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Does Big Bang's Sheldon have Asperger's syndrome?

by Joel Keller, posted Feb 9th 2009 11:02AM
The Big Bang TheoryOne of last week's most entertaining web reads was an article in Slate about The Big Bang Theory. In it, writer Paul Collins expends about 1500 words wondering if Sheldon, the genius / social misfit played so ably by Jim Parsons, has Asperger's syndrome.

I can just sense thousands of readers right now smacking their heads with their palms and going, "I knew it!" right now. And I bet right now you're also scrambling to Google the condition and see what the characteristics are. No need; they're right here. Just in that website's brief description, you can see a lot that goes into the character of Sheldon: affected speech patterns, a small and unexpandable circle of interest, and -- most of all -- difficult two-way social interaction. Seems like Sheldon to a T.

Show runners Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady deny that they specifically wrote Sheldon with Asperger's, just that he's a representation of all the socially-oblivious types Prady encountered during his years as a computer programmer. I can concur with that; in my years as an IT guy, I met tons of people who would make Sheldon look like a social butterfly. But there was something peculiar about Sheldon's social misfit nature that seemed to go beyond mere nerdiness. This article definitely crystallized it for me; heck, even self-described "Aspies" and their loved ones think Sheldon has the disorder.

Of course, any fan of Boston Legal knows that this isn't the first time a recurring character on a show had Asperger's. But Jerry Espenson's version of Asperger's was not only more extreme in his actions (popping, hands on legs as he walked, etc.), but it was pretty much what his character was all about. In the case of Sheldon, the fact that he acts the way he does is just the way he acts; Prady and Lorre leave it up to viewers to judge for themselves.

So, BBT fans... is this diagnosis of Sheldon accurate or full of crap? Let me know in the comments.

Does Sheldon have Asperger's syndrome?
Yes! Oh, lord, yes!1367 (85.5%)
No! You're off your rocker.231 (14.5%)

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I have the disability. I read a book on the subject manner. There are cases of people with AS that don't have all the traits that another person would have. For instance, a friend of mine who always has it, doesn't prefer things done a certain way. He's either overcome that or has never gotten it. On the other hand, like me, we both get worked up if something is missing and throw a tempter.

July 01 2012 at 1:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Sheldon has Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder, not Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or Asperger's. I think some people are seeing a hero on TV in Sheldon because they feel so unrepresented, misunderstood, and marginalized. He is a great character, and well written if so many people can identify with him. Unfortunately, so many symptoms of numerous disorders and diseases are so strikingly similar it is shades of grey and personal circumstance to really diagnose. At, best, we're all just guessing. Hasn't Sheldon, himself, pointed out many times that he's not crazy, his mother had him tested? =)

April 19 2012 at 12:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Yes..he acts just like my aspies son.....TO THE TEA!!

December 11 2011 at 7:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Kateri Holbert

I just found this while looking for characters with Asperger’s for a paper. Anyway, I think Sheldon has Asperger's while my husband isn't sure. We see different "quirks" that Sheldon has and our son has, who does have Asperger's. Not only Sheldon, but don't forget Jerry from "Boston Legal" or Max from "Parenthood." I think it is great characters are being portrayed having Asperger's. Maybe people will stop thinking my son is just being belligerent if they see these shows and learn this is how he is. There aren’t medications to help like with ADHD, so stop trying to change him. In time he may “act better” but don’t think it is going to happen overnight... if at all.

May 02 2011 at 1:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Hi Joel:
I just came across this comment: I came to the same conclusion a few weeks ago: I've listed Sheldon and other characters I feel have AS at aspiesontv.blogspot.com

March 26 2009 at 10:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I'm 47 and have been married 15 years. When my husband discovered this show, he laughed his head off and bought the series because I'm a female Sheldon, complete with my own spot on the couch. I'm a little more socially aware, but it didn't come naturally, I had to learn it. Yes, I have Asperger's. I suspect Asperger's is actually pretty normal because so many people are quirky like 'us'. I see the argument about it as redundant, and am tired of feeling like a circus freak to the 'normals'. The fact that aspie behavior is funny is a GOOD thing, maybe it'll open a few doors for some of us who aren't tolerated very well or very long, even though we are sincere and mean well ourselves. Sheldon is a blessing to have on tv, and I thank the writers for that.

March 18 2009 at 9:20 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I believe Sheldon does have AS, whether undiagnosed or not. I agree with whoever said that the writers probably don't want to "label" him to keep their options open, but I think they have an opportunity to show the autism community that someone with AS can become a theoretical physicist and Sheldon can become a good role model for those living with AS, not like others on TV who have been portrayed as a myriad of symptoms.

Yes, I understand this is a comedy & they have to keep it "light", but I think they just need to come right out & say that Sheldon is an Aspie. We all already know it! I knew when he was incapable of understanding irony and was fully convinced when I saw his facination with trains (when playing with that kid and on this week's episode). Come on, just admit it! =)

March 11 2009 at 10:04 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Hi. I'm a psychiatrist. The way Sheldon behaves and interacts with people would be best explained as Asperger's Disorder. Sheldon is a bit of a caricature of the disorder, but overall it is pretty accurate. His rigidity and obsessional traits (eg. needing to sit on a specific spot on the couch) as well as his lack of interpersonal skills are right on, but a bit more over the top than most of the patients that I've seen.

March 03 2009 at 8:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

No, I don't think he has Asperger's -- he's just kind of a caricature of an IT/Science/Geek taken to the extreme level of anal retentiveness for the sake of getting laugh. From what I knew of Asperger's from someone that dated a guy with it, there are also severe mood swings and tantrums which Sheldon hasn't displayed. There's a character on Grey's Anatomy right now with Asperger's, being played by Mary McDonnell, who does have those traits and she doesn't seem like Sheldon at all.

February 10 2009 at 1:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Becky's comment

Becky, that Dr. Dixon abomination on Grey's Anatomy is the annoying "stereotyped constellation of symptoms" caricature I was talking about. Dr. Dixon demonstrates why doing AS from the book fails miserably. That's why she is not Sheldon, or anyone else for that matter.

People with AS are not symptoms, we are real people who are all different. Sheldon is the type of AS geek that frequents computer, math or physics departments. I have AS myself and a PhD, I run a social group for people with AS - watching Big Bang theory is like watching an Asperger's meeting.

February 11 2009 at 10:49 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Kateri Holbert

Dating a guy with AS doesn't mean you know everything about it. I have a son with AS and I'm still learning. To me, Sheldon has displayed a few "tantrums" though just not in ways some people would think. Don't forget Asperger's is a spectrum disorder. Not everyone with AS will have the same symptoms or the same degree of symptoms. I know several other teens with Asperger’s and they are all different.

May 02 2011 at 1:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The first time I saw this show, the main thought-train I had was ... That could be MY kid if I hadn't gotten him some help when he was little. My kid is autistic and a super genius and could still be Sheldon in a few more years.

February 10 2009 at 8:08 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

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