Autistic Spectrum Disorders
Asperger’s Syndrome, or ”Asperger Disorder”, is a pervasive developmental disorder characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction and reciprocity and unusually focused or intense patterns of behavior and interests (these latter you will find described in the literature as ”restricted and repetitive” rather than ”focused or intense” which rather illustrates the neurotypical bias in the way AS is discussed outside the autistic community; I’ll come back to this neurotypical bias later). It differs from other autism spectrum disorders by its relative preservation of linguistic and cognitive development but speech is often atypical and marked by poor prosody (rhythm, stress and intonation), or it overly-formal, idiosyncratic, tangential or circumstantial; or the AS individual may even display selective mutism. Unusually sensitivity or insensitive to sound, light, and other stimuli are often reported; and physical clumsiness, problems with proprioception (sensation of body position) and apraxia (motor planning disorder) are not uncommon though not necessary for a diagnosis. These symptoms vary in degree and most people with Asperger’s are fully capable of functioning in society; many pass for neurotypical and many more go undiagnosed. In recent years many Aspies have argued that Asperger’s should be regarded as a different cognitive style rather than a ”disability”, hence the adoption of the term neurotypical (abbreviated NT) to denote those not on the autistic spectrum in preference to the loaded term ”normal”.
Several notable TV characters have been either explicitly identified as having Asperger’s Syndrome or else their portrayal hints at it; these include Bob Melnikov (Dmitry Chepovetsky) in ReGenesis, Spencer Reid (Matthew Gray Gubler) in Criminal Minds, Temperance Brennan (Emily Deschanel) in Bones, Saga Noren (Sofia Helin) in The Bridge and the Alternative World Astrid Farnsworth (Jasika Nicole) in Fringe. Social misunderstanding, lack of tact and literal mindedness in these characters is often a source of humour in programmes that might otherwise be rather grim; more exaggerated Aspie characteristics have also given rise to a comic archetypes like Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons) and Amy Farrah Fowler (Mayim Bialik) in The Big Bang Theory, Abed Nadir (Danny Pudi) in Community and Roy Cropper (David Neilson) in Coronation Street. Most of these are either positive or affectionately portrayals of high-functioning professionals – though only the underrated ReGenesis ever explored the condition in any depth. It’s interesting that Melnikov and Astrid Farnsworth appear in sf series while Spencer Reid and Sheldon Cooper are science fiction fans; there is an wider affinity between science fiction and Asperger’s that I will examine in a later post.
and, of course, all three current incarnations of Sherlock Holmes: Robert Downey, Jr. in Guy Ritchie‘s Sherlock Holmes (2009) and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011), Benedict Cumberbatch in Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss‘ Sherlock (2010–Present), Jonny Lee Miller in CBS‘s Elementary (2012-Present).