He does have an IQ of 187 and a photographic memory. But seriously why does he have to have HIS spot? And what’s up with all the kooky mannerisms and rituals and rules? Well here’s one theory: Sheldon Cooper has a form of autism called Asperger’s syndrome.
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This week our neurochemistry class explored the possible causes of autism, which included heavy metal intake, internal methylation, and other external factors such as environment in the womb and other wise unspecified causes. Researchers don’t know what is causing this supposed spike of autism disorders that we are seeing in the younger generations. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), 9 in 1000 children are diagnosed with autism in the US. For those of you who don’t know, autism is an overused term to describe a spectrum of autistic-like illnesses under the term autism spectrum disorder. There are varying degrees of severity for autism and five categories have been created for the sake of diagnosis: autistic disorder (classic autism), Asperger’s disorder (Asperger syndrome), pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), Rett’s disorder (Rett syndrome), and childhood disintegrative disorder (CDD). Each of these disorders has its own set of symptoms. However each of the disorders include sosme sort of social disability as a symptom in which individuals demonstrate social awkwardness and abnormal social behaviors.
The reason I bring up the question about Sheldon Cooper is that he displays many of the symptoms that individuals with Asperger syndrome appear to exhibit. Unlike children with classic autism (who tend to show signs of intellectual disability), people with Asperger’s tend to have a normal or higher than normal cognitive ability. Other symptoms or tendencies of individuals with Asperger’s include obsessive or repetitive routines and rituals, motor-skill problems, such as clumsy or uncoordinated movements and delays in motor skills, social-skill problems, especially related to communicating with others, sensitivity to sensory information, such as light, sound, texture, and taste. Sheldon doesn’t demonstrate all of these severely however his serious obsessive compulsive tendencies such as sitting in HIS spot on the couch or his strict weekly schedule of events such as what he eats on each day of the week or having a different set of pajamas for each night of the week do demonstrate tendencies of a person with Asperger’s. We can also note that Sheldon struggles to pick up sarcasm in conversation and most non-verbal cues. And most importantly Sheldon has a way-above-average intelligence which is a common characteristic of individuals with Asperger’s. His capacity to hold information such as vocabulary and solve mathematical problems that a computer struggles to do, as well as his photographic memory all point to Asperger’s. It’s also important to note that Sheldon Cooper is actually a successful theoretical physicist as well. This means that many of these individuals with milder forms of autism are able to maintain jobs and live their lives as normally as possible.
It’s important that the media is incorporating characters with syndromes such as autism. It brings awareness of its prevalence in our society today.
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